Rookie QBs meet in Charlotte
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- For the first time in the Minnesota Vikings' 51-year history two rookie quarterbacks will square off Sunday when they play the Carolina Panthers.
Christian Ponder, the No. 12 overall pick in this year's NFL draft who replaced Donovan McNabb in the starting lineup last week, will meet up with top pick Cam Newton, who has the Panthers looking for back-to-back victories after winning only two times altogether in 2010.
The rookies became friends while working out this past offseason at the IMG Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla., under the direction of quarterback coach Chris Weinke, a Minneapolis native who was drafted and played for the Panthers.
"I call him Ponderosa," Newton said of Ponder. "Good guy, man. We had a couple weeks to get to know each other, along with that whole draft process. ... You hear so much about each other, to have an opportunity to work out on a day-to-day basis with each other, it's amazing. He's a good guy. And his work ethic is unbelievable."
Ponder simply calls Newton great.
"Obviously, Cam is a great talent and is having an extremely successful first year and is doing really well," Ponder said. "He's a great guy; he's fun to be around and is an extremely hard worker. We definitely pushed each other (at the academy)."
So was Ponder able to keep up?
"Probably not," Ponder said. "Cam is just a freak of nature with how big he is and how fast he is. He really is a physical freak. I would like to say I'm as athletic as him, but probably not."
Not too many are.
Newton has shown an incredible knack for keeping plays alive with his feet even when things look dire, frustrating defenders who can't bring the 6-foot-5, 248-pound quarterback to the ground.
The Panthers are coming off a win last week against Washington and seek to get to 4-5 with wins at home over Minnesota and Tennessee. Newton ranks third in the NFC in yards passing and has thrown for eight touchdowns and run for seven. With Newton under center, the Panthers have scored 18 offensive touchdowns, two more than they did last season with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore at quarterback.
Although just seven games into his NFL career, this is already the third time Newton has started a game where he's the more experienced quarterback. In both previous games, against Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and Washington's John Beck, the Panthers came out on top.
The good news for Ponder is Carolina's defense has been struggling to get off the field, particularly against good running teams, which means he'll be relying heavily on the league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson.
Although things appear to be looking up for the Panthers, the Vikings (1-6) are in need of something positive. The problem is Charlotte has not been kind to them: Their previous two games at Bank of America Stadium have ended in pure disappointment.
In 2005, the Panthers rolled the Vikings 38-13 behind 201 yards receiving by Steve Smith, who rubbed a little salt in the wound after a touchdown catch by mocking them with an end zone row-boat celebration -- just weeks after the Vikings' party boat scandal. If that wasn't bad enough, Daunte Culpepper suffered damage in three knee ligaments during the loss and was sidelined for the season. He never played again for the Vikings.
Four years later, the Vikings came in hot, then lost 26-7 on national television to a Carolina team already out of the playoff hunt. Coach Brad Childress thought about benching Brett Favre and the two exchanged heated words on the sideline. Although Favre escaped without being benched, Bryant McKinnie wasn't so lucky after getting overwhelmed by Julius Peppers.
The Vikings have their fair share of problems coming in this week.
Starting cornerback Chris Cook, a 2010 second-round draft pick, has been suspended indefinitely without pay after being arrested on felony assault charges, leaving a gaping hole in the secondary.
The Vikings hope to get their other starter, Antoine Winfield, back from a neck injury, but that will be a game-time decision. If Winfield can't go, they'll be forced to play seldom-used reserve Asher Allen.
The Vikings come in ranked 29th in pass defense, which could make it difficult to stop Smith, who leads the NFL in yards receiving. The Panthers' offense ranks fifth in the league.
"Playing without one of our guys, yeah, it makes a difference," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But as good as Green Bay's quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) played on Sunday I thought our guys did some good things along the way. It just tells me that they're going to be ready to go when we line up this Sunday against Carolina, whoever we end up playing with."