I think we can all agree Adrian Peterson is an amazing player having an amazing season. And the common narrative going into Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers is that the Minnesota Vikings are going to have to lean on Peterson hard, and get a superhuman effort from him, to win this game.
I don't think that's accurate. It certainly is going to help the Vikings chances of winning if Peterson rips off another 150-to-200 yard game at the Metrodome as opposed to producing some 20 carry, 50-60 yard stat line. But for the Vikings to beat the Packers, and do anything in the NFC playoffs, they need quarterback Christian Ponder to play at a standard that is somewhere between efficiently mediocre to solid.
Yes. You read the above sentence correctly. As goes Ponder, so goes the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson is an NFL MVP candidate. But as ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote in this post a few weeks ago, the Vikings success doesn't really hinge on Peterson. The Vikes have lost four games during a torrid nine-game stretch where Peterson rushed for 123 yards (Tampa Bay), 182 (Seattle), 108 (Chicago) and 210 (Green Bay).
What's notable is that in those four losses, Ponder's average QB rating was 53.1, he's completed just 51 per cent of his passes and he threw five interceptions compared to three touchdown passes. Brutal numbers.
In the Vikings five wins during this same nine-game period, Peterson has been no less dominant - save for last week's win over the Houston Texans. He's run for 153 yards (Arizona), 171 (Detroit), 154 (Chicago), 212 (St. Louis) and 86 (Houston). But Ponder has also been far less brutal in four of those five wins (he was brutal against the Cardinals, but it didn't matter because the Vikings were playing the Cardinals). His QB rating has been 73.8, he's completed 64.9 per cent of his passes and he's thrown four TD passes and been intercepted three times - two of those coming in the win over Arizona.
Ponder's stats in the five wins don't represent great quarterbacking. But they are noticeably better than what he did in the four Vikings losses. And his play in the wins against Detroit, St. Louis and Houston was good enough that the Vikings offense wasn't completely one-dimensional. Ponder was able to produce first downs with his arm and his feet instead of depending on Peterson to do all the heavy lifting.
In fact, Ponder's game against the Texan is the template for how he will have to play against Green Bay (and beyond) for the Vikings to keep on winning. There is no point in hoping Ponder has an outlier game or two where he's throwing for 250-300 yards and three TD passes. He's not capable of that right now, nor does he have the receivers who can help him get there. But the quarterback we saw against Houston played winning football. He was as decisive in his reads and in his throws as we've seen in about two months. He made good decisions and was accurate. He even converted on some important third situations that kept drives alive and led to points for the Vikings.
And if Ponder can keep playing like this (and maybe even a bit better), the Vikings have a great chance to beat Green Bay and be competitive no matter who they face in the playoffs, even in Peterson doesn't go apeshit and run for 250-plus yards.
I know. It's scary realizing the Vikings playoff hopes really rest in Ponder's arm (and head) rather than Peterson's legs. Ponder is a guy who's confidence seems to wane from game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter, even play-to-play. That's not the guy who should be trusted to play well enough in a pressure-filled game against a good opponent in a contest with playoff implications. And that isn't a guy we should believe can lead the Vikings on a playoff run if they get there.
Yet that is what we must do, Vikings fans. It's a sobering thought and one that make every purple homer think twice that Minnesota will not only make the playoffs, but could do some damage if they get there.
In Christian we trust? Not likely. But we have little choice in 2012.