If Christian Ponder keeps playing this way, he could even date a Kardashian and no one would care.
"I want to thank my girlfriend because obviously she has such a big impact on how I play, which allowed me to win. So thank you," a grinning Christian Ponder said.
Yes, well, Ponder has been catching hell via social media for his poor play over the last several weeks. Many Vikings followers made a connection between Ponder's recent woes and the revelation that he has been dating ESPN personality Samantha Steele. Apparently, if he had been keeping company with some frump from Anoka, he would have been throwing the ball a lot better.
But against the Detroit Lions, Ponder -- or Mr. Steele, as some of his wisecracking teammates call him -- appeared to be back to early-season form in the Vikings' 34-24 victory. A week's worth of work went into getting him to that point.
Walking into the Metrodome before the game, it appeared that many of the cash customers were doing vocal exercises in the parking lot: "Do-Re-Me ... boooooo!" They were going to give it to Ponder, all right. The last two losses had been horrible and the inevitable clamoring for backup Joe Webb had begun in earnest.
When he ran onto the field for the first series, the lack of noise was almost eerie. It's as if everyone was staring at him, eyebrows cocked and thought balloons floating over their heads that read: "Just make one wrong move, buddy."
We all knew what would follow any sort of
misstep. So did coach Leslie Frazier, who spent much of the week trying to diagram a play in which Ponder's first pass would result in a completion. It didn't matter if the pass went for 20 yards or three yards, but it had to result in a catch. You might say the Vikings had to take the home crowd out of it, at least as far as Ponder was concerned.
"We tried to come up with something we thought would guarantee us a completion to get him off to a fast start," Frazier explained. "And we had that open formation we used at the beginning of the game and we had that completion, I think it was to Jerome Felton. Good start for him, good start for our team."
On his first play from scrimmage, Ponder dropped back and looked for Kyle Rudolph downfield. When he didn't find him open, he flipped a shorty to Felton for five yards. All the potential leather lungs sat down and took another sip of beer. I shudder to think what might have happened had Ponder lofted the ball over Felton's head, something he's done routinely over the last couple of weeks.
Three Adrian Peterson runs later, Ponder dropped back and found Jarius Wright for 54 yards. Suddenly, all was right between Ponder and the fans and, I'd imagine, between Samantha Steele and the fans, who probably nudged each other and muttered, "Lovely girl."
Before it was over, with receivers running recalculated routes and the offense setting up in new formations, Ponder had competed 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. And no one would have cared if he were dating Typhoid Mary.
"Christian Ponder, just the way he played, he's kind of been in a funk the past couple of weeks, and coming back and really getting back on track, that helped us to be balanced on offense," Peterson noted appreciatively.
Vikings coaches added new wrinkles in an effort to get receivers open. They tweaked the pass protection, and they worked hard to keep Ponder in the pocket. Instead of taking off, he was instructed to step up and keep going through his checklist of receivers.
"I felt the way he practiced throughout the week, particularly on Friday, he was really on fire," Frazier said. "I told him, we were going from one drill to another and I said, 'You have to save some of this for Sunday now,' because he looked that good in practice on Friday. I knew he was really focused and locked in to having a good game on Sunday and, sure enough, he did."
Ponder knew a lot of people had been soured by his recent play.
"No one puts more pressure on me than myself," he said. "I get disappointed with the way I play and I know I can play better. No matter who writes what, it's not going to be as disappointing to read as what I say to myself. It doesn't bother me because it comes with the territory. The criticism is justified with the play on the field.
"I know I can play better and today was OK. There's still a ton of room to keep improving."
And I'd go so far as to say that his girlfriend now has the official approval of everyone in the cheap seats.