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Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - It was only five weeks ago that the Minnesota Vikings found themselves at Lambeau field with their heads hanging. Boarding team busses preparing to leave Green Bay, they knew that a very winnable game had slipped through their hands. The loss bumped the team to 6-6 on the season and much of the blame was placed directly upon the broad shoulders of quarterback Christian Ponder. His spirits, and presumably the Vikings season, had taken a turn for the worse that day in Green Bay.
Thankfully, the flight home to the Twin Cities from Green Bay hardly allows the pilot to reach cruising altitude leaving little time for dwelling on a tough loss. Before he knew it, Ponder was at home in his bed ready to move on to week 14 and the team's next opponent the Chicago Bears.
"A lot has changed [since we last went to Lambeau]," Ponder said Tuesday at Winter Park, and he wasn't exaggerating.
Since their 23-14 loss to Green Bay in week 14, the Vikings have rattled off four consecutive victories and against all odds, earned a seat in the NFL Playoff tournament.
With wins against both of the number three seeds in the playoffs (Houston & Green Bay), the Vikings have proven that, with all cylinders clicking at the right time, they truly can beat any team out there. That swagger, that renewed confidence is a direct result of the resurgent play of their young quarterback Christian Ponder.
"It's hard to imagine that [Christian's] confidence would be any higher than it is after the ball game he just had," head coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday afternoon. "It was such a huge game for our team and our organization and to play as well as he did, you would imagine that would be something that would propel him going forward."
Coach Frazier attributes much of Christian's improvement over the past few weeks to his renewed work ethic and extra film study that he has put in, both with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. And Ponder? He attributes it to simply making better decisions.
"[I] made some bad decisions in that first game and it's something that I knew I had to improve upon," Ponder explained. "Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that's something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up. I think that's the biggest difference for me."
That new found balance led Ponder to play one of the best games of his career on one of the league's biggest stages and precisely when his team needed him the most.
On Sunday, Ponder displayed the mobility, the vision and the accuracy that most fans would expect to come from the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft. Scrambling to get clear of pressure, checking down into his options and dropping 65-yard bombs right over the top of the Packers defense played a huge part in the Vikings 37 points that were needed to overcome Green Bay last Sunday at the Dome. As Frazier said, the confidence level that Ponder is carrying back into Lambeau Field, after seeing it crushed there only five weeks ago, couldn't have come at a better time.
Interestingly enough, Ponder attributes the resurgence of his confidence to a few words of affirmation that Leslie Frazier and running back Adrian Peterson delivered to a saddened quarterback after the loss in Green Bay.
With most of the blame pointing directly towards him after two second-half interceptions put the Packers out in front for good, Christian Ponder sat in front of his locker, hanging his head for ten minutes as the team quietly packed their bags around him in the visitors locker room at Lambeau Field. As he reflected on the things he could have done better and mentally beat himself up committing the quarterback's cardinal sin (throwing a ball across his body), Ponder was approached by two of the team's most visible leaders. Two men who on that day and in that situation felt the need to reiterate their faith in him as their on-field leader.
"For [Leslie Frazier] and Adrian [Peterson] to come up and say what they said and be supportive of me, that was important," Ponder said of the moment. "It was big. It was a tough situation and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear."
From that moment on, Ponder attacked his craft with a rekindled passion and fervor. He started with decision making. "I can't force things that aren't there," he said. Then he moved on to building a better rapport with his receivers. Extra passes before practices, extra passes after. On the field early before the games and conversing on the sidelines during. All these things led Christian to better get in-sync with his receiving corps.
"As the season goes on you kind of find that chemistry," Ponder said Tuesday. "We had our lumps but I think these past couple of weeks we definitely got better...Jerome has gotten his confidence up...Jenkins is coming up in big ways ...Jarius [Wright], obviously everyone has seen him step up."
And so here we are. Only five weeks removed from the moment where all of the negatives thought it would begin to unravel, and the Vikings are in the playoffs, preparing to head to Green Bay and face a team that they just beat and should have beaten earlier in the year.
It's been a fun ride so far and I don't think that anybody is ready for it to end just yet.