For all the criticism quarterback Christian Ponder has endured this season, when the Vikings have needed a win, he has delivered. He has been criticized for this footwork, his lack of pocket presence, his decision-making and even for getting married during the season.
Ponder has the Vikings in the playoffs only a season after finishing 3-13.
He's led the Vikings to a season-high four-game winning streak. Over those four games, he has thrown four touchdowns and only one interception. His passer rating over those games is 88.3—almost 10 points higher than his rating for the season (78.8). It's the longest winning streak over the last three seasons. In 2009, Brett Favre led the Purple to six consecutive wins to open the season.
The seven-win improvement over last season is the largest turnaround in consecutive seasons in franchise history. To help put that into perspective, Peyton Manning, who's led the Broncos to a 13-3 record, only gave Denver five more wins than last season.
While there's no doubt that Adrian Peterson and his 2,097 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns carried the Vikings for the better part of the season, Ponder deserves some of the credit.
Ponder saved his best game of the year on the final day of the regular season. In the Vikings' 37-34 win, he completed 16-of-28 passes for 234 and three touchdowns. The win put the Vikings into the playoffs.
When he gave away the game to the Packers at Green Bay in Week 13, it dropped the Vikings to 6-6, putting the Vikings into a deep hole. In order to make the postseason, the Vikings needed to win their last four games. Even that would not assure a playoff spot, since the Vikings were in third place in the NFC North, two games behind both the Bears and Packers.
The thought of the Vikings going on a four-game winning streak seemed even more improbable since two of those game were on the road, where the Vikings were 1-6 on the season.
Behind Ponder, the Vikings offense would increase its scoring from an average of 22.6 points per game in the the first 12 games to 29.2 points over the final four games—this against some decent defenses at St. Louis and at Houston.
The great thing about all of this is that Ponder's next opportunity to prove he is a big-game quarterback comes next weekend, when the Vikings travel to Green Bay for the Wild Card playoff game.