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Kevin Schnepf, Published September 15 2013

Schnepf: Ponder shows signs of hope in loss to Chicago

FARGO - Marc Trestman, who 35 years ago at this time in Moorhead had hopes of being a college quarterback, saw Christian Ponder take a baby step in proving he can be an NFL quarterback.

But Ponder’s late-game resurgence wasn’t enough.

A 57-year-old Trestman, a former Minnesota State Moorhead quarterback experiencing his second game as an NFL head coach, saw his Chicago Bears remain undefeated with a last-second 31-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings – who remain winless, and still at times, hopeless with Ponder at quarterback.

But as much as Sunday’s loss in Chicago was a kick in the gut for the Vikings, there were signs of hope for Ponder.

OK. He still threw an interception for a touchdown. And yes, he got a lot of help Sunday with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 61-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown and three Chicago Bears turnovers.

The Vikings were lucky they weren’t down by two or three touchdowns – a hopeless deficit when you have Ponder at quarterback.

But give Ponder some credit for bouncing back from a miserable first half in which he completed only six passes for 81 yards. In the Vikings’ last three possessions, Ponder completed 10 of 15 passes. He engineered impressive 81- and 79-yard drives that produced two field goals. And he threw a 21-yard strike to Greg Jennings between two defenders, helping set up a field goal that gave the Vikings a 30-24 lead with more than three minutes remaining.

For those of you Ponder haters who were cursing his telegraphed, first-half interception to Tim Jennings that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown, I’m sure you wanted touchdowns instead of field goals. Twice during one second-half drive, he was unable to spot wide-open receivers downfield. Even his first-half touchdown pass was nearly picked off.

There are still many who do not harbor the hopes the Viking coaches have for Ponder. Hope is one thing. Confidence is another, as once explained by Fran Tarkenton – the Vikings’ quarterback back in 1978 when Trestman was ending his quarterback career at MSUM.

“Hope can’t be part of the game plan when coaches are preparing for Sundays,” Tarkenton analyzed. “Only he (Ponder) can line up under center, look at what the defense is doing and make the right throw in the heat of the moment.”

Meanwhile in Chicago, it is evident that Trestman has confidence – not just hope – in his quarterback Jay Cutler.

For the second straight week, Cutler engineered a come-from-behind victory. In the final three minutes in driving rain on Sunday, Cutler completed 7 of 11 passes – including his game-winning touchdown strike with 10 seconds remaining.

It is also evident that Cutler – who used to fold when his team got behind – appreciates having a head coach like Trestman.

Even though his hopes of being a quarterback faded, Trestman has become one of the most respected quarterback gurus in the NFL. Perhaps one of few NFL head coaches with a law degree, Trestman has coached standout NFL quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Rich Gannon, Scott Mitchell and Jake Plummer.

A St. Louis Park, Minn., native, Trestman once coached with Vikings great Bud Grant as his running backs coach. In 1990 and 1991 he was the quarterbacks coach for the Vikings.

“I know Marc Trestman,” Tarkenton once said. “He has – dare I say it? – a little Bud Grant in him.”

It makes you wonder if Trestman could help Ponder. It makes you wonder if Trestman would have confidence – or just hope – in Ponder.

It was back in 1978 when the football team at Minnesota State Moorhead placed its hope on a transfer quarterback from the University of Minnesota. The anticipated savior was a senior named Marc Trestman. He ended up starting only five games, completing 34 of 91 passes for 423 yards. He was eventually replaced by Mark Reed, who would later become an All-American.

Sometimes, all those hopes have to be abandoned. And if Ponder continues to take just baby steps, then there has to come a time when Viking coaches give up their hopes on Ponder.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at

(701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com.

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com