With the odds stacked against him, Ponder stood tall and delivered on game day, leading the Vikings to a 24-13 upset victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Although the win itself was impressive, the truly noteworthy aspect was what Ponder did to help his team get there.
Ponder finished the game with 198 yards and two touchdowns while completing 21 of his 35 passes. The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but the individual passes and plays that the second-year quarterback made are what stood out.
Whenever the pressure was on, Ponder made big passes. On a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, he connected with tight end Kyle Rudolph on a touch pass while under duress that few quarterbacks could have completed.
Another clutch throw came on a third and five as time was expiring. While attempting to keep their 11-point lead intact, Ponder read the defense and put the ball into Percy Harvin’s stomach for a big conversion. Harvin beat the coverage on a quick slant, and Ponder pinpointed the pass to make sure his receiver could pick up a crucial first down.
Even when the pressure is on and the coverage has his receivers locked down, Ponder has shown a tremendous ability to throw the ball away and avoid taking a sack. There have been a few throws that he has forced into coverage, but he’s been lucky enough to get out of Week 3 with no interceptions to his credit in 2012.
Ponder’s impact goes well beyond the passing game, though.
Using his athleticism and ability to move around in the pocket, Ponder has done a terrific job of creating time to throw and manipulating the defense with his feet. During the second quarter of Sunday’s game, Ponder tucked the ball after the blocking broke down and weaved through the defense on his way to a 23-yard touchdown scramble.
On the run, Ponder showed terrific vision and the drive to get his team in the end zone. As the pass rush closed in, he made a confident decision to scramble and it paid off. Just the decision to take off exemplified the astonishing maturation that he’s undergone since his rookie campaign.
One way or another, Ponder victimized the 49ers defense time and time again. He made smart decisions with the football the majority of the time and made San Francisco pay whenever mistakes were made. All of his hard work culminated into a shocking win that nobody thought the Vikings were capable of pulling off.
The improvement that Ponder has displayed to start this season has the Vikings sitting pretty at 2-1 after three weeks of action. Once considered a huge reach after Minnesota spent their 2011 first-round pick on him, the former Florida State passer is starting to look like the franchise quarterback the Vikings were betting on him becoming.
Ponder continues to make leaps and bounds in his development as an NFL quarterback. If he keeps this pace, the Vikings could soon have one of the league’s elite commanding their offense.