Ponder said this week that seeing the mistakes he made against the Packers and learning from the experience helped to create a sense of urgency that he has to play better.
But at the same time, Ponder said he has also become more relaxed on the field and is simply enjoying playing the game, a lesson he learned in part from watching NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers play quarterback for the Packers.
Looking back at the Dec. 2 loss at Green Bay, Ponder said: "It was tough. I definitely was down for the rest of [that] Sunday and it was hard to watch the film of the game. But I moved on, because next week was Chicago, it was an important game for us and I was able to play a little better and we won. So it's something that I've learned, whether it's good or bad, you always have to move on from it."
Ponder said he knows he has to be smarter with the ball and doesn't have to make the big plays all the time, realizing he has other playmakers on the field with him, not only running back Adrian Peterson but also tight end Kyle Rudolph and receivers Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins.
"It not all me," Ponder said. "It's my job to get them the ball and let them play it, and if something's not there, then throw it away."
Well for those critics of Ponder, and there have been many, in the last three winning games, the 2011 first-round draft pick has on third downs completed 17 of 26 passes for 190 yards with 15 first downs, a pretty good stat.
That's the kind of efficiency he will need if the Vikings are going to beat the Packers to clinch a playoff spot.Respects Packers
Ponder has a lot of respect for Rodgers, who is perhaps the best quarterback in all the NFL.
"I think the biggest thing is that his arm strength and his accuracy ... he throws the ball extremely well ... probably the best arm in the league," Ponder said.
Ponder looks for the Packers defense to be improved over what he faced earlier this month, because this time they will have All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews back from injury.
"They're going to be different than that we faced a couple of weeks ago," Ponder said. "... Our receivers are going to have go in there against man coverage and do some different things, but it's going to be a good defense. It'll be a tough challenge for us."
It goes without saying that this game is vitally important for the Vikings. Ponder noted that last week's game at Houston was a big one, too.
"So it's probably true again this week, but we're just treating it as another game, and we're going to have fun with it," Ponder said. "It's been a lot of hard work to get to this point and to have a meaningful game like this, we're going to enjoy it."Gophers victory wasn't to be
On Friday night in Houston, Michael Carter, a certain future NFL cornerback, had just come up with his second fourth-quarter interception. There was only 5 minutes, 6 seconds to play and the Gophers had the ball at the Texas Tech 46-yard line with a 31-24 lead in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
This interception could have been the play that locked down the biggest victory in Jerry Kill's Gophers career, beating a 13-point favorite by shutting out the high-powered Red Raiders offense in the second half, but fate just wasn't with the Gophers.
A false-start penalty moved them back 5 yards, and they couldn't convert on third-and-5 from the 41, punting the ball back to Texas Tech, which took over from its own 18 with 3:24 to go and promptly went 82 yards in seven plays for the tying score.
Then with only 55 seconds left, Philip Nelson threw the interception that set up the winning field goal for the Texas Tech, and it was heartbreak heaven for a Gophers team that had dominated the game for a good part.
Yes, there were some positives despite the defeat. The entire starting offense will return next year, including a line that was finally healthy and did a great job of opening holes, helping the Gophers rush for a season-high 222 yards.
On defense, the team has to replace Carter, Troy Stoudermire, Mike Rallis, Keanon Cooper and D.L. Wilhite. If the Gophers can stay healthier next year, you can look to see them compete with a lot of teams they haven't been able to compete with in the past.
With so many returning players, the additional experience for the Gophers should lead to a lot more victories.
• Look for an announcement of the firm that will build the Vikings stadium in the next 10 days or so. • Steve Goldstein, who has been president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation, has retired from his position. He has raised millions of dollars for the school and was one of the best at what he did. Goldstein was a great friend of the athletic department in many ways and will be missed. • Tom Izzo, the great Michigan State coach who opens Big Ten play at Williams Arena on Monday, recently spoke about how the return of Trevor Mbakwe to the Gophers lineup would affect the team: “I think he’s going to make a big difference. I think finally Tubby [Smith] has gotten a break instead of all the bad breaks that he’s gotten. Mbakwe? I think the coaches in the league loved him because he plays hard, he rebounds, he does things. … He’s going to be a big difference-maker where this puts them as a contender.” • Does Glen Taylor have anything new about his selling the Timberwolves? “I have a number of people that are interested, but I haven’t struck a proposal or an agreement yet,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work on it and concentrate more or less on two individuals. No, even if I do get an agreement with somebody, it would not be to sell the team immediately. It’s more of a long-range program.” • Outside of the owners and players, no one knows more about what is going on in the NHL lockout than Lou Nanne, and he looks for peace to come in the near future. “I still anticipate them getting something done,” he said. “I firmly believe that, whether the players want to acknowledge it or not, that they’re getting more concerned and more unrest among the players realizing that they don’t want to miss the whole season, they shouldn’t miss the whole season, and a deal is so close that they should get it done.”