Chances are Christian Ponder will be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future, or at least 2012. But the last month of the 2011 season didn’t do anything to solidify his status in anyone’s mind.
That includes coach Leslie Frazier, who sent a mixed message when asked about the team’s situation at quarterback after Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bears.
“We’ll go into this offseason with Ponder being our No. 1 quarterback,” Frazier said. “When you get to training camp, everyone will compete to win jobs. That is always the way it is in pro football.”
After throwing for 381 yards in a last-second loss to Denver on Dec. 4, Ponder, the 12th overall draft pick in 2011, threw for a total of 331 yards on 49.2 percent passing during the final four games of the season. He also missed all or parts of the second halves of three games. Ponder was benched at Detroit after turning the ball over four times. He suffered a concussion at Washington. And Sunday, he left early in the third quarter because he aggravated the right hip pointer that he originally suffered against the Broncos.
Ponder finished the year with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, including three pick-sixes in the final five games. He’s also resigned to the fact that he’ll have to battle second-year backup Joe Webb for the job this summer.
“I don’t know if you ever have a firm grip on the starting job,” Ponder said. “Ever since I was in middle school, I was battling for a job no matter what it was. Joe has played really well when he has gotten in there, and I think it’s going to be a healthy competition.
“It’s going to be great for both of us to go out and push each other. I think it’s only going to help. Obviously I want that starting job, and I will do anything I can to keep it secured.”
Webb started the year as the No. 3 quarterback and moved ahead of Donovan McNabb, causing the latter to ask for and get his release. A dynamic runner with a raw but strong arm, Webb rallied the team to within 1 yard of an upset at Detroit and directed four consecutive scoring drives during an electric second half that led the Vikings to a win at Washington.
Although Webb was a sixth-round pick in 2010, he said he thinks he can win the job next summer.
“I always feel like that,” Webb said. “It’s just my confidence. I’m going to feel like that no matter what. I feel like I’m able to play with the guys, and I feel like I’m able to lead the team to wins.
“Even if I was a star quarterback, I’d still look at it like I was competing for a job. Your job is never safe. Every day you step on the field, that’s the attitude you want to have.”
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–Defensive end Jared Allen went into Sunday’s game as a longshot to break Michael Strahan’s record for sacks in a single season (22 1/2). He needed four to tie and 4 1/2 to break it.
But he had 3 1/2 at the 5:20 mark of the third quarter and probably would have gotten the record had the Bears not had a lead that allowed them to run the ball and max-protect to Allen’s side.
With former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman looking on from the sideline, Allen broke Doleman’s franchise record of 21, set in 1989. There was a playoff-type buzz in the crowd as Allen’s sacks piled up and he continued doing his sack celebration by going to a knee and pretending to rope a calf.
Allen, who was feeding off the crowd and the pursuit of the NFL record, was asked what he would have done had he gotten the record.
“Yeah, I would have thrown my helmet in the crowd,” Allen said. “I would have jumped up, kissed my wife, kissed my baby in the suite, walked into the locker room and quit. I might have done some turf angels. They probably would have given me a 15-yard penalty, they probably would have gotten a first down because I had been celebrating so much. I probably would have taken my shoulder pads off, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t get it.”
–The Vikings tied the franchise record for losses in a season, matching the 1984 team’s 3-13 record. But this team distinguished itself, for lack of a better word, by becoming the first in the 51-year history of the franchise to finish winless in its division.
Even the 1984 team went 2-6 in the NFC Central. This year’s team will carry an 11-game division losing streak into the 2012 season.
Asked by a cameraman on Monday to sum up this season, Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams looked up, looked into the camera and said one word:
–The Vikings’ 2012 opponents have been set. In addition to home and road games against their three division opponents (Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay), they will host Arizona, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville andTennessee, and they will visit St. Louis, Seattle, Washington, Houston and Indianapolis.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
–CB Cedric Griffin intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter against the Bears. It was his first interception since Dec. 28, 2009, which was before he tore the ACL in both knees. He had a rough season, giving up several big plays and touchdowns. He was benched, lost his starting job, got it back and heads into an offseason of uncertainty. He has three more years left on his contract and will make $4.1 million next season. The Vikings probably would release him rather than pay him that much.
–WR Percy Harvin was named a Pro Bowl alternate on Monday. He had 793 yards from scrimmage (633 receiving, 160 rushing) in the final eight games of the season. He finished with career highs in receptions (87) and receiving yards (967).
–K Ryan Longwell, who’s already the Packers’ career scoring leader, is now second on the Vikings’ all-time list for field goals. With two made field goals Sunday, Longwell now has 135 for the Vikings. That moved him past Fuad Reveiz. The leader, Fred Cox, is out of reach with 282.
–MLB E.J. Henderson and his younger brother, Erin, probably played their last game as starting teammates. Both are unrestricted free agents. The team might bring back Erin, but probably will say good-bye to E.J., a nine-year veteran who turns 32 next August. E.J.’s body is breaking down, and the team also has a young middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley, coming back from hip surgery next season.
–P Chris Kluwe continues to assert himself as the best punter in team history. On Sunday, he came up with a 50-yard punt for a 14th game, a Vikings record for a single season. Kluwe did an excellent job in the team effort to slow down Bears PR Devin Hester. Hester had 4 yards on two returns. Kluwe averaged 45.3 net yards on six punts.
REPORT CARD VS. BEARS
PASSING OFFENSE: F — The team’s combined passer rating of 36.6 said it all. Starter Christian Ponder continued his month-long slump, stamping the lasting image of his rookie season as one of an ineffective and injury-prone slide into an offseason of question marks. He completed four of 10 passes with an 8.3 passer rating and left the game early in the second quarter after aggravating his right hip pointer. Included in those 10 passes was his third pick-six interception in the past five games. In his last four games, Ponder threw for 311 yards on 49.2 percent passing and missed most or all of the second halves of three games, one for a concussion, one for a hip pointer and one after turning the ball over four times. Joe Webb relieved Ponder for the third time in four games, but he didn’t have the same magic he had before. He ran for only 2 yards on four carries while completing 17 of 32 passes for 200 yards and two interceptions, including the game-clincher in the closing minutes.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D — Toby Gerhart was solid until having to leave the game with a sprained MCL in his left knee. He had 67 yards on 15 carries for a 4.5-yard average. Receiver Percy Harvin added five more carries for 13 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown. Overall, the team ran for only 79 yards — the third-lowest total this season — on 27 carries (2.9 average). With Adrian Peterson tearing an ACL and MCL the week before, Lorenzo Booker had to step in when Gerhart went down. Booker, a free agent this offseason, didn’t show much with minus-3 yards on two carries.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus — Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin had his first interception since the 2009 season. Granted, it came against Josh McCown, who was making only his second start since 2007. The pick gave the Vikingseight interceptions on the season, a league low and a tie for the lowest total for an entire season. McCown also threw a 22-yard touchdown against yet another a badly busted coverage. The Vikings also had a season-high seven sacks, including 3 1/2 by Jared Allen, whose 22 sacks broke the franchise record. He came within half a sack of Michael Strahan’s NFL record.
RUSH DEFENSE: B — Bears running back Kahlil Bell said he was motivated to play the Vikings because they released him as a rookie free agent before the start of the 2009 season. Bell was held to 54 yards on 17 carries (3.2 average) and lost a fumble. Overall, the Vikings held the Bears to 92 yards on 25 carries (3.7 average).
SPECIAL TEAMS: C — The Vikings did a lot of good things, some bad things and some boneheaded things. They held their longtime nemesis — Bears returner Devin Hester — to 26 total return yards (4 on punts and 22 on kickoffs). But Everson Griffen also was called for two penalties in coverage. He drew a personal foul for leveling Hester after he had called for a fair catch, and he was flagged for being offside on a kickoff on which Hester was tackled at theChicago 3. Kicker Ryan Longwell had a field goal blocked and never got to attempt a 41-yarder. A high snap by Matt Katula botched the attempt.
COACHING: C — Give Leslie Frazier and his staff credit for getting a three-win team to play as hard as the Vikings did Sunday. Defensively, it was one of the team’s best efforts of the season. The Bears were held to 10 first downs, 209 total yards and 160 yards passing. The low point of the game for the coaches came with 59 seconds left in the first half. The Vikings called a timeout on fourth-and-1 to discuss whether to go for it or kick a 26-yarder. Confusion reigned on the sideline as the field-goal unit went out first, followed by the offense. Unable to call consecutive timeouts, the offense had to scurry off the field and let the field-goal unit kick. It sure appeared as though Frazier’s final decision was to go for it, but there wasn’t time to get the offense on the field and the field-goal unit off the field.