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NFL

Vikings QB Ponder quietly moves past struggles

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 8:26 p.m.
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Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder looks for a receiver in the third quarter against the Texans on Dec. 23, 2012, in Houston. (Getty Images)

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The most glaringly bad performance by Christian Ponder in a season marked by costly mistakes and curious decisions had just concluded, and the skepticism about his viability as Minnesota's quarterback was as prevalent as ever.

As for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, well, his faith in Ponder was never clearer.

After Ponder threw two devastating interceptions in the third quarter at Green Bay that day, one in the end zone with Minnesota leading, 14-10, and the other at the Packers 13-yard line with the Vikings trailing, 20-14, the playoffs appeared improbable. They were 6-6 and facing a difficult four-game segment at the end of the schedule. Ponder's future as the starter looked tenuous.

So Frazier, anticipating the swirl of speculation and criticism from the analysts and the fans, sought out Ponder in the locker room at Lambeau Field to assure him the team was still behind him. Adrian Peterson gave him a pep talk, too.

“I don't want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback,” Frazier told Ponder before his postgame news conference. “Next ballgame, you're going to be our starter.”

The Vikings finished with four straight wins to secure a wild-card spot, and though Peterson and the defense had a lot to do with the rally, Minnesota wouldn't have qualified for the postseason without improvement by Ponder. Yes, the Vikings are Peterson's team, but Ponder is ultimately the one most responsible for their progress.

“Obviously, a lot has changed. I think the biggest thing for me was making better decisions,” Ponder said. “Obviously, I made some bad decisions in that first game. It's something that I knew I had to improve upon. I think each week it's gotten better.”

First, he had to eliminate those turnovers. In victories over Chicago and at St. Louis, Ponder's efficiency improved, and his last interception of the year came Dec. 9 against the Bears. The Vikings were more conservative than usual with the pass, though, asking Ponder to do even less. Safe, short throws were about all he tried.

Without his favorite receiver since Percy Harvin's injury on Nov. 4, Ponder has had a tougher time finding open targets. But his patchwork group, while never being confused with the collection of standouts the Packers have at their disposal, has begun to give him more help. Jarius Wright, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson all made tough catches Sunday against Green Bay.

“I don't think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything. I think it just goes back to obviously understanding what I can and can't do. I can't force things that aren't there,” Ponder said.

He acknowledged Tuesday how much he appreciated the assurance from Frazier, Peterson and others.

“It was a tough situation, and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear,” Ponder said.

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