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Minnesota Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, left, tries to catch Seattle Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond after Thurmond intercepted a Christian Ponder pass early in the fourth quarter Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Thurmond returned the pick 29 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seahawks a 38-13 lead. Reuters

QB controversy won’t go away for Vikings

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder threw two interceptions to help Seattle score 14 points in less than a minute early in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks blew open a close on the way to a resounding, 41-20 victory.

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That left the Seahawks with a 10-1 record and clearly in control of the tough NFC West. It left the Vikings firmly in the grips of a quarterback controversy that won’t go away. Ponder was benched in favor of Matt Cassel, whose play probably left Vikings fans wondering if Josh Freeman should get another chance after a disastrous performance a few weeks ago.

After linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepted a Ponder pass in Minnesota territory, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Seahawks a 31-13 lead with 13:14 remaining. Forty-four seconds later, cornerback Walter Thurmond III picked off Ponder and raced 29 yards for the score to seal the win for the Seahawks (10-1).

Thanks to the San Francisco 49ers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks hold a 3½-game lead in the NFC West with five games remaining.

Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Lynch had 17 carries for 54 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Wilson hit him with a basketball-like, back-handed flip pass to account for another score early in the fourth quarter. That 6-yard touchdown put Seattle comfortably ahead before Thurmond’s interception padded the lead and sent Ponder to the bench.

Ponder, who was coming off an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, completed 13 of 22 passes for 129 yards. He was playing pretty well before throwing interceptions on back-to-back possessions.

Cassel came on to replace Ponder after the second interception, and he promptly threw one of his own when Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons tipped a pass that was caught by defensive lineman Clinton McDonald at the Minnesota 18-yard line to set up a Seahawks field goal. Three consecutive Vikings drives were ended by interceptions, all of them coming within a span of two minutes, 13 seconds.

Had it not been for a Ponder pass that Wagner dropped near the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks would have had interceptions on four consecutive Minnesota possessions.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the decision to bench Ponder was simply a search for momentum, not necessarily a nail in the coffin of Ponder’s career as a starter.

“We just wanted to see if Matt could give us a spark, if Matt could help us,” Frazier said. “That was the reason.”

Frazier wasn’t saying whether Ponder, Cassel or Josh Freeman would start next week.

“We’ll sit down Monday and talk about things we’ve got to do,” the coach said.

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson gained 65 yards on 21 carries — he sat out most of the fourth quarter — after busting out for 182 yards in a loss to the Seahawks last season. Backup Toby Gerhart had a team-high 67 yards on just seven carries.

Former Viking Percy Harvin’s first kickoff return as a Seahawk went for 58 yards, setting up a Seattle touchdown after the Vikings (2-8) pulled within 17-13 on a Blair Walsh field goal with 48 seconds remaining. Five plays and 38 seconds later, Wilson hit wide receiver Doug Baldwin for a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Seattle an 11-point halftime lead.

The Seahawks did not plan on using Harvin as a kickoff returner Sunday, but a first-quarter injury to return man Jermaine Kearse opened the door for Harvin.

“I realized he was back there, (but) I thought we could cover the kick,” Frazier said. “He didn’t, and they ended up with great field position, and they scored. A big sequence.”

Harvin wound up with one reception for 17 yards. After the game, he said it was a longer road back than many people knew. He mentioned an appendectomy and a procedure to remove a tumor, in addition to hip surgery.

“I had a lot going on other than just the hip,” he said. “It was emotional for me just being out there. ... Today was the No. 1 test. I went through all the practices and wasn’t limited at all. I don’t see any more setbacks. I’m looking to take off from here.”

Minnesota wide receiver Jarius Wright caught three passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, the second one coming on a 21-yard pass from Cassel with 2:18 remaining.

Cassel played the final three series for Minnesota, and he completed five of 13 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Vikings de-activated Freeman for the third consecutive week before the game, but it seems realistic that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback will be considered for next week’s start.

“I just continue to work,” Freeman said after the game. “It’s not going to change my approach; it’s not going to change my attitude. I’m going to be the best Josh Freeman I can possibly be for this team.”

Wright said he wasn’t concerned with the identity of the team’s quarterback.

“It shouldn’t matter,” he said. “Even if one of y’all (in the media) got back there and threw it, we as receivers are going to catch it. That’s our mindset.”

NOTES

WR Jerome Simpson, who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving last week, played but did not start Sunday. He made one catch for 1 yard.

C John Sullivan suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We just wanted to see if Matt (Cassel) could give us a spark, if Matt could help us. That was the reason.” — Coach Leslie Frazier, regarding benching Christian Ponder after interceptions on two consecutive possessions.

WHAT WE LEARNED

It may be time to reconsider Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback.

While Christian Ponder actually played pretty well for three quarters Sunday, his inconsistency reared its ugly head again early in the fourth quarter. After interceptions on consecutive possessions helped Seattle turn an 11-point game into a rout, Ponder was benched in favor of Matt Cassel.

Freeman, who has made only one start since being signed as a free agent following his release by the Buccaneers, was inactive but appears to be healthy enough to play. With just six games remaining, the Vikings need to see what they have in him — or address the position in the offseason. It became all too clear once again that Ponder is not the answer.

The Vikings’ receiving corps could be on its way to big things. With veteran Greg Jennings sidelined and Jerome Simpson distracted by off-the-field issues, Minnesota put the game in the hands of youngsters Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday. Wright certainly did his part, with two of his three receptions resulting in touchdowns, while Patterson was targeted a team-high nine times for three receptions. The development of Wright and Patterson could be as big to the Vikings’ passing game as whoever ends up being the quarterback of the future.

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