On a four-game winning streak, and one week after beating the Packers 37-34, the Vikings crapped the bed and were sent home for the winter after a 24-10 loss.
Minutes before kickoff, starting quarterback Christian Ponder was declared inactive with an elbow injury. Joe Webb, who became the first NFL quarterback since 1950 to start a playoff game without throwing a regular-season pass, was thrown to Clay Matthews and other green and gold-clad wolves.
Leading up to the game, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said that "Joe has prepared all season long, knowing that he was just one injury away. Joe has a different mentality, and I don't think this game will be too big for him."
Nonetheless, the rust was evident.
Webb completed 3-of-12 passes for 22 yards by halftime, and had it not been for a garbage-time 50-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins, he would have the worst postseason performance by a Vikings quarterback since 2008.
You don't have to look far to know how Vikings fans feel about the quarterback play. Vikings chat rooms have been blowing up with comments like:
Can we be done reading and listening to how good Webb is and how he should be starting.....that was embarrassing! The worst qb play I have ever seen in the NFL....he's not an NFL qb!!!
Remember, in the preseason, how much Vikings fans wanted Joe Webb to start? And that he gave the Vikings the best chance to win games? Or when the Vikings had lost four of five games from Weeks 8 to 13, and fans wanted the reins handed to Joe Webb?
I can guarantee you nobody will be calling for Joe Webb in Week 1 next season.
Last night was a scenario that couldn't go wrong for Christian Ponder. If he played and struggled, he could have blamed it on his bum elbow. If he didn't play, and Webb struggled, the fans would be calling for him next season.
If Webb won, Ponder would be handed the reins to a team on a five-game winning streak, on the road against an Atlanta Falcons team that has been a recent disappointment in the playoffs.
Ponder showed significant improvement over the last four games of the season. Ponder not only played his "game manager" position, but he made big throws when he needed to.
But the offseason questions will remain: How hurt is Christian Ponder, and should fans question his toughness?
Unless Leslie Frazier has one of the best poker faces around, it looked like Ponder was going to start his first playoff game last night. Fans (including myself) gave Webb little to no chance of starting last night's game. After all, Brett Favre played with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Jared Allen has played with a torn labrum. But Webb had to start for Ponder, who had a bruise on his throwing elbow.
And frankly, we wish he hadn't.
And now Webb, not Ponder, has to hear from the critics about the loss all offseason.
The Vikings' game plan coming into the contest featured Adrian Peterson, who had ran for 409 yards in two meetings with the Packers this season. How bruised was Ponder's elbow that he couldn't have played?
Unless, like mentioned before, Frazier had no intention of starting Ponder and banked on the the surprise of starting Webb upsetting the Packers' defensive rhythm.
Instead of trashing Webb all offseason, should we be questioning Ponder's toughness?
Ponder's injury has been upgraded from an elbow bruise to elbow bursitis...an injury that could take up to two months to heal. Ponder tried to play yesterday, but evidently the Vikings training staff felt that Webb gave the Vikings a better chance to win than Ponder did.
And if that's the case, I'm happy the Vikings didn't throw Ponder out there.
Ponder tested his arm in pregame warmups by making 10 intermediate-range throws. He was spotted having a dark purple bruise on the back of his arm reminiscent of the Brett Favre bruises from the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
As if the 12-man deja vu wasn't bad enough.
Frazier has been concerned with Ponder's confidence this season. Fans have seen the difference between confident (16-of-28, 234 yards, three touchdowns against Green Bay in Week 17) and the non-confident (11-of-22, 63 yards, one interception against Seattle in Week 9) Christian Ponder this season.
By missing the playoff game, Ponder can continue to build off the success he had at the end of he season rather than be held back by a potentially disappointing performance against the Packers.
Think of it as a blessing in disguise as the Vikings continue to build a championship-caliber squad.
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