I have been racking my brains about this for some time trying to pinpoint the reason, and I just can't find one. My only conclusion is that people see the other NFC North quarterbacks and think Ponder should be as good as them.
Has he been Aaron Rodgers? No, but few quarterbacks are. Has he been Matthew Stafford? They both have dealt with injuries, but that comparison is still one sided. Has he been Jay Cutler? Not at all, on and off the field. But even despite this, he doesn't deserve the massive amount of hate he is receiving.
Lets look at the start of his second season. The Vikings opened up 4-1, shocking the football world. During that time, Adrian Peterson logged one game above 100 yards, and scored two touchdowns against Jacksonville. He certainly didn't carry Minnesota on his back to start.
That was Ponder. During those first five games, Ponder completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns with only two interceptions. He also helped orchestrate the first real upset of the season against San Francisco in Week 3. That is impressive to say the least.
He did cool off, though. One fact that people continually look at when criticizing Ponder is the six-game stretch in the middle where he struggled to accomplish anything. I will agree that he certainly looked atrocious. And those who argue otherwise were not watching the same game. He had only one game with a quarterback rating above 75 during that stretch, and that was against the porous Detroit defense. The Vikings went 2-4 during that stretch, and most of the blame lies on his shoulders.
However, those who call that Ponder's 2012 season into question almost always fail to mention the final four-game stretch. The Vikings, sitting at 6-6, needed to win out for a chance at the playoffs. Ponder stepped up to the challenge. He completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 630 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception. He had help from Peterson of course, but Peterson proved during Ponder's rough stretch he couldn't do it alone.
The final two games are especially impressive. In Week 16 against Houston, Peterson struggled compared to his usual self, managing just 86 yards on his 25 carries. Ponder picked up the slack, taking over with an inspiring performance against one of the AFC's best teams. Then in Week 17, in a do-or-die matchup against the rival Green Bay Packers, Ponder played his best game ever. And he needed to, as it became a shootout. He hit on many clutch third-down conversions, including a 3rd-and-11 on the final game-winning drive.
Now I am not saying Ponder is in the same class as the other NFC North signal-callers—and he may never be among them. What I am saying is that he was a key component in a surprising season for Minnesota, yet he seems to not receive any credit. Even Stephen A. Smith throws his Ponder hate into the mix. Surprisingly, Skip Bayless sees it the same way as I do (via espn.com).
It is worth noting that Ponder has only had 27 career starts. He was expected to have a season or two behind Donovan McNabb before he was to play, but his disastrous play forced the young man into the fray early. Now 2013 will certainly be a prove-it season for Ponder. If he isn't up for the challenge, I will undoubtedly eat crow, but I feel that to discard him at this stage of his career is foolish.
Ponder is just now starting his third season, and big things could be on the horizon for the Vikings' young quarterback. He went through a slump last season but seemed to come out of it at the end of the year. His stock should be rising, not falling, and this season it could soar higher than any expect.
He, along with the rest of the Vikings, have shocked us before. Who's to say he can't do it again?
All stats from NFL.com