Christian Ponder (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
Christian Ponder knows there is a lot to correct across the board for the Vikings, but he doesn’t believe a change at quarterback is coming in the next week.
Christian Ponder said he has “no doubt” he will be the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings next week in London, but he knows there is much to correct.
His head coach, Leslie Frazier, indicated that Ponder was right about the starting job next week.
“He’s still our starting quarterback. We’re always trying to do whatever we can to make our team better, but he’s our starting quarterback,” Frazier said.
“We’ll evaluate (the film) and make the decision that you have to make. As we speak, I don’t (a quarterback change).”
Following a second straight loss in the final minute of the game in which they had the lead with a chance to close it out, Ponder had the look of a deer in the headlights at his postgame press conference following the Vikings’ 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
A prohibitive favorite coming into the game, a first half in which the defense collapsed – allowing 24 first-half points to a team that had scored just 16 points in its first two games combined – and a second half where the Vikings offense had two three-and-out drives after taking the lead with the chance to put the game away, Ponder said the Vikings squandered an opportunity to take control of the game, both early and late.
“It’s all on our shoulders that we lost this game,” Ponder said. “We had it. If we had done more things throughout every quarter, especially the fourth quarter, to secure the victory and we didn’t do it. As a group, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and change this around quickly. We are going to make sure this doesn’t steamroll and snowball downhill, because the season is going to start moving quickly.”
Ponder did as much damage with his feet as his right arm, rushing five times for 46 yards and two touchdowns while completing 25 of 42 passes for 228 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Although Cleveland came into the game boasting one of the league’s top defensive front sevens, the Vikings once again shot themselves in the foot at critical times. Adrian Peterson was held in check (his longest carry was just nine yards), Ponder had a passer rating of just 69.4 and he was sacked six times. The failures came across the board on both sides of the ball.
“Give them credit, they’re a good defense, but the reality of this was our lack of execution,” Ponder said. “We need to execute for four quarters and we can’t have the ups and downs.”
The most disheartening thing for the offense was that, despite some big plays that seemed to turn momentum, when it came to crunch time in the final minutes, the Vikings failed to put away their opponent and end the game. Against Chicago, it was a failure in the red zone. Against Cleveland it was turning four turnovers into just 10 points and, in the final 8½ minutes, failing to pick up a first down and potentially add to their 27-24 lead.
“It’s something we worked on all training camp and talked about every Friday about our four-minute offense,” Ponder said. “We just didn’t execute it, we gave them the opportunity to win the game and they did so.”
Late in the first half, the booing of Ponder began – both when he would enter the game and when he would head to the sideline. Despite capping a couple of drives with touchdown runs in the red zone, the Metrodome crowd made its feelings heard – both with loud booing and chants of “Cassel! Cassel!” in the second half. Ponder couldn’t avoid hearing the boo birds because they were almost as loud as the cheers when the Vikings made big plays.
“It’s impossible to not hear them,” Ponder said, adding, “but we want to win just as bad as the fans and anyone else. We’re more disappointed than they are. We need to give them something to cheer about.”
The Vikings now head to London for their next game against Pittsburgh and find themselves in a position they never thought they would be in – at 0-3 and on the verge of seeing their 2013 season go down the drain. Ponder believes the season can still be salvaged, but a lot of work needs to be done to get that accomplished and get the Vikings season back on track after a September derailment.
“All 22 guys and special teams, we can all play better,” Ponder said. “Especially on the offense, everything we can control, we can control and we have to fix it. Otherwise, we’re going to be 0-16.”
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.