So I guess it’s not the end of the Ponder era

On Sunday, after Christian Ponder wasted a solid first half performance against Seattle by completely melting down with an embarrassing second-half sequence that got him benched, I wrote what many assumed, that the Ponder era had finally come to a merciful end.
Ponder’s a good guy who tries hard, but it was almost sad to watch him come to the realization himself, right there on the field in Seattle, that, “You know, maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m just not good enough to do this.”
It wasn’t just the bad throws — we’d seen them before. It was the almost comic surrealness of that pick six, coming just moments after he’d thrown one terrible interception. It almost happened in slow motion. It was like God had directly intervened, reaching down and steering Ponder’s feeble toss right to the Seattle defender as if to say, ‘OK, this has gone on long enough.’

Matt Cassell entered the game (and was notably similar to Ponder in ineffectiveness), and we all assumed that Josh Freeman would be given the last six games (or at least the next two or three, depending on how things went) to audition for a future NFL job, either with the Vikings or someone else.

Of note from my Sunday piece was this sentence: "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."

Silly me.

On Wednesday Leslie Frazier announced that Ponder will be back under center, remaining the starting QB, with, presumably, Cassell the No. 2 and Freeman the (possibly inactive) No. 3.

My immediate reaction was complete disbelief, but after a few minutes to mull it over, I think I have an idea of how we got to where we are.

Namely, this is about Leslie Frazier trying to either save his job as Vikings head coach, or pull together a strong enough finish with the Vikings to help him land on his feet after he gets fired.

The Vikings are 2-8. Right now I think it’s extremely unlikely Frazier returns as coach next year, but what if he were to rally the team to a strong finish? What if they get to 6-10? Would that late surge be enough for him to keep his job? Not if I were in charge of the decision, but perhaps for someone else.

They play the Packers this week. In Lambeau. With Aaron Rodgers out. While the absence of Green Bay’s MVP QB would certainly cheapen it, a win over in Green Bay is a win in Green Bay, and it would certainly be a big deal for Frazier.

People talk about playing for draft picks and losing intentionally, but that is a deeply flawed and mostly impractical concept.
It’s fine for fans to root for their teams to lose because they want a high pick, but expecting teams to *not* try to win for draft positioning is completely unreasonable.

Why would Leslie Frazier have any interest in that? If the Vikings go 3-13 he’s getting fired anyway, and won’t be around for the draft. So why would he tank for a higher pick? He wants to prove he’s the kind of guy who can keep the ship afloat through rough waters.

Jared Allen and others are playing for a contract. Guys like Erin Henderson, John Carlson and Jerome Simpson are playing to prove they can be starters in the NFL. Many others are playing merely to prove they belong in the league at all. Expecting them to ‘tank’ so the team can have a higher pick in the draft is anathema to everything that got them to where they are in the first place.

And that’s why Christian Ponder is starting Sunday. As bad as he’s been, it’s very possible — likely, even — that he does actually give the Vikings the best chance to win of all their QBs. Frazier doesn’t want to get fired. If he thought Cassell or Freeman were better, I’m pretty sure he’d make the move. Even Adrian Peterson came out this week in defense (sort of) of Ponder, agreeing that he gave the team the best chance to win.

People, really. They’re at practice. We’re not. If they all agree that Ponder is the best guy for the job, that should tell you a lot about Cassell and Freeman. And while I wouldn’t be starting Ponder at this point, I don’t think it makes a whole hell of a lot of difference. I really don’t care who they start at QB, this is a bad team any way you look at it.

I still don’t understand why they brought Freeman in if they’re not going to play him, though. I suspect he was brought in against Frazier’s wishes, despite what has been said publicly.

The ‘good news’, I guess, is that even if Ponder does indeed give the team their ‘best chance to win’, he still gives them a pretty good chance of losing. I’m not exactly worried that Ponder is going to rally the team to a 7-9 finish, and if he does, great, I’ll enjoy watching it happen. They’re still going to get another QB in the draft, and the idea that they absolutely have to have a pick in the top five, or that getting the top pick guarantees anything, is ignorant. Aaron Rodgers was taken 24th. Russell Wilson was taken in the third round.
It’s not about what pick you have, it’s about the front office’s ability to find the right guy. Obviously Viking fans have reason to be highly skeptical of that, too, but that’s a separate issue.

I still think the Vikings have to give Freeman a look, and soon, and unless Ponder is really good over the next game or two, I expect it’ll happen.
Then again, maybe not. It’s hard to guess what a team is going to do at quarterback when they don’t seem to have any idea themselves.