By RICK SOLEM
Confidence. It means everything in sports.
The Packers-Vikings game Sunday night - and the two teams’ seasons – prove that.
Anyone and everyone associated with Green Bay – and beyond - has confidence in Aaron Rodgers, who left the Metrodome for the last time under chants of “MVP. MVP.”
Meanwhile, it’s hard to say who has confidence in Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder, who left the field under chants that need not be repeated, no matter how someone played. It’s still a game.
Rodgers can do no wrong and rarely does. He added to his best-ever quarterback rating against any one opponent in NFL history with a 130.6 Sunday night. He was 24 of 29 for 285 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 44-31 win over Minnesota.
Rodgers has had the starting gig since 2008 and has gone 8-4 against Minnesota, which has used eight starting quarterbacks during that span – three in the last three games.
It’s hard to play any sport when your team doesn’t have any confidence in you and when your fans are booing at every missed opportunity.
It’s obvious Ponder isn’t the answer. He can’t be. Not anymore, despite taking Minnesota to the playoffs last year.
Yeah, Adrian Peterson had something to do with that, but up until Sunday night, he had more rushing yards this year through the first seven games than last year (499 to 511). The difference: Minnesota was 5-2 last year and Ponder was hot to start. He was 68 of 97 for 713 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions through the first three games.
He didn’t start well this year and everyone lost confidence in him, and he probably lost confidence in himself.
The Vikings’ offense is virtually the same from last year, except it added to the receiver corps with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, who listened to the Green Bay fans boo when he was announced during the starting lineups and booed again when he made his one reception.
Not to mention Adrian Peterson still runs the ball – sometimes. He had just 13 carries for 60 yards against Green Bay, which dominated the time of possession, but it was still just a seven-point game at halftime.
It’s just baffling how a team made up so similarly to last year can go in the complete opposite direction. And the fingers could be pointed all over the organization, but everyone points the finger at, not just Ponder, but whoever is playing quarterback.
Minnesota has been a carousel at the position with Ponder, then Matt Cassel, then Josh Freeman and back to Ponder.
He was benched for Cassel because of an “injury.” Cassel played well one game – their only win – then was benched when the team signed Freeman and started him 10 days later. Then Freeman played awful and was benched because of “injury” for Ponder, again.
The St. Louis Rams called Bret Favre. Had Minnesota any chance of making the playoffs, would it have done the same?
Ponder played OK against the Packers. He missed receivers at times, and the crowd let him know about it. It’s hard to play loose and free when everyone from the personnel upstairs to the fans in the rafters are judging your every move.
He didn’t deserve the things that were yelled to him after the game. He was 14-for-21 for 145 yards and ran for 38 yards and a touchdown.
The problem is never just one player. It’s not just Ponder. It’s the lack of getting Adrian Peterson the ball. It’s the defense. It was Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and the rest of the green and gold Sunday.
Minnesota is 1-6. Well on its way to a top draft pick, if not the No. 1 pick.
The Vikings may as well go all-in on the rebuilding effort. Jared Allen is rumored to be on the trading block. Should Adrian Peterson be, too?
Probably not, because the turnaround in the NFL can be quick. Washington and Indianapolis – the only two teams to beat Minnesota last year in the first seven games – made the playoffs with the addition of a quarterback.
Indianapolis was 2-14 before getting Andrew Luck and going 11-5. Washington sold the farm for Robert Griffin III and went from 5-11 to 10-6 and won its division.
Ponder isn’t the answer, but he wasn’t a question last year.
He threw for 234 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 37-34 win over Green Bay in the regular-season finale to get Minnesota into the playoffs – a game in which he was injured and didn’t get to start the next week in the playoff-opening rematch against Green Bay.