Tuesday October 18th, 2011

The Vikings made Christian Ponder a surprise pick at No. 12 overall, and now we'll get to see if they made the right pick. (Rob Grabowski/US Presswire)

Anyone who saw Sunday night's Minnesota-Chicago game had to have some idea that Donovan McNabb's time as the Vikings' QB was about up. Tuesday, it became official -- Minnesota will go with rookie Christian Ponder at QB, with McNabb relegated to backup duties.

It was really an inevitable move for the Vikings once they started 0-4. McNabb, 34, will be a free agent at the end of this season (if he decides to keep playing), and Minnesota spent the No. 12 overall pick in April's draft on Ponder.

At 1-5 and five games back of first-place Green Bay in the NFC North, the Vikings have virtually no chance of a playoff run this season. So turning their focus to the future is a natural reaction.

Does that mean Ponder will step in and excel?

It will be difficult with an aging offensive line and a team that may soon be lacking motivation. Ponder played well enough in relief Sunday night, throwing for 99 yards on 9-of-17 passing and showing good agility in the pocket.

But Minnesota was hoping to play this out similarly to how Tennessee has utilized its Matt Hasselbeck-Jake Locker QB duo -- the consensus was that Locker needed more time before jumping into an NFL lineup, and he's getting it with the Titans at 3-2 and Hasselbeck playing well.

Things never came together like that in Minnesota this season. The Vikings lost their first four games by an average of 4.5 points, struggling on offense for huge stretches each time.

They weren't even competitive Sunday night. Minnesota fell behind 16-0 in the first quarter, with McNabb taking a safety and the defense coughing up two touchdowns.

McNabb wound up completing 19 of 24 passes but, like had been the case all season, failed to deliver any extended periods of solid play.

With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings tried to use McNabb to bridge the gap to 2012 and stay competitive at the same time. With the wheels coming off so early in 2011, though, the plan has changed.

Ponder's arrival as the starter might lead Minnesota to explore a wholesale rebuilding process -- the Vikings are aging on both lines and, outside of Peterson and Percy Harvin, find themselves in need of playmakers. The mountain will be even harder to climb with Green Bay still looking like the NFL's best team, the Lions rapidly turning into a contender and Chicago staying in the hunt. Christian Ponder won't fix things overnight, especially with the juggernaut Packers coming to town in Week 7, but he at least represents an opportunity to move forward.

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