When an NFL team plays on the road, one of the things they always say is that a strong start can take a crowd out of the game. Conversely, a bad start can whip a crowd (and the opponent) into a frenzy that is hard, if not impossible, to stop.
With the eventual outcome of the game still in doubt, the Vikings had six separate errors that resulted a cumulative turning point of the game.
The first came on the Bears' opening drive of the game. With Chicago concerned about the Vikings' pass rush, the game began with the Bears providing maximum protection for quarterback Jay Cutler. With a first down on the Vikings 48-yard line, the Bears called a play in which only two receivers – Devin Hester and Roy Williams – were downfield options. Safety Husain Abdullah's job was to play centerfield and simply prevent anything over the top middle. But, he got sucked in on coverage and never compensated fully, spinning his body around to try to provide help over the top, but was well short of his target, as Hester blew by Cedric Griffin with no help in the middle for a 48-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Chicago lead early.
With the Vikings needing a response, they got their second third-and-out when Bernard Berrian dropped a pass that Donovan McNabb put right into his hands. It would have been a first down and would have allowed the Vikings to keep the drive going and potentially answer with a score of their own and get the frenzied crowd settled down. Instead, the drop seemed to pour gasoline on the fire.
The third gaffe came after the Vikings defense made a stop. Punt returner Marcus Sherels once again broke the time-honored tradition of fielding a punt inside the 10-yard line. Sherels went all the way back to the 5-yard line and made the fair catch. Two plays later, McNabb dropped to pass and, when the pocket collapsed, he was brought down for a safety, giving the Bears a 9-0 lead.
As bad as things were in the first quarter, they got worse in the second. After the Vikings scored their first points of the game to stop the bleeding at 16-3, the Vikings defense got a stop and forced a punt. With Minnesota pinned inside its own 20, the Vikings punt. But fearful of what Hester could do to them, punter Chris Kluwe was instructed to kick the ball to the sideline away from Hester. He did, but the ball bounced backward, resulting in an 18-yard punt that allowed the Bears offense to open shop on the Vikings 33-yard line. Four plays later, they scored another touchdown to take a 23-3 lead.
As if those four individual lapses weren't enough, the Vikings added two more in the matter of 10 seconds of clock time. With two minutes remaining in the half, the Vikings faced fourth-and-3 from the 15-yard line. Initially setting up for a field goal, Leslie Frazier changed his mind and felt the only way to build significant momentum was to go for it, hoping to get a touchdown and cut the lead to 23-10 at halftime. Instead, as the Vikings lined up, Michael Jenkins jumped from his stance for a false-start penalty, bringing the offense off the field.
What was expected to be an automatic 38-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell hooked wide left and the Vikings came away with nothing. The Bears marched down the field in the final 1:55, adding three more points on a 51-yard field goal from Robbie Gould and extending their lead to 26-3 at halftime.
Many times a game can turn on one or two critical plays. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they had a six-pack of mistakes in the first half that never allowed them to get into the game and let the Bears roll to an easy win in a multi-layered mess of mistakes.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Six-pack of mistakes
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