Sunday slant: Ponder blame ignores evidence

Christian Ponder (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Those who blame QB Christian Ponder for not playing in the wild card game must not have seen and heard the evidence.

Quarterback Christian Ponder is breathing increased life into the saying that the quarterback takes all the blame. He gets some of the credit, on occasion, but some are jumping to the conclusion that he could have played in the wild card game and elected to write down his own number on the inactive list.

To see Ponder throwing – more accurately, soft-tossing – the ball at Lambeau Field two hours before the game and hear reports (from former standout quarterback Dan Fouts) that Ponder struggled to even extend the ball for a handoff during warmups puts his injury into perspective. Further proof? The deep bruise Ponder displayed in the locker room two days after the game – and eight days after he suffered the injury.

"He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there. His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous."

Still, despite the visual proof of Ponder trying unsuccessfully to throw the ball with any velocity, and then the up-close proof he provided two days later in the locker room, some are refusing to believe what they should have seen and heard.

"This if football u have to be tough mentally and physically. To not try and play-? Put Vikings in virtual no win position. Webb did his best under the circumstances," columnist Larry Fitzgerald tweeted.

"… Most people don't get it. Clueless they think they know. Football or you all in? My son did not see Vikings game. I told him Christian Ponder did not play in 24-10 playoff loss. His question to me. Ponder didn't even try to play? Nope!"

Fitzgerald's son, of course, is Larry Fitzgerald Jr., the star receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. There has never been a problem with Larry Jr.'s work ethic. Few work as hard as he does, as he displays annually at his University of Minnesota offseason workouts.

But here is the problem: It could be argued that Ponder did try to play when he tried to get the arm to loosen up prior to the game, just as he had done that morning in the pool at the team hotel. Whether those critical of Ponder saw that or not is uncertain.

"I can play with pain. Just a loss of flexibility," Ponder said after the Vikings were ousted from the playoffs. "I couldn't get the ball in position to where I could throw it normally and lost a lot of power and everything. It just wouldn't have been wise to play."

Frazier echoes that sentiment.

So what would have been worse – acquiescing to Joe Webb and hoping he could take advantage of the Packers' man-to-man defense with his feet or Ponder trying to take the snap without the ability to do much else with his right arm? Ponder appeared to be in a no-win situation. If he played and had soft passes picked off by an aggressive Packers defense he would have been given the selfish label. Don't play and he is given the soft label.

Unfortunately for Ponder, the throwing arm is a relatively important part of a quarterback's skill set. Bleeding purple is one thing; bruising purple and a sickly color of yellow from the armpit to the elbow just might influence his ability to effectively and naturally move that arm.

Ponder was coming of a solid four-game stretch prior to the playoffs in which he had thrown four touchdowns and only one interception and seemed to be understanding his role in a run-first offense, learning when to take risks and when to kill the play for another chance. A solid follow-up performance against the Packers at Lambeau Field, where he took full blame for the Dec. 2 loss there, could have done a lot for him. You don't think he wanted to be given the opportunity to avenge that last loss?

Not being able to lift his throwing arm high enough to simply put the ball into the proper throwing position is a bit of a problem. Having a backup perform pitifully in a flawed game plan only magnified the misplaced spotlight.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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