Things have gone from bad to worse for the Chicago Bears. After starting the season 7-1, the club lost three of four heading into Sunday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.
The Vikings, the only team Chicago has beat in the second half of the season, exploded out of the gates, with Adrian Peterson breaking off a 51-yard run on the first play of the game, and never looked back. Minnesota's 21-14 victory this afternoon keeps their playoff hopes alive, while it puts a serious crimp in Chicago's plans for a postseason appearance.
The Bears drop to 8-5, a half game back in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers (8-4), who square off against the Detroit Lions Sunday night. It's safe to say that Chicago will need to win at least two, if not all three of their remaining contests to make the playoffs.
The Bears will host Green Bay next week before finishing the season with two straight road games against the Arizona Cardinals and the Lions.
Injuries The Bears came into this game without four starters: WR Earl Bennett (concussion), LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring), DT Stephen Paea (foot) and CB Tim Jennings (shoulder). Things got worse against the Vikings. It started in the pre-game, with K Robbie Gould straining his left calf in warmups. Injured during the game: DT Henry Melton (shoulder), DE Shea McClellin (knee), S Craig Steltz (chest) and CB Sherrick McManis (knee). Jay Cutler was hit hard on a third-quarter sack, a play that bent his head backward. He did not leave the game but he was replaced by Jason Campbell on the team's final two drives. Cutler said after the game his neck felt stiff and he had spasms on the left side that got worse as the game went on.
Keys from Week 14
-Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. He now has 101 catches on the season, which is a Chicago Bears franchise record for receptions in a single season. It was the third game in a row Marshall has caught 10 or more passes. It was his second game in a row, and seventh overall this season, of 100 or more receiving yards.
-Marshall was targeted a whopping 19 times on the day. Even with Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester back in the lineup, Cutler continued to lock on to his favorite target. On an at least four occasions by my count, Cutler had a receiver wide open down the field, yet instead chose to force it to Marshall. Cutler finished the game 22 of 44 for 260 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, good for a QB rating of 57.0.
His first interception came on a pass to Jeffery, who fell down as Cutler was releasing the ball. CB Josh Robinson intercepted the pass and returned it to the Chicago 5-yard line. That set up Peterson's second touchdown of the game, putting Minnesota ahead 14-0. Cutler's second pick came on a high pass, something that plagued him all game, which bounced off Marshall's hands into the arms of S Harrison Smith, who returned it 56 yards for the game-winning score.
When you look back at the game as a whole, those two interceptions were what cost Chicago the victory.
-Cutler's touchdown was a 23-yard strike to Jeffery in the second quarter, in which Jeffery was able to get behind his defender. He finished the game with three catches for 57 yards, yet he dropped a pass in the end zone that would have gone for a touchdown. Drops killed Chicago's offense all day. Hester also dropped a touchdown, while Marshall dropped a crucial third down late in the game. If Jeffery and Hester make those catches, the Bears win. It's as simple as that.
-Speaking of drops, Kellen Davis had a horrible day. He was, amazingly, targeted eight times. Not surprisingly, he caught just three of those passes for 25 yards. He dropped two passes, both of which would have gone for first downs, and was spotty as a blocker. Late in the game, Davis was replaced by Kyle Adams, who caught one pass for nine yards. It's safe to say the Bears will be searching for tight end help this upcoming offseason.
-Hester was also targeted eight times, catching five passes for 39 yards. He was aggressive after the catch and looked very good out of the slot, until he dropped a touchdown pass on a crossing pattern with nothing but green between him and the end zone. Hester was also solid in punt return duties, running forward and not backward on each of his returns. He finished the game with five returns for 58 yards (11.6 avg.).
-It appears the Edwin Williams experiment is over. In the second quarter, Williams was pulled from his left guard spot and replaced by James Brown, the undrafted rookie out of Troy. Williams returned to the game the following series, only to be replaced by Brown again in the second half. Tice obviously had seen enough of Williams, who has struggled mightily the past two weeks, and will now see what Brown has to offer.
-On offense, the Bears hurt themselves with stupid penalties, and dropped passes, which stalled a number of promising drives. In the second quarter, with Chicago driving in Minnesota territory, Cutler found Marshall for 23 yards. Yet the play was called back because of a holding call on LT J'Marcus Webb. The Bears punted the ball three plays later. Webb picked up a second holding call in the fourth quarter, which nullified a personal foul call on Minnesota.
Late in the third quarter, the Bears started a drive with a 36-yard run – with 15 yards tacked on due to penalty. With a 1st and 10 at the Vikings' 34-yard line, RG Gabe Carimi false started. On the following play, Brown was called for holding. Four plays later, the Bears would punt.
-RB Matt Forte was also utilized in the pass game, for the first time in a long time. He caught six passes on seven targets for 34 yards. His six receptions are the most for Forte in any game this season. On the ground, he was even better, rushing 13 times for 85 yards (6.5 avg.).
The key stat with Forte, the one that had the most impact on the game, was his paltry 13 carries, in a game that was never out of hand. Mike Tice bailed on the run in this game despite his star runner averaging 6.5 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings were able to pound the rock with Peterson, who carried the ball 31 times.
By continuously handing it to Peterson, the Vikings took the ball out of QB Christian Ponder's hands, not allowing him to make a lot of mistakes. By forcing Cutler to throw 44 times – and 59 times overall as a team – Tice put his offense at risk, which resulted in two game-changing interceptions.
-Peterson's success started on the opening play of the game. On an off-tackle right run, he was able to get outside and race down the sidelines for 51 yards. Five plays later, he rumbled into the end zone from one yard for his first TD of the game. With Ponder struggling for most the game, the Vikings fed Peterson 31 times for 154 yards.
-Minnesota pushed around Chicago's defensive line in the run game all afternoon. With Paea out at nose tackle, the Bears turned to Matt Toeaina, who has been active just twice this season, in the middle. Toeaina was not able to adequately eat up space, which opened holes in the middle of the field. While Toeaina, as well as fellow nose tackle Nate Collins, played poorly, they weren't helped much by the defensive ends, who failed to set the edge on a number of big plays by Peterson. Corey Wootton in particular had a hard time holding his ground.
-While Wootton struggled against the run, he was able to apply a lot of pressure on Ponder. He finished the game with Chicago's only sack. It is the seventh straight game the Bears have had two or less sacks. The pressure up front has not been as good as it was earlier in the season, which has led to some long, game-changing drives for opposing offenses.
-With Melton out for over half the game, Israel Idonije slid inside and filled the need at defensive tackle. He did an admirable job along the interior, holding his own against the run. If Melton is forced to miss time with his shoulder injury, Idonije could be effective in his place.
-CB Kelvin Hayden started in place of Jennings. Hayden did not have a good game. He was beat on numerous third downs, almost exclusively with the slant pattern. Hayes is a solid veteran but he's much better as a backup than a starter. The Bears moved Hayden around in this game, sliding him into the slot on occasion and rotating in both Zack Bowman and D.J. Moore.
-In an attempt to pick up the slack, both Lance Briggs and Nick Roach had outstanding games. Briggs was all over the field making plays, finishing with the most tackles on the team (11). Roach, in only his fourth career start at middle linebacker, was also solid, racking up nine tackles, two of which went for a loss.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.