Drew Brees threw for 412 yards in a little more than three quarters for New Orleans and got his fifth touchdown pass before Ponder's fifth completion, leading the surging Saints to their sixth straight victory, 42-20 over the Vikings on Sunday.
The ever-cool Brees completed 32 of 40 passes to help the Saints (11-3) overcome two first-half turnovers and stay two games ahead of the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. Ponder was 4 for 13 for 18 yards with 12½ minutes remaining in the game until padding his statistics with the game long out of reach.
But the rookie, despite looking as rattled as he has all season, said his confidence wasn't shaken.
"You live for the ups, obviously. You learn from the downs, and that's what I'm trying to do," Ponder said. "I know here in the future we're going to have a lot more ups than downs."
Brees set an NFL season record with his 11th game of 300-plus yards passing against a struggling secondary that was further depleted with the loss of starting cornerback Asher Allen to a concussion.
"For me it's motivation," Ponder said. "I always want to be the best guy on the field, and obviously Drew is a heck of a quarterback and one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and I want to be better than him one day. I use that as motivation to get better and prove that one day I'll be in his spot, winning a lot of games and going to the playoffs."
The Saints allowed the third-most yards passing in the league coming into the game, but they flustered Ponder and the Vikings all afternoon. He had little time to throw, taking four sacks, and his receivers couldn't get any separation. Ponder finished 14 for 31 for 120 yards and two touchdown passes to Toby Gerhart, plus an interception. But even with Adrian Peterson back in the lineup after missing three games to a sprained left ankle, the Vikings (2-12) were as impotent on offense as they've been all season. Given two early gifts when the Saints lost fumbles in their own territory, they managed only two field goals.
"I don't think I did a good job of getting my guys prepared for what they were going to face today," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Frazier hesitated to express disappointment in Ponder's performance, insisting he consider the final two games before gauging whether this was a regression for the first-round draft pick who started strong when he took over for Donovan McNabb eight games ago.
"I still think in this case you have to be able to look at the long view," Frazier said. "Today was a tough day, no questions about it, but there were some other factors involved that created a long day for him as well as our team and offense."
Peterson rushed for 60 yards on 10 carries.
"I don't know how to explain 10 carries. I was ready to roll. I just do my job," Peterson said. "When I'm called upon, I just try to go out there and execute. We got behind so we kind of had to turn more into a passing team. That didn't work either."
He also said he was displeased by the team's effort.
"A lot of missed tackles defensively, a lot of missed opportunities offensively," Peterson said.
With Cedric Griffin benched, and Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield already out, Benny Sapp, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton were left to cover the Saints wide array of talented receivers. And even when they had tight coverage on the outside, the Vikings couldn't get any pressure on Brees, who simply stepped up in the pocket while his tackles pushed Jared Allen and Brian Robison up the field.
"Guys have to play with no fear, including myself," Sapp said. "We've got to go out there and make plays."
The defensive backs weren't the only ones who weren't doing that.
"It's frustrating, it's embarrassing and it's a terrible feeling," Allen said. "I know other guys feel the same way."
Notes: LG Steve Hutchinson left the game with a cut on his lip that needed stitches and didn't return. ... Sapp was held out of the first two plays for an unspecified disciplinary reason. ... Percy Harvin was held to 8 yards on three receptions and lost 1 yard on his only carry.