Struggling Ponder keeps upbeat, confident attitude

Struggling Ponder keeps upbeat, confident attitude

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Through 22 games started, Christian Ponder isn't close to where the Minnesota Vikings need him to be.

The quarterback they've been counting on to build a contender around has repeated costly mistakes and shown persistent mechanical problems when many of his NFL peers are ascending to another level. As for how many more weeks Ponder needs before his skill set is established and the Vikings can determine whether he's truly a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, that's difficult to tell.

But people are becoming impatient, and that includes Ponder.

``I hope not that long. Hopefully as soon as possible. I don't really know. I think it's hard to establish a timeline like that,'' Ponder said. ``Every player is different. Obviously I want to get to that consistent level as soon as possible.''

Even leaving out the top-two draft picks of the last two years, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, second-year starters like Andy Dalton and rookies like Russell Wilson have been outperforming Ponder. The 12th overall selection in 2011 from Florida State had one of his worst games last Sunday, throwing two crippling second-half interceptions deep in Green Bay territory that led to Minnesota's 23-14 loss. Ponder didn't pass the 100-yard mark until the final, desperation drive.

Comparisons to other quarterbacks around his age, though, are not part of Ponder's process.

``I know I could be playing better and I want that level of success. Whether other players are playing better or not, I have my own expectations for myself regardless of what they're doing,'' he said.

Ponder called his performance a ``wake-up call'' to change the way he's been playing.

``Especially where we are in the season and with the goals that are in our hands, I've got to make sure that I give our team a chance to be successful,'' Ponder said.

He called those picked-off passes ``pretty obvious and pretty dumb.'' Learning to relax enough so he can settle in the pocket without shuffling around, properly step into his throws and be unafraid to fire balls into tight windows is part of what he's still working on. He also must be wise and careful enough not to be casual about throwing into dangerous places in critical situations, like he did into the back of the end zone on his first interception against the Packers.

Ponder, though, insisted again he still has the confidence he showed in September, despite decisions and body language on the field that might suggest otherwise from time to time. Ponder said he was happy to have the public backing of coach Leslie Frazier and a positive post-game pep talk from running back Adrian Peterson, but he also said the encouragement wasn't necessary.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, whose speed on the outside was supposed to help Ponder develop into a better deep thrower, came to his quarterback's defense.

``I've got a lot of confidence in Christian. He's going to bounce back and have a great game,'' Simpson said. ``That guy, he's a tough guy, man. A lot of added pressure gets put on him that shouldn't be. A lot of criticism shouldn't be put on him. We all make mistakes. I guess that's just the nature of being a quarterback.''

Frazier said he believes Ponder has done what he can to put himself in the right mental state to succeed.

``We see some things where he's definitely gotten better from a season ago. We saw it throughout the offseason. We've seen it during this season. There are still some areas where we know he has to improve. He knows he has to improve. The clock is still ticking on his improvement and development, and that's part of evaluating the quarterback position,'' Frazier said. ``But we are not at a point where we're going to throw in the towel on Christian Ponder.''

If Sunday's game against Chicago were to get out of hand, hypothetically, Frazier said he's not afraid or limited in authority to switch to backup Joe Webb, as he did once last December at Detroit when injuries and turnovers were plaguing Ponder.

``I can make those changes throughout the course of the game without having to get that red phone and put a call in to New York or wherever,'' Frazier said, smiling.

So maybe this week will be different, with the Vikings playing at home against a banged-up Bears team.

``No greater time than right now,'' Frazier said.

Ponder has had plenty to celebrate, actually, despite this rocky stretch. He confirmed Wednesday his engagement this week to ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, whom he began dating earlier this year. With a smile, he declined to provide any more specifics.

There's work to do, after all.

``After a bad game, I'm even more excited to come back to work the next week and the next day just so I can get it put behind me,'' he said. ``I keep my confidence up.''


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.

Listen to the latest episode in the player below or here on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.