Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 9/23/12
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Christian Ponder said he never felt as if Sunday's game was out of reach, even after the Minnesota Vikings had allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to take a 23-20 lead with 27 seconds left. Ponder, Minnesota's second-year quarterback, knew he was going to get the ball back with one more chance, even if a season-opening win looked unlikely. A year ago, the situation might have been too big for Ponder. But he has talked all offseason into Sunday's regular-season opener about the embracing the leadership role that comes with being the starting quarterback and the confidence he's gained. He demonstrated his development on Sunday with that drive in the waning seconds of regular when he connected with receiver Devin Aromashodu for a 26-yard pass and followed with a short 6-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph to set up kicker Blair Walsh's game-tying 55-yard field goal. "Honestly, I don't know if I would have been able to do it," Ponder said when asked if he would have been able to perform the same way last year. "I'm so much more comfortable, more confident. I truly believe we can overcome anything and if we execute the right way that we can make plays when we need to. We've got so many good players on this team that have so much more confidence in what I'm doing, that I'm able to overcome those situations. It makes it more fun." Coach Leslie Frazier has seen the growth in his quarterback, and believes there's no better example than Sunday's final drive of regulation. "There were a number of moments like that a season ago, where we needed just one play that could have turned the game in our favor in the fourth quarter, and we couldn't find a way to make that play," Frazier said. "The poise that was needed in that sequence, and the leadership that was needed, that's good stuff. That's what this league's made of when you have a quarterback who can take you down the last two minutes of the game and put you in a position to win the game. He did something we hadn't seen very much of recently." There's something to be said of Ponder's teammates' confidence in him too. Ponder accepts his leadership role and seems to have his teammates following his lead. The offense saw the leadership and confidence when Ponder got to the huddle for the final two pivotal plays. Receiver Percy Harvin said Ponder was lining up the offensive players in preparation for the plays he wanted to run. "He directed us," Harvin said. "He put us in a perfect position. We hit Devin Aromashodu on the post. It was right on the money and he came back and hit Rudolph. It was just perfect passes, perfect play-call. Two plays we was on the field and we were able to get the field goal." After the months of talk about benefitting from an offseason and growing in his second year in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system, Ponder had his first chance to show the progress he's made in a regular-season game. Ponder had looked more confident in the first two preseason games before struggling a bit in the third preseason game. Sunday was the most efficient regular-season game of his short career, finished 20 of 27 passing for 270 yards and a 105.5 quarterback rating. The 74 percent completion rate is his highest single-game tally. Another sign of progress was Ponder's recovery after a slow start. He connected with Kyle Rudolph on a 15-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, but hit on only two of his next six passes. Ponder said he made a change at that point, and knew he needed to play with a sense of urgency. He hit receiver Percy Harvin on three short passes that turned into longer gains and found his rhythm. "He leads our offense, and there are going to be some times when things don't go quite the way you want early in a game," Frazier said. "But his stick-to-it-tiveness throughout the game is one of the things that was encouraging for me and for our entire team that he didn't get discouraged, he didn't get down on himself. And as much as he wanted to get off to a fast start, it didn't happen but he didn't go in a tank. He just continues to stay with it and good things happened over the course of the four quarters." And Ponder was at his best in the fourth quarter and the Vikings feel like even more of Ponder's team now after the late rally. "I think that all goes back to that confidence that knowing you're the guy and knowing that guys are looking for me to make a play," Ponder said. "That kind of makes it cool I guess and it makes me want to go make that play so much harder. Everyone made big plays in the clutch at the right time. These are the ones that you remember." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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