Despite experiencing no issues during practice on Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings sat Christian Ponder on Friday and the quarterback will not play in the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London on Sunday. The reins of the sputtering, ineffective offense have instead been given to backup Matt Cassel.
While Vikings fans have been clamoring desperately and loudly for a switch at the quarterback position, as Ponder arguably has been a disaster — although not the only one on the 0-3 team — if both the team and Ponder are to be believed, the risks to Ponder’s long-term health and overall safety should he have taken the field with a fractured rib could have been dire and unnecessarily dangerous.
The Vikings reportedly were concerned that the fractured rib on his left side put Ponder in perilous danger should it protrude into his heart, making the decision to bench the quarterback an easy one.
Ponder concurred, telling reporters and reported by the Pioneer Press, “Early in week it wasn’t looking good. Then things got better,” Ponder said Friday. “I practiced (Thursday) a lot more than I thought I was going to. I think I would have been able to play. Throwing felt fine. I guess the biggest risk was the health issue.
“They were worried about the placement where the rib is to my heart,” he continued. “So we made the decision based on what’s best for me and my health and for this team. It stinks but it is what it is and I’ll be back in for Carolina.”
Ponder went on to say that his status as Minnesota’s starting quarterback should Cassel perform well was not discussed with head coach Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings have a bye week built in to the team’s schedule next week in light of the long trip across the pond, and Ponder has no worries that he’ll be ready in two weeks.
“Within 10 days (the rib) gets sticky and the movement isn’t that big of a deal so hopefully by Carolina it’ll be fine,” Ponder said.
Despite the fact that a very real and serious injury may have a very real and serious impact on his potential future with the team, Ponder played the good soldier, saying he hopes for nothing but the best for his replacement.
“I hope he plays well,” Ponder said about Cassel. “This team needs him to play well and I think he will play well.”
Meanwhile, two members of the Vikings receiving corps expressed optimism regarding the switch at the quarterback position. And even though their comments weren’t direct shots at Ponder, it’s difficult not to deduce from their comments that they are looking forward to seeing Cassel in the huddle.
Said newcomer Greg Jennings, as reported by the Pioneer Press:
“We’ve been playing with Matt ever since offseason,” wide receiver Greg Jennings said Thursday. “He’s been in there with the (first team). We’ve gotten a lot of reps with him so he’s comfortable.’
Comparing the quarterbacks Jennings described Cassel as “more verbal, kind of commanding in the huddle.”
“If anything that’s the difference,” he said. “That comes with him having much more experience. He’s been in position where he’s had to be a starter for years now. He knows what’s going on. He’s commanding. So is Christian. But as far as throwing the ball it is what it is. Matt’s a very smart guy.”
Fellow wideout Jerome Simpson concurs, quoted in a tweet by Star Tribune beat writer Chip Scoggins as saying, “He has great composure. You can just tell he has that leader in him. It’s good to have him in the huddle …”
Uh-oh. There’s never a good time for an injury, but for Christian Ponder, who played well down the stretch last season when leading the Vikings to an unexpected playoff berth but has struggled mightily thus far this season, that rib of his very well could be the beginning of the end of his tenure as the starting quarterback in Minnesota. It all depends on how Cassel performs, but the signs certainly aren’t favorable.