Vikings coach Leslie Frazier reaffirmed his commitment to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder following the team’s first practice leading up to Sunday’s game against the Saints at Mall of America Field.
“There is no doubt he’s our starting quarterback,” Frazier said. “Barring any unforeseen mishap in practice, no, there is no doubt.”
Frazier also said it was inaccurate to describe what happened to Ponder on Sunday in Detroit as a “benching.” Ponder was replaced by backup Joe Webb in the third quarter after his third interception and fourth turnover of the game.
Frazier said Ponder was pulled because the hip pointer he sustained the week before was affecting his play. Ponder missed two days of practice and was questionable heading into the Lions game.
“It wasn’t really a benching,” Frazier said. “I just pulled him out as he was struggling with what I thought the injury was doing to his game. And that’s all it was. If I thought he could do some of the things that he’s capable of doing, he wouldn’t have been out of the ballgame.”
Webb replaced Ponder with the Vikings trailing 31-14 and led them to a pair of touchdowns in a 34-28 loss. Webb also drove the Vikings 79 yards to the Lions’ 1-yard line with nine seconds left before fumbling the ball away on a sack to end the game.
Ponder will make his eighth NFL start when Drew Brees and the Saints visit this week. Ponder is now 1-6 since replacing veteran Donovan McNabb (1-5), and he now has 13 turnovers, including 11 interceptions.
Frazier, however, said he doesn’t sense that Ponder has lost any of the confidence that the team has been high on since drafting him 12th overall in April.
“He’s handled the situation extremely well,” Frazier said. “I mean, it’s hard. Nobody wants to turn the ball over or be in a situation where you don’t lead the team to a win.
“But I think overall he’s managed the situation well to the point where he didn’t seem to have any problems today in practice. He seems to really be in tune with this ballgame and has moved on from the last game.”
Ponder continues to say the right things about learning not to throw the same passes that he got away with in college. Yet he continues to do it. He holds the ball a blink too long and throws a hair too late, and defenders are jumping all over his throws.
One thing that could help is the return of running back Adrian Peterson from a high left ankle sprain. After missing the past three games — during which Ponder has thrown five interceptions — Peterson is poised to return Sunday against the Saints.
Peterson practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday. It was his first Wednesday practice since sustaining the injury in the first quarter against the Raiders in Week 11.
As for Webb, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will continue to look for ways to get him involved in the offense. In 23 minutes of game time on Sunday, he ran for 109 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown, to become the first Vikings quarterback to top 100 yards rushing in a game. He also moved around well, extending plays and making better throws once he found a rhythm.
Webb is the kind of guy who does better once he’s in a groove. That’s why the limited use of him in the “Blazer” package hasn’t been successful.
But, barring injury to Ponder, Webb isn’t going to be playing extended minutes at quarterback. Frazier made that clear on Wednesday.
SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 18-8. The Vikings are 8-6 at New Orleans. Most historic meeting between these teams was in the NFC Championship game during the 2009 season. The Saints won 31-28 in overtime en route to winning the Super Bowl in their first appearance.