Coaches, teammates and most fans understood that Ponder was in the "baby steps" portion of his NFL maturation. But, at the end of the Denver game, it was an ill-advised Ponder interception that put the Broncos in position to win. It would seem that gaffe carried over (in a big way) Sunday.
Ponder, by any definition, was dismal. It is difficult to blame him for the game-opening fumble because he never saw Cliff Avril coming and it was only when the ball hit the turf that he realized what was happening. However, after that, it was Ponder's performance that sent him to the bench in favor of Joe Webb. It just wasn't Ponder's day.
Webb's insertion to the game did what it was intended to do – provide a spark to the offense. The fact that the Vikings came within a missed facemask penalty from potentially winning the game on an untimed down is likely irrelevant. As he did last year, when Webb used his arm and his legs to rally the Vikings past Philadelphia – a loss some contend the Eagles still have gotten past – Webb ignited the depleted Vikings offense. Instead of having anticipated starters Adrian Peterson, Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian, Webb had Toby Gerhart, Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu. He made the best of what he had, but, as a victim of circumstance similar to the fate of Tarvaris Jackson, Webb has to head back to the bench.
The Vikings have placed a significant investment in having Ponder become the quarterback of the future. He is expected to grow into the position, and what happened Sunday was akin to hitting a pothole along that journey. He was pulled (it can be argued much more for performance than for lingering effects from the cheap shot he took following his third interception), but it's his job. He knows it. Leslie Frazier knows it. Joe Webb knows it.
When the Vikings face the New Orleans Saints next Sunday at the Metrodome, some fans will react with a "say ain't so, Joe" attitude when they see him on the sidelines and Ponder back in the starting lineup. The simple reality is that this was a horrible day for a player the Vikings are convinced has a bright future. As for Webb, he's a valued ace the hole that can step in and perform. He earned his chance to be in the pecking order in the event Ponder continues to struggle, but the Vikings view Ponder as their future and that will require Webb to go back to the bench and wait … as he has done patiently for two years.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.