Packers roll over Vikings, Ponder in yet another Thursday Night Dud
In case anyone still doubts that quarterback is the most important position in football, Thursday night's 42-10 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings at the hands of the Green Bay Packers was pretty solid evidence to the contrary. Just last Sunday, the Vikings gained 411 total yards and scored 42 points against the Falcons to raise their record to 2-2 in a coming-out party for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. But Bridgewater suffered an ankle injury in that game, and it was Christian Ponder who started instead. The result was one of the more disastrous Lambeau Field trips for the Vikings in the team's long history.
Ponder completed 22 of 44 passes for 222 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, and most of the passing yardage he did gain came after the game was far out of hand, and the Packers were basically playing to avoid getting hurt. At the end of the first half, Green Bay had a 28-0 lead, and Ponder had completed eight of 18 passes for 60 yards.
Head coach Mike Zimmer, who said after the game that Bridgewater should be able to start the next game against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 12, was about as happy as you'd expect.
"If I have to hurt some feelings I have to hurt some feelings," Zimmer said of his response to this loss. "I don't really care because my feelings are hurt."
The Packers moved up to 3-2, with two straight victories after a slow start to the season that had them looking out of sorts on both sides of the ball.
"It's good for us. It's two division wins, short week, very good defense," Aaron Rodgers said after the game. "We didn't play great on offense tonight, but our defense has been playing really well the last couple of weeks -- especially the last six quarters -- and when they play like that, we should win games like this."
And when an opposing quarterback plays like that, any team should win games like this.
Here are three notes that were readily apparent in this game:
1. Minnesota's defense still needs some seasoning
From front to back, the Vikings have a great deal of talent on the defensive side of the ball. And in Zimmer, the team has one of the best defensive minds in the game. As a result, you'll hear some opine that if the Vikings can just get their quarterback situation together, this is a playoff team in the making. That may be true soon, but it's a bit early to crown these guys just yet.
On Green Bay's first touchdown, the matchup was purely predictable -- Rodgers threw an eight-yard pass to Randall Cobb against Vikings slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, with Cobb abusing Munnerlyn on a quick out route in the end zone. Cobb leads the league with six touchdown catches from the slot, and Munnerlyn came into this game as the NFL's worst slot cornerback, allowing a 158.3 opposing quarterback rating.
On the second touchdown pass (this one to Jordy Nelson), safety Harrison Smith bailed to outside coverage when Nelson weaved his way to the deep middle of the field. It was not a good look for Smith, who's generally smart and tough in coverage, but turned himself around before he needed to.
"There's not a lot of quarterbacking when you have a guy that wide open," Rodgers said of that play. "Just put the ball in a good spot."
On Green Bay's third touchdown, rookie receiver Davante Adams caught his first NFL touchdown pass by beating Josh Robinson on a slant to the end zone. It was Rodgers' 200th career passing touchdown ... and on and on it went. Eventually, Green Bay slowed things down and handed the rock to running back Eddie Lacy, who gained a season-high 105 yards on just 13 carries. This is a young team under construction, and if Bridgewater had been playing, the Vikings still would have shown that.
2. Christian Ponder is not ready for prime time. Or re-runs
One couldn't have expected Ponder to come in cold and beat an NFL defense, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was that Ponder showed the same negative traits that made the Vikings give the starting job first to Matt Cassel and then to Bridgewater, basically giving up on their former first-round pick. He was hesitant in the pocket, waited far too long to make throws, failed to make confident throws to the intermediate and deep levels and threw more deep balls out of bounds than he did between the lines. His two picks on consecutive throws in the second quarter were examples of this.
The pick-six to to Julius Peppers was a pass tipped by Luther Robinson after Cordarrelle Patterson fell down in coverage. Fair enough. But on Minnesota's next drive, he hesitated and threw a howlingly bad pass in the general vicinity of receiver Jerick McKinnon, and it was picked off by linebacker Jamari Lattimore, who appeared to be Ponder's actual target.
What does this mean for Ponder's future? He'll be a free agent at the end of the season, and he may have to accept one of those Kevin Kolb/Matt Leinart "it's just about over" deals from another team if he wants to stay in the NFL.
3. This Thursday Night Football thing isn't working too well
26-6, 56-14, 45-14 and 42-10. These are the scores of the Thursday night games through the 2014 season that don't kick off the season -- games in which a team has to deal with games on each side of a Thursday night contest. And if the NFL cares as much about its product as it claims, it may want to take a pass on these midweek aberrations. The last three Thursday night games have been the three biggest blowouts since the NFL implemented the dodgy practice in 2006. Thursday Night Football has given us announcing booths filled with Bryant Gumbel, Matt Millen, and the midweek version of Phil Simms. And before tonight's game, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that had this game been played on Sunday, Bridgewater would have probably been able to go. Thursday night games give teams lower recovery times and throw their organizational clocks into a tizzy. The current simulcast agreement with CBS and the NFL Network has a one-year deal, so it's not like anyone is locked into this.
And when you have Phil Simms doing two games a week, you have Phil Simms with less time to prepare for every game. Eek. And then, you get stuff like the following back-and-forth between Jim Nantz and Simms as the third quarter was drawing to a close and the Packers were up, 42-0. The subject: Bridgewater's disastrous Pro Day, and how it may or may not have impacted his draft stock.
Nantz: So, I've got this question for you. You scout them all year long, I guess it means nothing, it all comes down to your Pro Day? Is that what it means?
Simms: I think it means something.
Nantz: So, let's start saving budgets here! Let's quit flying guys around the country to watch a guy play 11 times and make an opinion...
Simms: You're confused! You're listening to the opinions ... the opinions of people on TV.
(Um... Phil? You're on TV right now).
Nantz: Well, you said he dropped because of his Pro Day ... so, did they scout him all season long and have him higher?
Simms: They do. I don't know that! I think once they saw him throw and they look at his regular season, they saw some of those problems. And I told you -- Norv Turner has fixed some of those problems by the workout, and we've seen the difference.
Nantz: I know that on a lot of networks, including our own, you would hear about the Teddy Bridgewater Sweepstakes, as though this was the John Elway draft coming up.
Simms: That's great, what you hear, but let's go by what the NFL people think. Not all of us, who are armchair draft pickers. So.
So, indeed. It's hard to bring the full measure of Simms' incoherence in a transcript, but it's fair to say that limiting him to one game a week is the way to go. It's also the way to go for the league.