Turning point: Ponder answers Rodgers

Christian Ponder (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)

While Aaron Rodgers was working his typical comeback magic, Christian Ponder stood tall with important passes at key times.

From the time the Packers began their charge back from a 20-10 halftime deficit to the Vikings, there was an uneasy feeling in the Metrodome. They had seen this song and dance before – Aaron Rodgers leading his team back from deficits for a late win. However, it was the maligned Vikings offense that led the charge back, answering a pair of game-tying scoring drives from Green Bay that created a playoff-bound turning point.

With cornerback Antoine Winfield out in the second half after reinjuring his right hand, Rodgers attacked the Vikings secondary with big plays. He completed all seven of his passes in the third quarter for 177 yards and two touchdowns and, with the ball to start the fourth quarter, led the Packers to a scoring drive that tied the game at 27-27 with 12:21 to play. It was time for the Vikings offense to make its own fourth-quarter statement and they came through not once, but twice.

"We never lost confidence in what we could do," wide receiver Michael Jenkins said. "We were tied and knew that we could move the ball on them. It was just a matter of executing. That first play for us was huge."

The play Jenkins referred to was the first play of the ensuing drive following the Packers' field goal that tied the game at 27-27. With the Packers expecting a steady dose of Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder crossed them up with a bomb to rookie Jarius Wright that went for 65 yards and moved the ball from the Vikings 21-yard line to the Green Bay 14 in a matter of seconds.

"That was a play we worked on all week," Wright said. "We were waiting for the right spot to call it and I was excited when they made the call. Christian threw a perfect pass. All I had to do was run under it."

It looked as though the drive was going to stall deep in Packers territory as a holding call backed up the Vikings to a third-and-goal from the 12-yard line, but, after an illegal hands to the face call on Tramon Williams gave the Vikings a new set of downs, on a third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Ponder found Jenkins in the end zone for a touchdown that looked as if it might be intercepted. Instead, it was corralled for the score to give the Vikings a 34-27 lead with 7:54 to play.

"The play kind of broke down, so we had to improvise to find our spot and get open," Jenkins said. "I was crossing over the middle and had to loop back around the other direction. Christian saw me and delivered the ball in a spot where I could catch it. It was a great throw."

Not to be outdone, Rodgers rallied the Packers right back, controlling the ball for exactly five minutes on an 11-play drive that included a gutsy call on a fourth-and-1 from his own 43-yard line that got Packers to midfield. When he threw a back shoulder pass to Jordy Nelson with 2:54 to play, it once again appeared as though the Packers were going to have the Vikings' number. It was once again time for the Vikings offense to stand and deliver – as much or more with Ponder than with Peterson.

Things didn't look good early. At the 2-minute warning, the Vikings were faced with a third-and-11 from their own 27-yard and were facing the prospect of having to give Rodgers another chance late, but Ponder delivered a perfect 25-yard sideline strike to Jenkins for a first down before turning the game over to Peterson.

The Vikings seemed content to run the ball and presumably let rookie kicker Blair Walsh attempt another 50-plus yard bomb field goal to win the game, but Peterson did what Peterson does, turning what looked to be a short run over left tackle into a 26-yard gallop down to the 11-yard line. From there, Walsh hit a 29-yard field goal to win the game and send the Vikings to a playoff rematch with the Packers next Saturday night.

At a time when Rodgers was performing his typical magic, Ponder had him measure for measure and, in the end, made the plays that provided the turning point of the game and capped the Vikings' improbable run to the playoffs.

"I don't know how many people would have thought this was possible," Walsh said. "We never lost faith in this locker room and we've been playing playoff football for the last four weeks. Now, it's just official."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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