Joe Webb adds another level of intrigue

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The fastest-developing injury story in quite some time has forced the Minnesota Vikings to start their backup quarterback in Saturday night's wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

I will freely admit to being surprised at the speed with which we went from thinking Christian Ponder was merely limited by a sore elbow to the point where he couldn't throw a warm-up pass longer than 15 yards. But that's what has happened. Backup Joe Webb will make his first playoff start in what amounts to a dramatic game-changing event.

At the moment, the story is no longer about Ponder's injury. We'll have plenty of time to ask questions and discuss why the injury apparently regressed during the week.

In the end, we all know that the Vikings' offense Saturday night will revolve around tailback Adrian Peterson no matter who plays quarterback. The intrigue, of course, is that Webb has a unique skill set that has confounded opponents in three previous NFL starts and several other relief appearances.

Webb is an excellent open-field runner whom the Vikings once projected as a receiver. In a relief appearance last season against the Detroit Lions, he scored on a 65-yard touchdown. In preseason games, he has ripped off runs of 48 and 41 yards.

Webb also has a strong arm, but I think it's fair to say that if he were as accomplished of a passer as he is a runner, the Vikings would have played him this season during Ponder's midseason struggles. Instead, Webb got only three snaps at the end of a 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 5.

The Packers prepared for Ponder to start, but there is enough of a scouting report on Webb to know they must be ready for him to run a lot and perhaps be more aggressive downfield than Ponder usually is.

Ponder isn't even active for this game, meaning McLeod Bethel-Thompson will be active for the first time in his career. This easily qualifies as one of the biggest playoff surprises in recent NFL history. But what makes it most interesting is that an emergency start by a backup quarterback is usually accompanied by despair. Webb, however, actually makes this a most intriguing development.