In the nightmare that has been the Minnesota Vikings 2011 season, there hasn’t been much cause for optimism. We’ve got a team with an aging roster, a muddled front office with no clear chain of command, a starting quarterback that is regressing weekly, a franchise player who is about to undergo major reconstructive knee surgery and our archrival is dominating the NFL. At least the Metrodome roof is still inflated!

The one man who has provided a ray of hope in this bleak landscape of bad karma and incompetence has been relegated to second string status. Joe Webb has parlayed his two extended stints behind center into the Vikings most memorable games of 2011.

On December 11 in Detroit, Webb entered the game in the 3rd quarter with his team trailing the Lions 31-14. 109 rushing yards, 84 passing yards and 2 touchdowns later, he stood at the 1-yard line in the game’s closing seconds, down just 34-28. Only an inexplicably blown facemask call prevented a comeback victory.

Almost as inexplicably, head coach Leslie Frazier – likely with pressure from the front office – went back to Ponder the following week. Coming off his 3 interception, 1 fumble half in Detroit, Ponder was completely overmatched against New Orleans and the Vikes were blown off the field 42-20.

Last week in Washington, Webb made an even more compelling case that he could be the Vikings quarterback of the future. After a lackluster first half (8-13, 68 yards) and the score tied at 10, Ponder was knocked out of the game early in the 3rd quarter with a concussion.

In his second relief appearance in three weeks, Webb led the Vikings to four straight scoring drives that included 3 touchdowns: a 9-yard run, a beautiful 17-yard touch pass to Kyle Rudolph and an 8-yard strike to Percy Harvin. Add a Ryan Longwell field goal and you get a 33-26 Vikings win. Their 6-game losing streak was history.

Now, with Ponder cleared to play in Sunday’s finale, Webb finds himself back on the bench. The reason is as simple as it is wrong; Ponder was a 1st round pick in last April’s draft, while Webb went in the 6th round the previous year. Personnel director Rick Spielman’s job became tied to Ponder the moment he was selected 12th overall.

Entering the 2010 season, many in the organization wanted to move Webb to wide receiver. Only Brad Childress’ stubbornness kept him at QB. For all of his faults, Chilly was dead right on that call. Ponder is Spielman’s chosen one; Webb is the guy Chilly refused to turn into a wide receiver. Politics, not performance drive the decision.

Webb not only has more potential – bigger, stronger, faster – he’s also the better player right now. I challenge Spielman, Wilf or Frazier to look us in the eye and tell us he’s convinced that Ponder, not Webb, has a better chance to be the Vikings elusive “Quarterback of the Future.”

While Webb has earned the chance to start this week against Chicago, that’s small potatoes. If the Vikings are really committed to winning and putting the best players on the field, they’ll open up training camp next July in Mankato with a genuine, completely open battle at QB.

Don’t count on that happening. No matter what the organization says, the job will be Ponder’s to lose and Webb will again be limited to Bill Musgrave’s awkwardly timed gadget plays and gimmicks. The Vikings will relegate one of their few dynamic playmakers to a bit part.

That means it’s up to us as enlightened fans to take up the cause. It worked in Denver with Tim Tebow and it can work here too! Free Joe Webb from the bondage of the sidelines and the tyranny of the short-sighted, small-minded thinking that keeps him there!

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