MINNEAPOLIS - Quarterbacks are often referred to as leaders and coaches on the field.
They play the most important position in the most popular sport in the world and nobody is saying that it's easy.
"He's still our starting quarterback," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of quarterback Christian Ponder. "We're always trying to do whatever we can to make our team better, but he's our starting quarterback."
It's a vote of confidence that can't possibly make Ponder feel comfortable. After finishing last season with four wins, expectations for the team and the quarterback were high.
But the reality has been three discouraging games including a 31-27 loss to Cleveland on Sunday at Mall of America Field.
"To go and play like we did last year and then to come out and have an 0-3 start, it's very disappointing and very frustrating," Ponder admitted. "Not what we expected, again we have to change it. There is nothing like winning, and that is the ultimate goal every time we step out on the field is to win."
Cleveland's front seven is a formidable group, but with a third-string quarterback getting the start and news of their starting running back traded this week, many expected the Vikings to get back on track.
That didn't happen. Though at times the team showed signs of quality play. The defense forced four turnovers, but the offense committed three of their own. Ponder finished 25 of 42 for 228 yards, and he added five carries for 46 yards, including a pair of touchdowns.
But an example of Ponder coming up short when it counted, was on a 3rd and 5 with fewer than 4 minutes left in the game and a 3-point lead.
"I've got to look at the play and see, but it looked like Greg (Jennings) had created some separation," Frazier said. "I'll look at it and see but from where I was standing on the sideline it looked like he had some separation."
Ponder was more forthright when asked about the incomplete pass that forced a punt.
"I missed him. It was a bad throw. He was open and did a great job on that route and beat man coverage, beat their best corner but we weren't able to convert," Ponder said.
But honesty aside, it's a struggle for fans who wonder if Ponder is capable of making those kinds of plays in a crucial, must-win game. That concern lead to a series of boos throughout the game as well as chants for backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
"I think it's impossible to not hear them," Ponder said. "We want to win just as bad as the fans and as bad as anyone else. We're more disappointed than they are, and we have to give them something to cheer about."
And at times he did. Ponder's second touchdown run forced him to dive with reckless abandon for the end zone. It was a key play to bring the Vikings back in the second half.
Ponder appears to be a hard-worker. He appears to be well-liked by teammates. He appears to care about his team and the city it represents, and he always seems to say the right thing.
"Let's give them credit, they're a good defense, but in reality it's just our lack of execution," Ponder said. "We need to execute for four quarters and we can't have the ups and downs. We'll have to look at the film and see how we can execute better."
Here's his response to that 3rd and 5 pass to Jennings in the fourth quarter.
"It was a quick throw and we'll have to see on film, I don't know," Ponder said. "I kind of changed my throwing angle a little bit and I just missed him. That's typically a ball I can complete 99 out of 100 times and unfortunately that was the one miss."
It's a response that seems to be more fitting for a quarterback who was making his first NFL start on the road in a hostile environment. But, there were no explanations needed from Brian Hoyer, who completed a game-winning drive within the final minute of the game.
While the struggles of the offense clearly don't fall solely on the shoulders of Ponder, the concern in the locker room was quite clear that things need to be fixed.
"It hurts, it hurts a lot, offensively, when we talk about creating drives and putting points up on the board, when you have those opportunities and you don't capitalize," Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. "I feel like we as an offense made some plays, but we weren't able to make enough, especially when it counted the most."
After a 0-3 start, there seems to be a question of whether something needs to be done, but it doesn't appear that it will be a change at quarterback, at least not right now.
"I don't foresee that," Frazier clarified. "I've got to go back and look at it and see what created the inconsistency in why we're not executing as well as we need to in certain situations. You evaluate and make the decisions you have to make, but as we speak I don't see that happening."
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