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Vikings GM has '100 percent belief' in QB Ponder

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Vikings GM has '100 percent belief' in QB Ponder

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Christian Ponder's up-and-down performance in his first full season as the Vikings starting quarterback has draped plenty of criticism on his shoulders from the team's demanding fans.

It hasn't done a thing to shake the organization's confidence that Ponder will lead the Vikings back to relevance in the NFC North.

``I know everybody in this organization believes Christian Ponder is our guy,'' Vikings GM Rick Spielman said on Wednesday. ``And I have full, 100 percent belief that Christian Ponder's going to be our quarterback heading into the future.''

That's an emphatic vote of confidence for the 2011 first-round draft choice who at times appeared to be a rising star with complete command of the offense and pin-point accuracy. Other times, Ponder looked like an overwhelmed youngster with happy feet and a propensity for making risky throws.

Ponder was among the league leaders in completion percentage, with six touchdowns and two interceptions, to help the Vikings to a surprising 4-1 start. But they lost three of the next four games, and he threw six interceptions and twice failed to top 65 yards passing in that span. It culminated with star receiver Percy Harvin venting his frustration on the sideline in a loss to Seattle in which Ponder threw for just 63 yards.

He rebounded last week, completing 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Detroit that got Minnesota to 6-4 heading into the bye week.

The peaks and valleys may be difficult for the breathless fan to handle, but it's exactly what Spielman expected when he drafted Ponder last year. Spielman said he wrote down a series of statistics at the beginning of the season that he felt Ponder would produce this year, based upon the second year of several elite quarterbacks. While not getting specific, he intimated that Ponder is right on that track.

``Just look at guys in their second year,'' said Spielman, who has previously mentioned the developmental paths taken by Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. ``And where he is right now to where he was last year and just look at some of the quarterbacks I have mentioned. And what their progress was. And they're almost identical wherein that realm where they all ended up.''

Of course, just because other players have followed that trajectory does not guarantee Ponder will do the same. He still has been reluctant to step up in the pocket and deliver strong throws into tight windows, and has a tendency to let poor footwork lead to gasp-inducing throws across his body.

But Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier remain confident Ponder is right on schedule in the three-year plan they have for his development. And heading into the bye after a very good game against Detroit certainly helped matters.

``It just raises everybody else's confidence level,'' Frazier said. ``He took control of our offense, moved the ball around, got everybody involved and did a great job of leading us throughout the day. So his pocket presence and the decisions that he made with the football. He did a great job all day decision-making wise.''

And even though the Vikings are very much in the playoff hunt, Spielman said the team is looking at Ponder's full body of work to evaluate his performance and ability to be a building block going forward.

``They're going to get evaluated from the outside and from the media on their performance that week,'' Spielman said. ``But you have to be, from an internal standpoint, looking at the whole picture and looking at a length of time.''

Spielman also lauded Frazier for his work with the fourth-youngest roster in the NFL. The Vikings are coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North and won just three games last season. Most expected 2012 to be another rough rebuilding year, but so far the team is much more competitive.

``Leslie's been doing an outstanding job,'' he said. ``Knowing the situation that we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, and I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job.

``We can bring in guys that are talented, but it's our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow.''

Frazier has one more year left on his contract, but Spielman declined to discuss an extension. He did the same with Harvin, the do-it-all threat who was garnering some MVP consideration before spraining his left ankle. Harvin has one year left on his rookie contract and the Vikings have a history of extending their core players before the final year begins.

``We will keep all that in-house,'' Spielman said. ``I don't want to say anything about where we're at with any of our players right now. Right now, the whole focus is for coming back out of the bye.''

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Wizards take out Sixers to tie season series behind Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter's hot shooting

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards take out Sixers to tie season series behind Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter's hot shooting

The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 109-94 on Sunday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Playoff implications: Later in the season the stakes are raised and the Wizards' win over the Sixers on Sunday night could loom large in just a few weeks.

By beating the Sixers, who had won seven straight entering the matchup, the Wizards tied up the season series with their second win. A loss would have handed Philly the tiebreaker in playoff seeding if the two teams finish with the same record at season's end.

Now that their season series is over and locked even, it will come down to their record against other Eastern Conference teams if they tie. At 22-15 vs. the East, the Wizards currently have the edge on the Sixers, who are 18-14 in that category.

The Wizards dominated the Sixers for much of the night and they did so by once again moving the ball with generosity and precision. They had 35 assists on 43 field goals. The Wizards have had 30 or more assists in five games this season and four have come within the last month.

Those four games have been part of a 9-3 surge for the Wizards since John Wall got injured. With their win against Philly, the Wizards moved to 35-25 on the season and a half-game out of third in the East. The Sixers are among several teams nipping at their heels in an increasingly crowded conference.

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Oubre put on a show: The Wizards led 67-48 at halftime and that was in large part due to Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s impact on both ends of the floor. He had eight points in each of the first two quarters, including four threes, and made several key plays on defense.

Oubre had three blocks to set a career-high by halftime, including one on Robert Covington that bounced off Covington's leg and gave the Wizards possession. He also took a charge on Ben Simmons and flashed a smile for the cameras as he sprinted back down the floor.

Oubre ended the game with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting. It wasn't long ago that Oubre was in a significant shooting slump.

In his last 11 games before the All-Star break, Oubre was averaging just 9.4 points on 31.2 percent shooting. In three games since the break, Oubre has scored 47 points (15.7/g) while shooting 51.5 percent. It's safe to say he's put those shooting struggles behind him.

Oubre had been making his mark defensively as the Wizards closed the first half on a tear, but Sunday showed how much of a boost he can provide when he's in a rhythm offensively. He completely changed the game and helped the Wizards knock off a team that came to Washington super hot.

Porter wasn't fazed: Otto Porter did something on Sunday that likely has never been accomplished before. He hit not one, not two, not three but four buzzer-beaters all in the first half. Three of them were to beat the shot clock. Then, he hit another one to end the first half:

That shot capped an 8-1 run to end the second quarter for the Wizards and it brought a burst of energy out of the crowd. Porter had 14 points in the second quarter and shot 6-for-6 in the frame. The Wizards outscored the Sixers 37-20 in the second and Porter led the charge.

Porter finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Much like Bradley Beal, who had 24 points in this game, Porter has thrived in this second extended absence for Wall. Both Beal and Porter battle inconsistency as they adapted to being the primary focus of opposing teams back in November when Wall first went down. But this time around, they have answers to everything teams are throwing at them.

Porter's patience at the end of the shot clock on Sunday was an example of that. His confidence seems to be at an all-time high, knowing he has enough tricks to keep his opponents guessing. That was on display with under two minutes to go when he drained a three in Covington's face, turned around to stare at him afterwards and then shook his head as he trotted down the court, as if he were saying that no one can stop him. 

Up next: The Wizards are off Monday before playing back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday against the Bucks and Warriors. Tuesday is an 8 p.m. tipoff on TNT. We will have pre- and postgame coverage of Wizards-Bucks on NBC Sports Washington Plus beginning at 7 p.m.

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Dan Fegan, former agent for John Wall, dies in car crash

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Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Caravan

Dan Fegan, former agent for John Wall, dies in car crash

NBA agent Dan Fegan, who had previously represented many high-profile NBA clients including John Wall, died in a car crash Sunday morning, according to The Aspen Times. 

According to the report, Fegan's SUV was struck by a bus while trying to merge onto Highway 82 in Colorado a little after 9 am this morning. 

The two passengers in the car - an unidentified woman and Fegan's 5-year old daughter - were airlifted to a nearby hospital with serious injuries. 

Fegan was 56.