Christian Ponder (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder took too conservative an approach last Sunday after committing seven turnovers in the previous two games. He is looking to return to an aggressive attitude, yet still limit the interceptions.
As the losses have mounted, so too have the learning experiences for a seriously frustrated rookie quarterback.
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.
DE Jared Allen was held without a sack last week. It was only the third time that's happened all season. That, however, doesn't mean he didn't force Drew Brees to move around. Allen had four quarterback hurries, his third-highest on the season.
S Eric Frampton had two more special-teams tackles against the Saints. That gives him a team-high 74 in 63 games over the past five seasons. Frampton is second on the team with 16 special-teams tackles this season.
LB Chad Greenway had 13 tackles against the Saints. That gave him 153 on the season, a career high that breaks the 150 he had in 2008.
SS Jamarca Sanford had a career-high 16 tackles against the Saints. He also forced a fumble that the Vikings recovered on the third play of the game. Sanford also reached 100 tackles in a season for the first time.
DT Kevin Williams had a season-high two tackles for loss against the Saints. The 31-year-old Williams hasn't been his usual dominant self this season. Besides the wear and tear of nine NFL seasons, Williams also is affected by the fact the Vikings no longer have a force beside him at nose tackle. Nose tackle is now the weakest part of the front seven.
LG Steve Hutchinson, who sustained a concussion last Sunday, sat out Wednesday's practice. If Hutchinson can't play, interior backup Joe Berger would start at his third different position this season. Berger started at center against the Packers on Oct. 23 and then four consecutive games at right guard. He's a reliable veteran who joined the team in Week 2.
CB Asher Allen, who suffered a concussion last Sunday, was held out of practice on Wednesday. If Allen can't play, the Vikings likely will start Benny Sapp, who was out of work a month ago, and punt returner Marcus Sherels at corner. The nickelback would be either Brandon Burton, a rookie, or struggling veteran Cedric Griffin, who was benched two games ago and lost his starting job last week.