Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is a veteran now, having played 21 games. Only one thing continues to surprise him about the NFL: The interest in his personal life.
Ponder is dating ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, a relationship made public last month by Ponder's accidental tweet. Some Vikings fans blamed Steele for Ponder's three-game slump a few weeks ago.
"It's pretty interesting," Ponder said last week in a phone interview. "I never thought I'd be in the paper or people asking me about my personal life. I guess it comes with the territory.
"You've got to have some humor with it. A lot of people take it way too seriously.... But it's interesting that people try to make an argument that it has something to do with what I do on the field. It has absolutely nothing to do with that."
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The Colleyville Heritage product, a first-round pick of the Vikings last season, is much improved from last season when he started 10 games. In his 10 starts this season, his completion percentage is up, his touchdowns are almost the same, his interceptions are down, and his passer rating is much improved.
"Besides that little three-game stretch, the biggest thing [I've improved on] is limiting those turnovers and creating a high completion percentage," said Ponder, who has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 2,027 yards with 12 touchdowns, eight interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating. "When you do that, you're definitely managing the offense and we're staying on the field, scoring a lot of points and keeping the ball out of the other offense's hands. I think I've done a good job of being more patient and making sure we're getting completions on first and second down. I need to continue that for the rest of the season."
Ah, the three-game stretch...
Ponder completed only 51.4 percent of his passes for 372 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions against Arizona, Tampa Bay and Seattle. In going 1-2 in those games with an average of 19.3 points per game, Ponder had two games with 63 or fewer passing yards.
His popularity in the Twin Cities waned during those weeks, with critics questioning his future as a franchise quarterback.
"I tend to try not to read the paper, good or bad," Ponder said. "I don't think there's much help either way. And I don't think anyone is going to be as hard on me as I am. I definitely expected to play better and knew at some point I would get out of that slump. I just kept showing up to work every day and working hard, and I kept watching film of myself to see what I could do better. Coaches stuck with me, and that gives me confidence that they are as confident in me as I am in myself."
Ponder and the Vikings got back on track last week in a 34-24 victory over Detroit, as he completed 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It helped that Adrian Peterson rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown.
During the team's bye week last week, while Ponder was in Phoenix getting his mind off football, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman gave Ponder a vote of confidence. Spielman said the Vikings have a three-year plan for Ponder, and Ponder is right on track.
"Rick's been very supportive of me ever since they drafted me and has always expressed his confidence in me," Ponder said. "I appreciate the relationship we have. Obviously, for him, the most important thing is for us to keep winning. I hope in three years that plan will be working out, and I'll be a Viking for a long time."
David Hawthorne had 100-plus tackles in each of the past three seasons for the Seattle Seahawks. But after missing five games in his first season with the New Orleans Saints, Hawthorne is just working to get back to 100 percent.
"It's about getting back to being me, get back to going out there and leaving it on the field and playing at a high level," Hawthorne said in a phone interview. "I want my teammates to know I am going to hold up my end of the deal. That's on my mind right now, because I'm kind of off schedule. I haven't been there the whole year, and I haven't played every game. Now, it's time for me to step up and do my part."
The former TCU star injured his hamstring in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He missed five weeks.
Coincidence or not, with Hawthorne starting at strongside linebacker the past two weeks, the Saints' defense has played better. He played 19 of 73 plays against the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, and last week, he was on the field for 31 of 73 plays against the Oakland Raiders.
He has made six total tackles the past two weeks.
"It was definitely a tough situation I had to deal with early on, being hurt," Hawthorne said. "I had never been hurt before, so my world was kind of shaken by not being able to play, and the team was kind of down. We didn't have the success we intended having. But we all kept fighting. I kept fighting through my injuries, and the team kept fighting. We're getting back to where we want to be."
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760