The Vikings know from experience how dangerous Devin Hester can be. They got another up-close lesson on that as Hester broke big punt and kickoff returns against the Vikings. Plus, get more than 30 notes that help tell the tale of the Vikings' 27-13 loss.
With all the ups and downs of the 2010 season for the Vikings, the one thing that had remained consistent for the first seven games of the season was the play of the Vikings special teams. They had been as good as any special teams unit in the league, but, with what may well have been their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the special teams allowed the Bears to take control of the game.
The Vikings came into Sunday's game with the Chicago Bears
knowing that they had to account for one player more than the rest – speedy receiver Devin Hester
. A dynamic playmaker who has burned the Vikings in the past with two punt returns for touchdowns and an 81-yard receiving touchdown in his career against Minnesota at Soldier Field, if the Vikings were going to beat the Bears, it would mean controlling Hester.
They didn't and Hester made them pay in a 27-13 Bears win.
"You can kind of tell, feel now that every time he goes back there he is thinking about going the distance," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Hester. "He's one touchdown away from being the all-time career TD leader. But as much as anything, just another opportunity to help the team win, that's what he's trying to do."
Twice in the game, the Vikings had a chance to seize momentum, but deflating special teams play killed any positives the Vikings might have been earning. Following a 53-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin
that gave the Vikings a 10-7 lead, a short kick into the wind away from Hester was fielded by Rashied Davis
on the 19-yard line and returned 32 yards into Vikings territory. With a short field to work with, the Bears took advantage, scoring on a 19-yard pass to Hester to turn what could have been a three-point deficit at the half into a four-point halftime lead.
Hester, who hadn't returned a kickoff all year prior to Sunday, made his presence felt midway through the third quarter. Having already returned one kickoff 32 yards, after a Ryan Longwell
field goal cut the Bears lead to 17-13, Hester took the ensuing kickoff back 68 yards. The Bears wouldn't take full advantage, but cashed in on a field goal that quickly re-established Chicago's seven-point lead at 20-13.
Hester's next chance came when the Vikings offense went three-and-out. All season long, the Vikings punt coverage team had not allowed a return of more than 9 yards. That would change in a hurry. Despite Chris Kluwe
pinning Hester within a few feet of the sideline, a half-dozen missed tackles allowed Hester to race 42 yards to put the Bears back in Vikings territory.
"I thought Chris Kluwe did a nice job with the ball and I thought he hung it the way it should have been hung," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "We knew that he liked to push it in that short field. Obviously, it had something to do with coverage, and lack thereof."
Of all the disappointments for the Vikings this season, the one consistent bright spot was the special teams. The Bears had five returns in the game: three kickoffs for 132 yards – a 43-yard average; and two punts for 47 yards – a 23.5-yard average. There is plenty of blame to go around following the latest loss, but now a considerable portion of that blame can be leveled squarely on the special teams – which failed when the Vikings tried to gain some momentum.
GAME DAY NOTES
The Vikings have lost nine straight road games dating back to last season.
A couple of weeks ago, the Vikings had Randy Moss, Harvin and Bernard Berrian with hopes that Sidney Rice would be available by Sunday's game against Chicago. When Harvin went down late in the game, they had none of them – Rice wasn't activate to the 53-man roster and Berrian was active but didn't play because of a groin injury.
Rookie Chris Cook started at cornerback in place of an injured Asher Allen.
John Sullivan went down in the first quarter with a recurrence of a calf injury.
The Bears had six drives that started in Vikings territory.
The Bears came into the game with the worst third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at less than 23 percent. They converted 11 of 19 third downs while the Vikings converted just one of nine chances.
The Bears outgained the Vikings 360-240, thanks to running 20 more plays that than the Vikings (74-54).
The Bears had 230 passing yards and 130 rushing yards, while the Vikings had just 170 passing and just 70 yards rushing on 23 carries.
The Bears were their own worst enemy in terms of penalty yardage. Chicago was called for 11 penalties for 116 yards, while the Vikings were only flagged twice for 19 yards.
The Bears dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 34:39, as opposed to just 25:21 for the Vikings.
After having an impressive first half, Brett Favre finished the game completing 18 of 31 passes for 170 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of 44.5 (at halftime, his passer rating was 128.8).
It wasn't all Favre's fault. Two of his interceptions came when receivers slipped on the field and the passes were easy picking for Bears defenders.
In the second half, Favre completed just nine of 19 passes for 65 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Favre has the most interceptions in the league with 16, after throwing just seven last year.
Jay Cutler had a solid outing, completing 22 of 35 passes for 237 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Adrian Peterson had just 51 yards on 17 carries – his lowest rushing total of the season.
In the first quarter, Peterson had seven carries for 31 yards. In the final three quarters combined, he rushed 10 times for 20 yards.
The Bears got 69 yards on 11 carries from Matt Forte. In the second half, he rushed 14 times for 48 yards.
Shorthanded at receiver, three players had four catches to lead the team – Harvin (4-64 and a touchdown), Visanthe Shiancoe (4-29) and Peterson (4-24).
Johnny Knox led the Bears with five catches for 90 yards, but five players caught three or more passes and three other players caught touchdown passes.
Ryan Longwell had a field goal hit the upright and bounce out. It was his first missed field goal of the season.
E.J. Henderson had 10 tackles and Chad Greenway had nine to lead the Vikings defense.
Husain Abdullah had a strong game, picking off two passes – the first two interceptions of his career.
Brad Childress may need to bone up on his knowledge of penalties. In the third quarter, Cutler was called for an illegal forward pass on third down. The pass fell incomplete and Childress was animated in asking that the penalty be declined. The problem with that? The penalty is a 10-yard penalty from the spot of the foul and an automatic loss of down.
At halftime, the Bears had an edge in total yards of 223-161. Chicago had 149 yards passing and 73 yards rushing, while the Vikings had 105 yards passing and 56 yards rushing.
Toby Gerhart showed a little burst in the first half of the game, having carries of 11 and 9 yards in which he carried tacklers with him for most of those yards.
The Vikings had a chance to take control of the game early, but squandered scoring chances. On their first two drives of the game, the Vikings ran 21 plays – with an 11-play drive and a 10-play drive – but came away with just three points to show for it.
Favre completed his first seven passes of the game and didn't have an incompletion until 5:30 remained in the first half.
The Vikings dominated the first quarter, outgaining Chicago 88-44. From that point on, the Bears outgained the Vikings 316-152.
The Vikings took a 3-0 lead on their opening drive of the game – the first time all season the Vikings have scored points on their first drive.
The wind was a factor the entire game, blowing at 20-30 mph.
Chicago has won nine of the last 10 times they have played the Vikings at home.
Sunday was the 99th meeting between the teams.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.