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Vikings' Webb makes it interesting

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Minnesota Vikings' Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt for a touchdown during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DETROIT — Suddenly, the ghost of Joe Webb is hovering over the Vikings organization.

As a quarterback, Webb appeared to have died a long time ago. He was buried amid all the commotion of the decline of Donovan McNabb and the rise of Christian Ponder. Webb became an afterthought, a jack-of-all-trades who might show up in the Wildcat formation or at wide receiver once in a while.

Now some might ask: Did this kid get a fair shake?

Recently elevated from third-string to second-string after McNabb was cut, Webb materialized midway through the third quarter when absolutely everybody had seen enough of Ponder.

The Forrest Gump of quarterbacks — "run, Joe, run!" — Webb did a fantastic job until that very last play that, in typical Vikings fashion, went screwy and cost them a victory. The Lions hung on for a 34-28 win.

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Ah, 2-11, 3-10 . . . what's the difference? This way, they are still in the running for Southern California tackle Matt Kalil. But it was nice to see Webb return from the spirit world and make things exciting.

Up until Webb came in, the Vikings were getting blown out, and I was thinking we might see some fans wearing bags over their heads at the Dome next Sunday. And I was going to suggest "Zygi Bags" on which the fans stenciled mustaches and eyebrows. That would be funny. Maybe put a few dollar signs on the back. However, now it would be unfair to wear a bag after such a gutsy effort by the team.

On Sunday, Webb did what he does best: run with the football. If this were 1955, Webb would be an NFL star. But in 2011, you really have to be fairly proficient as a passer. No matter, completing several shorties and running as if his shoulder pads were on fire, Webb got the Vikings back in the game.

"He showed again his abilities to get out of trouble, make plays and just create things when there is nothing there," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.

Again? He hasn't gotten a chance to show much of anything this season. But look, there is no quarterback controversy here. Just in case anybody was wondering, Frazier noted that Ponder would be back next week. And that's the way it should be.

But you have to wonder where Webb would be in terms of development if he had received all the love and attention from the coaches that Ponder has received.

Webb rarely even practiced with the first team until last week, when Ponder was doubtful because of a hip injury.

"It feels good," Webb said. "You know, it's always good to get on the field."

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He didn't look so good at first. Webb's first few passes weren't even in the same ZIP code as his receivers. And those were just the short passes. But you could see his confidence grow. By game's end, he was showing a decent touch. He stood over center for three Vikings series: two TD drives and that last one that exploded at the Detroit 1.

"At first I was a little jitterish," he said in an Alabama drawl so thick that it's easy for a listener to get lost halfway through a sentence. Fortunately, Joe usually doesn't go on for more than half a sentence.

Until that last play, he was the feel-good story of the 2011 Vikings season. He ran for 109 yards on seven carries. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 84 yards. Most important, he marched the team down the field three straight times. But that last play . . .

"That's one play I wish I could take back," he said over and over.

Basically, he hesitated on a fade to Kyle Rudolph, then got hammered and lost the ball. There was an awful lot of complaining about the fact that linebacker DeAndre Levy had grabbed him by the face mask —  a penalty that wasn't called. But not from Webb, who said he didn't even notice it.

Ponder still is the future even though he played abysmally against the Lions. Obviously, some of it was injury-related. He was questionable right up until game time.

Furthermore, his wide receivers are subpar, and he didn't have much time to throw. Yet none of that explains several horrible decisions, such as trying to throw across his body on the run in the red zone. Ugh!

Ponder will be back next week. Webb will sort of disappear into the spirit world. But he made his presence felt. That aura should linger for a while. And the way things are going, Frazier may need to conjure him up again before the end of the season.

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