But with two weeks left in a lost season that's now reached the depths of 2-12, Christian Ponder heads to Washington to take on the Redskins (5-9) with a new/old attitude. The 12th overall draft pick said he's ready to cut loose, throw caution to the wind and whatever other cliché one can think of to describe an aggressive mentality that Ponder says always will be his strength.
"This past game I think I became a little too conservative and threw some balls away and didn't try to make plays," said Ponder, referring to Sunday's 42-20 loss to the Saints. "And I think by the time we started playing better and I started throwing the ball better in the fourth quarter, it was already too late obviously. So I have to go out and have fun and know that we can make plays left and right and not be conservative with the ball.
"That's not me. I can't play not to lose. I have to play to win."
As much as he says he expected to experience growing pains as a rookie, the weight of a six-game losing streak and a 1-7 record since becoming a starter has affected Ponder.
Two weeks ago, he was 11 of 21 passing for 115 yards and four turnovers before being pulled in the third quarter of a loss to the Lions. Last week, he went 14-for-31 for 120 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Through three quarters, he was 4-for-13 passing for 18 yards.
In the two weeks prior to the Saints game, Ponder committed seven turnovers in losses to the Broncos and Lions. In both games, he had interceptions returned for touchdowns.
So far, teammates have been understanding and supportive of the quarterback they think can lead them back from an abysmal season. If the Vikings don't beat the Redskins this week, they will either tie or unseat the 1984 Vikings (3-13) as the team with the worst record in franchise history. This year's team also is only the second in team history to lose 12 or more games.
"It always helps hearing positive things from teammates and knowing that they're going to have your back," Ponder said. "They've done a great job of not being in my head too much. They don't really give me advice; obviously they don't play the quarterback position. But they do a good job with, 'Keep your head up. Let's stay competitive. We believe in you.'
"Those kind of things mean a lot. It's great to know those guys have your back."
It also should help Ponder that Adrian Peterson and the Vikings' fourth-ranked running game should be able to move the ball against the Redskins' 29th-ranked run defense. That would make the play-action game more effective and give Ponder more time to take his strikes down the field.