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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Report: President Trump told pro sports commissioners he believes NFL season should start on time

Report: President Trump told pro sports commissioners he believes NFL season should start on time

During a conference call with 13 professional sports commissioners Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he believes the 2020 NFL season should start as scheduled in September despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, according to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski.

Trump also reportedly remarked that he would like to allow fans back into stadiums and arenas by August or September.

The president used the call as an opportunity to commend the commissioners for their response to the pandemic. On March 11, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to suspend play in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. The NHL, which was less than a month out from the start of the playoffs, followed suit—as eventually did the MLS, ATP, WTA, PGA Tour, NASCAR and MLB spring training.

With the NFL still in the midst of its offseason, there remains hope that the 2020 season will begin on time. So far, the league has canceled its annual league meaning and delayed OTAs. The draft will be held as expected while teams make their selections remotely rather than in Las Vegas as originally planned. While many free-agent deals have yet to be finalized due to the inability for teams to conduct physicals, the NFL has yet to be affected as much as other major sports.

The season is set to begin Thursday, Sept. 10 with opening Sunday coming Sept. 13.


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Washington Capitals Tom Wilson sends Make-A-Wish kids heartfelt message and gifts

Washington Capitals Tom Wilson sends Make-A-Wish kids heartfelt message and gifts

Washington Capitals right-winger, Tom Wilson is utilizing his newfound free time by giving back to the children of Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic.

Saturday, Wilson was featured on the charity's Instagram page delivering an uplifting message to the kids that are going through unforeseen changes due to quarantine. 

"I understand a lot of your wishes are on hold right now due to this very weird time in the world," Wilson said. "I just want to let you know I'm thinking of you."

"You guys are so strong, keep fighting and I'm looking forward to seeing you around."

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It’s FR🏒DAY! And what better way to start your weekend than hearing from our @capitals friend, @tomwilson! Just like all of us, Tom is thinking of our local wish kids whose wishes are currently indefinitely on hold and knows how strong and awesome each of you are. 💪 He's cheering on every one of our wish kids during this challenging time and can’t wait to see your wishes come true. Tom also went above and beyond and bought activities for us to send all our kids whose #WishesAreWaiting to pass the time at home or in hospital. Thanks for sharing your Message of Hope Tom, and for being a such a great champion for wishes and a winner on and off the ice! 💫💙🏆 @capitalspr

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic detailed that "Tom also went above and beyond and brought activities for us to send all our kids whose #WishesAreWaiting to pass time at home or in the hospital."

A class act gesture from an even classier man. 

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