By Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Ponder passed for more yards and finished with a higher quarterback rating than Andrew Luck on Sunday.
Raise your hand if you think he also outplayed him.
Not that Ponder played poorly, at least not after halftime. He showed poise and made some clutch plays to put the Vikings in position to possibly win a game they had no business winning.
But Luck lived up to his hype in his second NFL game and ultimately got the upper hand in the Colts’ 23-20 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The No. 1 overall pick carved up the Vikings with his arm, frustrated them with his feet and left them dejected with two bullet passes on a frenetic final drive that culminated with a 53-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.
“I was not awarded a game ball,” Luck said, “but I kept one.”
He sure deserved one. Luck engineered a game-winning drive with 31 seconds left in his home debut as Peyton Manning’s successor after his team went ultraconservative in the second half and squandered a two-touchdown lead.
Luck rifled a pair of 20-yard completions to trump Ponder’s late-game fireworks, raising hopes for an organization that endured a miserable season before gaining his services.
“It’s just amazing that the guy is able to go out there and do the things that he does for a rookie,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
Sunday’s matchup featured two teams on the ground floor of rebuilding projects that revolve around a pair of young quarterbacks. Luck looks like the real deal. The Vikings are still trying to figure out if Ponder is, too.
Ponder displays moments, and even extended periods, that make one think he’s capable. But his first-half performance against Jacksonville in the opener and Sunday’s first half give you pause. He certainly has better personnel surrounding him than Luck.
Nothing went right for the Vikings offense in the first half, other than a few nice runs by Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin’s usual brilliance in turning short passes into big gains. The Vikings didn’t take any shots down field, and Ponder absorbed three sacks while holding on to the ball too long in search of receivers who couldn’t get open.
Ponder said the Colts limited big-play opportunities by positioning their safeties deep. The Vikings don’t exactly have a deep threat right now with Jerome Simpson serving his suspension. But Ponder and this offense can’t survive by pinning their hopes on Harvin’s ability to break tackles.
“I need to keep doing a better job of stepping up into the pocket,” Ponder said. “I knew their pass rushers were obviously very good on the edges. I think I was hanging back in the pocket too much. Our receivers are getting open. I just have to do a better job of finding them and creating and finding windows and getting that ball out.”
The passing game opened up more in the second half as the Vikings played catch-up, but Ponder also benefited from at least two lucky bounces that would have altered the perception of his performance (245 yards passing, two touchdowns, 114.6 rating). Linebacker Kavell Conner dropped a sure interception on a forced throw to Stephen Burton in the fourth quarter inside the Vikings 35.
Later, Burton caught a TD pass that was tipped at the line and deflected off tight end Kyle Rudolph’s hands at the goal line.
“I guess I’m living right for that to be completed,” Ponder said.
Luck needed no such luck. Operating behind a patchwork offensive line, he eluded constant pressure and never looked rattled. He passed for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 107.5 rating. He was sacked only twice and rushed for 21 yards while keeping numerous plays alive with his pocket presence.
“We were around him all day, and he was moving,” said Jared Allen, who missed several sack opportunities after Luck escaped his rush. “He made some plays.”
Luck orchestrated a touchdown drive in the final 1:11 in the first half and the winning drive in the final 31 seconds of regulation. “There’s no panic to the kid,” Pagano said.
That should make the Colts and their fans sleep easy at night.