Christian Ponder brings life to the Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- An objective evaluation of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's first NFL start would have to include these facts:

  1. He missed more passes (19) than he completed (13).

  2. He threw two interceptions into the hands of Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who afterwards said: "I thought I should have had four."

  3. He had help from tailback Adrian Peterson, who rumbled for a season-high 175 yards.

  4. He put too much air on a deep pass to wide-open receiver Michael Jenkins, allowing the Packers' defense to catch Jenkins and prevent a touchdown on what was a 72-yard pass.

But the first start of a franchise quarterback is as much an emotional event as it is an opportunity for analysis based on standard NFL performances. And on that level, Ponder indisputably injected a level of competitiveness and fire that had been missing from the Vikings' 1-5 start.

True, they have a 1-6 record to show for it. But I think anyone who watched Sunday's game, a 33-27 Packers victory, recognized Ponder's impact. The Vikings gained 219 yards on his 13 completions, including two touchdowns, and he also scrambled four times for 31 yards.

"I think he's got a bright future," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I like the way he plays. He moves around really well."

The Vikings smartly, and entirely predictably, mixed in a heavy dose of the kind of bootleg and rollout plays that Ponder demonstrated proficiency executing during the preseason. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Ponder completed 54.5 percent of the passes he threw outside of the pocket and 33.3 from inside the pocket.

Getting outside the pocket proved especially productive against a Packers defense that spent almost the entire game in man-to-man coverage. With Ponder buying extra time, it stood to reason that Packers defenders would inevitably lose track of their men.

"We didn't throw a lot at him today," Woodson said. "A lot of man-to-man, and a lot of running around after their guys. Which I think for them helped out for moving Ponder out of the pocket, and us chasing guys all over the field."

I'm not sure if any offense can sustain itself on bootlegs and rollouts. But for Ponder, Sunday was more about establishing how he would carry himself as an NFL starter as much as it was about how he would play.

On that level, I thought he was impressive. Fans at the Metrodome were obviously excited about him, but there was an unmistakable bounce in the step of his teammates as well. For the first time in a while, watching the Vikings offense was something short of painful. At times, it was even fun.

Ponder took some chances, especially in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins and a 19-yard pass to Greg Camarillo on third-and-10. He even showed us a flair for the dramatic, using a guns-and-holsters move to celebrate touchdowns.

"I'm just trying things out," Ponder said, chuckling. "We'll see what sticks."

The Vikings didn't win Sunday and Ponder didn't play well enough. But fans cheered and people chuckled at the Metrodome for the first time in 2011. That's a start.