Redskins

Vikings QB Ponder has quietly moved past struggles

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Vikings QB Ponder has quietly moved past struggles

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The most glaringly bad performance by Christian Ponder in a season marked by costly mistakes and curious decisions had just concluded, and the skepticism about his viability as Minnesota's quarterback was as prevalent as ever.

As for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, well, his faith in Ponder was never clearer.

After Ponder threw two devastating interceptions in the third quarter at Green Bay that day, one in the end zone with Minnesota leading 14-10 and the other at the Packers 13-yard line with the Vikings trailing 20-14, the playoffs appeared improbable. They were 6-6 and facing a difficult four-game segment at the end of the schedule. Ponder's future as the starter looked tenuous.

So Frazier, anticipating the swirl of speculation and criticism from the analysts and the fans, sought out Ponder in the locker room at Lambeau Field to assure him the team was still behind him. Adrian Peterson gave him a pep talk, too.

``I don't want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback,'' Frazier told Ponder before his postgame news conference. ``Next ballgame, you're going to be our starter.''

The Vikings finished with four straight wins to secure a wild card spot, and though Peterson and the defense had a lot to do with the rally they wouldn't have qualified for the postseason without improvement by Ponder. Yes, the Vikings are Peterson's team, but Ponder is ultimately the one most responsible for their progress.

``Obviously a lot has changed. I think the biggest thing for me was making better decisions,'' Ponder said. ``Obviously I made some bad decisions in that first game. It's something that I knew I had to improve upon. I think each week it's gotten better.''

First, he had to eliminate those turnovers. In victories over Chicago and at St. Louis, Ponder's efficiency improved, and his last interception of the year came Dec. 9 against the Bears. The Vikings were more conservative than usual with the pass, though, asking Ponder to do even less. Safe, short throws were about all he tried. Part of that, of course, was Peterson running wild.

The next week, though, Ponder was a more assertive passer in that 23-6 victory at Houston. The Texans were the only team to contain Peterson since October, limiting him to 86 yards on 25 rushes, so the second-year quarterback had to step up. He threw for a touchdown, finished with 174 yards and went 9 for 13 on third down, moving the chains on six of those completions. Ponder also ran more effectively than he had all season, taking off seven times for 48 yards, twice for first downs.

Then on Sunday, Ponder matched his career high with three touchdown passes, turning in his fifth turnover-free performance of the year and taking only one sack in the most important NFL game he's played in. His 65-yard completion to Jarius Wright that set up one of those scores was his longest of the season.

Without his favorite receiver since Percy Harvin's injury on Nov. 4, Ponder has had a tougher time finding open targets. But his patchwork group, while never being confused with the collection of standouts the Packers have at their disposal, has begun to give him more help. Wright, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson all made tough catches on Sunday against Green Bay.

``I don't think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything. I think it just goes back to obviously understanding what I can and can't do. I can't force things that aren't there,'' Ponder said.

He acknowledged Tuesday how much he appreciated the assurance from Frazier, Peterson and others.

``It was a tough situation and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear,'' Ponder said.

The passing game was so weak and the ground game so good that, for a while, Peterson was rushing for more yards than Ponder was accumulating passing. During an eight-game stretch from Oct. 21 to Dec. 16, when the Vikings went 4-4, Peterson averaged 164 yards rushing and Ponder averaged 137 passing. In the other games this season, of which the Vikings won six, Peterson averaged 98 yards and Ponder 230.

``From my perspective as the head coach, you can't be swayed by outside opinions,'' Frazier said. ``You can listen, but you've always got to make sure you're doing the best thing for the team and what gives the team the best chance to win. And for me, that was making sure that Christian knew that he had my unwavering support.''

At some point, the Vikings might face more of a crossroad about whether to stick with Ponder or find a replacement. But with only 26 career starts - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, by comparison, has 80 - they have a lot more performance reviews to conduct.

``He's done a fantastic job these past few weeks. I thought this past game was his best,'' center John Sullivan said. ``Obviously he's taking care of the football. He's completing passes, a lot of third-down conversion and some big plays down the field. And that's all we can ask of him. He's doing his job just like everybody else is trying to do.''

Except that he's under the most scrutiny, except maybe for Peterson.

``I think he's done a great job just weathering that and continuing to play ball. It's not always going to be pretty in this league,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said. ``I think he's just going to continue to push and improve, and you can kind of see where the results are now.''

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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