A Vikings team re-energized by the insertion of rookie quarterback Christian Ponder into the starting lineup, will try its luck against the Packers for the second time in three weeks, when the two teams meet at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.
"He seems to have settled in fairly well and quickly. The players really see him as our starting quarterback. He played well enough to gain their confidence. He's done a good job," Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said of Ponder, during a telephone interview with Packers media on Thursday.
Frazier made a bold decision to bench veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb and replace him with Ponder, the Vikings' first-round draft pick, for the Week-7 meeting between the Vikings and Packers in Minnesota. Ponder rewarded that decision by throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns and leading a fourth-quarter rally that threatened to deal the Packers their first loss of the season. The Packers hung on for a 33-27 win.
Now, with a win over Carolina under his belt, Ponder will go big-game hunting again, with the intent of bagging the biggest game of all, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
"Aaron is probably going to win the MVP of the league," Ponder said.
Ponder, meanwhile, shares something with Rodgers: a chip on the shoulder. Rodgers' chip is for having fallen to the 24th pick of his draft; Ponder's chip is the result of the opinion that he was selected too high (12th overall) in last year's draft.
"I think it definitely gives you a chip on the shoulder. I'd be lying if I said it didn't. I have pretty high expectations for myself. I know what I can do and I'm just trying to play my game. Hopefully, by the end of my career, I'll prove my doubters wrong," Ponder said.
Two starts and one mop-up into his career, Ponder has completed 40 of 77 passes for 554 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating. Beyond the stats, he's shown true promise as the Vikings' quarterback of the long-term future.
"I had seen some things in practice leading up to his performance. When I saw him in that Chicago game, I was really impressed by some things he did late in the game," Frazier said of his decision to name Ponder the starting quarterback. "I was really excited by what I saw in the Green Bay game, how poised he was, even after those two interceptions. He kept coming back and playing with a lot of confidence. That really impressed me.
"The challenge for him was to play well to justify the decision. All of his teammates were wondering how he would do. When he played as well as he did, that won his teammates over. I think a lot of guys were pulling for him, but they wanted to see how he would perform."
At 2-6, the Vikings are at the edge of postseason consideration. Another loss would likely cancel their hopes for this season and dedicate the rest of 2011 to Ponder and the future.
"Nobody's been eliminated at this point, nobody's been crowned as in the playoffs at this point, so you gotta feel that way. Until someone tells us, we're still competing. We can't look past this game and think about the future," Frazier said.
The Vikings are coming off a bye week Frazier said came at just the right time. He said it gave his team a chance to get healthy and assess its performance and what's required going forward.
"Our guys are really excited and looking forward to this challenge at Lambeau Field on Monday night against the defending champs. Coming off this bye, everybody is energized and excited to get back to playing again. The emotions are very high," Frazier said. Additional coverage - Nov. 10