MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Christian Ponder's success as an NFL quarterback is years away from being determined.
He's not interested in waiting for the Minnesota Vikings to improve, though.
"We want to win now. We're putting that pressure on ourselves that we want to do a lot better than 3-13. We want to make the playoffs. We want to be competitive in the NFC North," Ponder said.
The Vikings (29th in the preseason AP Pro32) are 9-24 since they advanced to the NFC championship game behind Brett Favre 2 1/2 years ago. Even if running back Adrian Peterson is back to normal from the start following his rehabilitation from reconstructive surgery on his left knee, there are too many rookies and recent late-round draft picks in the starting lineup for the Vikings to be seriously considered around the league as contenders.
But one of the beauties of the NFL, of course, is the thin margin between bad teams and good ones. With 16 games and the constant competitive balance provided by the salary cap, there's almost always one club that turns a double-digit-defeat season into a playoff spot the next year.
"In our minds, we have a good team," Ponder said. "Obviously, we've still got a lot of things to get better at in these next two weeks. Obviously, we know it's tough. We know it's a tough division. You look at last year: We were in so many games. We could have easily been 10-6, and we ended 3-13. So that's a good sign. We were close last year, and we're only going to be better this year."
The question is how much better the Vikings can be with Ponder, whose first 10 NFL starts could be best described as erratic.
His confidence has been apparent on the field and that's one of the most important steps. He's had some practice performances during training camp that were rookie-like, but overall he's been more accurate in the pocket and made better choices about where to throw the ball.
In the preseason opener at San Francisco, he was 4 for 9 for 80 yards. But three of those passes were in and out of his receiver's hands, and the other two incompletions were throwaways. That's another encouraging sign for the Vikings, that his competitive zeal isn't overwhelming his common sense.
"That's the way winning football teams play," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "They may have poor plays, but they are not so poor that the team has a tough time overcoming them to get the outcome that we want. We can overcome a lot of things, but when we turn the ball over or go backward with sacks and penalties, those are more difficult to overcome."
Adding wide receiver Jerome Simpson, tight end John Carlson and left tackle Matt Kalil should give Ponder more time and more options for moving the team up and down the field. How often the Vikings reach the end zone, however, will ultimately up to the quarterback.
"I think this whole offense is very versatile. We can do a lot of different things, and I think that's the exciting part," Ponder said. "We're going to keep a lot of defenses on their toes."
NOTES: Veterans DE Jared Allen, WR Percy Harvin, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield were rested against the 49ers last week, but coach Leslie Frazier said they'll all play Friday against Buffalo. The starters are expected to play into the second quarter. ... Peterson will be held out again, as will TE John Carlson (right knee), WR Kamar Jorden (right hand), OT DeMarcus Love (pectoral muscle in one of his shoulders) and OL Geoff Schwartz (recovery from sports hernia surgery). RB Jordan Todman (left ankle) probably won't play against the Bills, either. ... Frazier said the team might begin to let Peterson start to take some contact in practice next week.
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