TWTW: The end of the Christian Ponder era

There have been several ‘this looks like the end’ moments for Christian Ponder over the last calendar year or so.
While his first two seasons were very much up and down, there were enough ups to be at least sort of optimistic that things would be better this season, particularly with the addition of wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson.

"He’s never gonna be Aaron Rodgers," went the thinking, “but he was half-decent last year with no receivers, he can’t help but be a little better this year, right?”

Somehow, however, Ponder has been worse with an improved receiving corps.
Ponder had a few random moments of competence early in the season (but far too many ‘what was that’ moments), played well in the win over Washington last week, and was pretty good through the first half of Sunday’s loss to Seattle.

But in the second half, we saw what, finally, has to be the definitive end to the Christian Ponder era in Minnesota.
A bad interception to a linebacker on an attempted dump-off over the middle, and, as soon as they get the ball back, a pick-six on a throw that would’ve embarrassed your average JV high school QB.
At that point I actually felt bad for Ponder, because it was hard not to get the sense that his spirit had finally been broken. He wasn’t just rattled, he was knocked out. Confidence? Gone.
Leslie Frazier gave him the mercy hook and replaced him with Matt Cassell (who promptly threw an INT), and while Frazier has shown a hard-to-understand loyalty to Ponder all season, I’m very confident that Frazier knows now he can’t send him back out there after such a sad and complete breakdown.

What the Vikings have done at QB this year and how they’ve handled Ponder — and Cassell, and Josh Freeman — hasn’t made much sense at any point.
Kicking the tires on Freeman was a perfectly understandable move, but throwing him into the starting lineup when there was no way he was ready (something a non-expert like me predicted would be the case when they announced him as the starter), was a bad misfire that cost the Vikings a winnable game and embarrassed them on national TV.
It probably made more sense at that point to go back to Cassell — the only Viking QB to win a game at that point — but Ponder was given his job back. To be fair, he played better, and I think the real reason Frazier gave him the job back was because he was the guy his teammates wanted to go to battle with. They saw Ponder’s effort (the one thing I’d argue you could never question about him) and declared that he was the guy they wanted to lead them — at least, that was what we heard publicly from a few guys.
OK, fine. And again, Ponder’s performance in the Thursday night win over Washington was impressive and entertaining. He played his butt off, sacrificing his body and getting the team its first home win of the season.

But those moments have been very few and very far between. Whatever progress Ponder has shown has been minimal. He’s a great athlete, he’s smart, he’s tough, and he lays it all on the line.
He’s also inaccurate, makes too many bad decisions, severely lacks pocket presence and has questionable arm strength. And after Sunday’s second half debacle has clearly lost whatever confidence he might have had left.

Now’s the time to give Freeman a look. Cassell (who wasn’t good in relief of Ponder on Sunday) is not the answer, and while Freeman almost certainly isn’t, either, the Vikings have nothing to lose and no other choice but to see if the once-promising Buccaneer has anything left to contribute.

Ponder could still have a career in the NFL going forward — as a backup. Maybe after 4-5 years on the bench behind a Drew Brees or Tom Brady he’d be better-equipped for another shot at starting, following a similar career path to guys like Steve Beuerlein and Rich Gannon.

But the Vikings need to move on.
They gave Ponder every opportunity to prove he could be a starting NFL quarterback. And Ponder gave everything he had to try and be the QB of the present and future that this franchise so desperately needs.
He just wasn’t good enough.