By Andrew Gruman
GREEN BAY, Wis. When Vikings coach Leslie Frazier approached a dejected Christian Ponder at his locker just moments after the young quarterback struggled yet again, it wasn't to make a change.
Instead, Frazier's intentions were to let Ponder know that he stood by him and won't be changing quarterbacks despite another dismal showing from Minnesota's passing game in a 23-14 loss to Green Bay.
As badly as some fans want a change and as bad as Ponder looked Sunday, Frazier hasn't even considered turning to backup Joe Webb.
"I just reminded him that we have to learn from everything that happened today, use this time to get better and figure out things we have to figure out as a team," Frazier said of his postgame conversation with Ponder. "He will be the guy that will lead us to victory when we line up against Chicago next week. We need him to lead us."
When the Vikings needed him Sunday, Ponder was nowhere to be found. He missed receivers high and low, but the biggest mistakes he made were critical turnovers. One came in the redzone, the other as Minnesota was driving into the redzone.
Already leading 14-10 and at the Green Bay eight-yard line, Ponder made an bad decision to throw across his body and across the field, leading to an easy interception by Morgan Burnett.
Ponder finished 12 of 25 for 119 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but seven of those completions came after Green Bay had essentially put the game away.
In fact, Ponder was five-for-five on Minnesota's touchdown drive early in the second quarter, which ended in his touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph with 12:23 left in the half. His next completion didn't come until there was 3:32 left in the game.
That's a game clock span of 38 minutes and 46 seconds without a single completion, unheard of in the NFL.
"It hurts, it definitely hurts," Ponder said. "That's football, that's the quarterback position and I can't let it get me down. I've got to move forward. If I let this affect me and effect the next game, that's unfair to my teammates, that's unfair to me. I have to swallow it, learn from it and come back to work tomorrow."
While Ponder admitted that there were open receivers, Frazier and his teammates wouldn't put all the blame on the quarterback.
Without receiver Percy Harvin, Minnesota's receivers didn't catch a pass until there was 2:55 left in the game. Jerome Simpson caught two passes for 25 yards on Minnesota's final drive of the game. That was it from the receivers.
"It's not just him," receiver Michael Jenkins said. "If you look at the interceptions, it could look like it's his fault, but it's not. It's all of us. We never just want to put it on one guy."
Jenkins went on to say that he's never been part of a passing game that's struggled this much.
"I mean nine years in, and I've never had it like this," Jenkins said. "We have to find a way to fix it if we want to make the playoffs."
When Frazier said he never considered changing quarterbacks, he meant during Sunday's game as well. Not even to try and spark the offense.
"It didn't cross my mind," Frazier said. "We were doing so many things well as a team that I thought we'd get it done somehow."
It's not getting any easier for Ponder, either. Next week brings the Chicago defense that feasts off of turnovers. Quite simply, Ponder has to perform a whole lot better in order for Minnesota to have a chance.
But for now, he's got the support of the locker room.
"I was telling him to just keep his head up," Peterson said. "The one thing I really hit on was the way he played today, just the passion and determination and will that he showed. I told him we can win with that. Things happen, you definitely want to protect the ball and he knows that. If you continue to play the way you played with the passion and effort, we are going to be OK."
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