EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — There is one starting quarterback left in the NFL who hasn't thrown an interception this season.
One of the last passers who would have been in the conversation for that stat is Christian Ponder. His rookie year for the Minnesota Vikings was at times promising, but predominantly erratic and painful.
Yet here he is four games into 2012 with an array of poise, awareness and accuracy not often seen last season.
"Obviously my biggest fault last year was turning the ball over way too much," Ponder said. "So to kind of correct those things and to put in a lot of time to protect those things, it's paying off. I've just got to continue that. It's only the first quarter of the season, so I've got three quarters to go and hopefully some extra quarters after that."
The 12th pick -- and the fourth quarterback taken -- in last year's draft, Ponder finished 2011 with 13 interceptions and two lost fumbles in 10 starts. His completion percentage was 54.3, and he averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. He didn't finish three of those games, once because of a concussion, another time due to a hip problem and the other benching a combination of performance and that injury.
Through four starts this season, Ponder has lost two fumbles. His completion percentage is 68.3, sixth in the league, and he's averaging 6.7 yards per attempt even though he still doesn't have a completion of 30 yards or more.
"He's making a conscious effort to make good decisions with the ball," coach Leslie Frazier said. "When you consider the rate that he was throwing interceptions at a year ago and then you see how's he is doing now, it's just a credit to Christian understanding what turnovers do to a team, and then making good decisions under pressure. There have been times where he's been trapped in the pocket, where a year ago he might have just tried to throw it up or take a sack, and he's gotten rid of the ball or he does a very good job of throwing a check-down."
That's football speak for finding a last-resort receiver after the intended target is covered and when the defensive pressure is on. Almost as important as the interception reduction for the Vikings is that Ponder, benefiting from an improved offensive line, has taken only eight sacks and lost 28 yards, an average of twice per game and 3½ yards per takedown. Last year, he was sacked 30 times for 164 yards, an average of three times a game and almost 5½ yards each.
Ponder, in fairness to his 2011 performance, hasn't even finished the equivalent of a full season yet. He has 14 career starts.
"His confidence is way better than it was, and you would expect that in his second season. It translates to our players. They sense the confidence that he has," Frazier said. "I can remember Percy Harvin commenting on it when we were in our offseason practices. He said, 'Man, coach, Christian seems to be so much more confident, so much more in control.' That's what you want to see, because everyone else on offense kind of gravitates to that leader."