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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings support Christian Ponder, but coach says he must ‘suck it up’

LONDON — Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson doesn’t agree with the fans loudly calling for a change under center, but he’s not surprised starter Christian Ponder is under fire after his inconsistent play in the team’s 0-3 start.

“I don’t feel any different now than I did before,” Johnson told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday after the team arrived for Sunday’s international series game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium.

“The bottom line is — and he knows this — if you do not win the game, you’re getting the blame. That’s just the way it is. Suck it up. You’re no different than quarterbacks in every other part of the country. When you lose, you’re getting the blame. That’s part of the deal.”

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Through three games, Ponder ranks 21st in the NFL in passing yards (230.2 per game), 22nd in completion percentage (59%) and 30th in passer rating (65.9). He has two touchdown passes and five interceptions, including a costly pick-six in the second quarter of the Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Ponder, 25, played better in the second half of that game and ran for two touchdowns in last week’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns, who gave the Vikings’ protection unit all it could handle and sacked Ponder six times.

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But Ponder heard boos and chants for backup Matt Cassel even before he missed a series of passes down the stretch — none more costly than a bad overthrow of Greg Jennings on third-and-4 preceding the Browns’ winning drive.

“He’s got to push through,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we’ve had the opportunity in the end of the game to have a chance to close it out, and we’ve got to do that. He’s done that (before). We’ve got to do it. Period.”

Drafted 12th overall out of Florida State in 2011, Ponder has been through this before. He was booed at the Metrodome on multiple occasions last season, when he improved in virtually every statistical category over his 11 games as a rookie but went through a ghastly midseason slump.

In a brief interview with USA TODAY Sports after an NFL community event outside Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, Ponder said his confidence “hasn’t wavered,” though he admitted he’s frustrated with how his third NFL season has begun.

“I think our whole team is frustrated in where we’re at,” Ponder said. “But we’re fine. We’ve got to get this thing changed around.”

After the loss to Cleveland, running back Adrian Peterson said he had Ponder’s back — something the reigning MVP said when the quarterback struggled last year as well.

Ponder rebounded from that rut and played the best football of his career down the stretch as the Vikings won their last four games and earned a wild-card berth. Johnson said everything he’s seen suggests Ponder can do it again.

If it doesn’t, the Vikings figure to be in the market for a replacement after the season, and fans may get their wish to see Cassel before it’s over.

“He understands the importance of the third year. We know that we want to continue to try to improve,” Johnson said. “He’s done a lot of good things. We haven’t won — that’s the number one thing. Quarterbacks are (judged) by your wins.

“He’s got to improve consistency all the time. He’s put together some good plays, some not so good plays. The biggest thing that I told him and any quarterback is make sure we protect the ball better. We do that, we’ll be good.”


Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero

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