The Vikings defense has shored up some of its previous woes, but it still can't get off the field on third downs. A look at just how bad things were, with reaction from Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder, as well nearly two dozen notes that tell the tale of the game.
The Vikings defense has shown marked improvement of the dismal 2011 season in many facets of its game. But one area that has been a constant problem rearing its ugly head again Sunday in the Vikings' 28-10 loss was the inability to get the defense off the field on third down.
With a defense in the top half of the league in most statistical categories, it has been one of the glaring missteps for the Vikings.
"For us, as an offense, we have to convert on third down. I don't know what our percentage was, but it couldn't have been good," quarterback Christian Ponder
said. "When you can't keep a defense off the field and our defense is on the field the whole game, that's tough on them. They get tired and their offense can take advantage of it."
The Vikings entered play Sunday tied for 24th in third-down defense. Of the seven teams worse than the Vikings in third-down defense, only one of them (New England) has a winning record. It is as accurate a measure of success as just about any single category and the Vikings have struggled badly in that regard.
Through the first 11 weeks of the 2012 season, the league average of third-down conversions was 38.1 percent. The Vikings entered play Sunday allowing 41.1 percent of opponent third downs to be converted and it only got worse Sunday. Chicago converted 11 of 19 third downs (57.9 percent), but even that didn't tell the full story of the Vikings' third-down woes.
The Vikings stopped the Bears on their first third-down opportunity four minutes into the game. From that point until six minutes remained in the third quarter – a span of 35 minutes of clock time – the Vikings allowed Chicago to convert 10 of 12 third downs. As horrendous as that number was, the two times the Bears didn't convert on third down, they cashed in for a field goal on one of them and converted on fourth down on the other.
"It's tough when that happens. You got to find a way to make a play," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We were so close a couple different times and we didn't get the ball out. You keep drives going and you take time off the clock. Conversely, you need to be able to convert third downs on offense in order to maintain possession of the ball. It can be tough, especially if those drives (from the opposition) result in touchdowns."
With Chicago nursing a 28-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter and milking the clock, the Bears converted just one of their final six third-down opportunities – more out of playing it safe and burning time off the clock than anything else – or else the final third-down numbers would have been much worse.
The Vikings have made a lot of improvement on defense this year, but the most critical element of playing successful defense is getting off the field on third down. The Vikings were unable to do that on such a consistent basis that it kept Chicago drives alive and allowed them to score on four straight possessions. Until the Vikings can tighten up that aspect of their game, they will continue to struggle against competent NFL quarterbacks.
GAME DAY NOTES
One of the few Minnesota individual rushing records Adrian Peterson didn't already own was the consecutive games with 100 yards rushing record, set by Robert Smith in 1998. Peterson rectified that by rushing 18 times for 108 yards Sunday, tying Smith with five straight 100-yard games.
What made Peterson's 100-yard game more impressive was that in the first half he had seven carries for 25 yards. In the second half, he had 11 carries for 82 yards.
The Bears didn't disguise who they were throwing to Sunday. Jay Cutler threw 31 passes and targeted Brandon Marshall with 17 of those passes. Marshall caught 12 of them for 92 yards.
Cutler was almost untouchable in the first half, completing 15 of 17 passes.
The game saw its share of injuries. The Vikings lost Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph to concussion-inducing hits. Smith did most his damage himself, delivering a sideline hit that left him worse for wear. Rudolph was injured in the third quarter when he took a shot from Lance Briggs when he was looking back and Ponder and was leveled.
The Bears came out of it even worse on the injury front. Devin Hester left in the first quarter with a concussion, Charles Tillman left in the second with an ankle injury, Matt Forte got his knee and ankle twisted badly and awkwardly in the third quarter and, after replacing two offensive linemen during the week, the Bears lost two Sunday – Chris Spencer and Lance Louis.
Jared Allen may be hearing from the NFL fine police this week. Louis was injured following an interception and, as the ball was being returned, Allen led with his helmet and launched himself for a blindside hit on Louis, who remained on the field for a couple minutes before being taken off. It was almost a textbook version of what qualifies as a fine-worthy hit.
Christian Ponder struggled against the Bears defense, completing just 22 of 43 passes for 159 yards with one TD, one interception and a passer rating of just 58.2.
Jarius Wright was the primary receiver in the Vikings offense, lending one to believe that, even without Percy Harvin, much of the Vikings pass offense runs through his position. Wright led the team in targets (10) and receptions (7).
Jerome Simpson had a brutal day. He was targeted five times, dropped three of the passes thrown his way and bobbled his only reception – a 1-yard gain.
Kyle Rudolph caught his seventh touchdown pass Sunday. Only two players – Visanthe Shiancoe (11 in 2009) and Joe Senser (eight in 1981) – have caught more touchdowns in a season for tight ends in franchise history.
Despite the Bears having a makeshift offensive line, the Vikings only sacked Cutler once and that came because he was tripped by his center while dropping back to pass.
One of the reasons Marshall may have been targeted so often was that, after Hester left the game in the first quarter, Chicago only had three wide receivers available on the roster.
The two teams combined for just six punt return yards, all of them coming on a short return by Hester that ended up getting him injured.
In the first 10 games of the season, Peterson had lost just one fumble. In Sunday's game, he coughed up the ball twice, although the post-game stats sheet credited Ponder with one of the two fumbles on a botched exchange, despite putting the ball right where it belonged on Peterson.
Forte had an early fumble that led to the game's first points – his first fumble in 246 touches.
The Bears ended up with a 23-15 advantage in first downs, but that didn't tell the entire story. The Vikings didn't get their initial first down until a minute into the second quarter and, at halftime, the Bears had a 16-3 advantage in first downs.
Neither team managed 300 yards of offense – Chicago gained 296 yards and the Vikings gained 258.
The game took a huge turn in the third quarter on the play Forte got injured. Trying to gain extra yardage, he was pulled backward and the ball came loose. It was scooped up by Mistral Raymond, who returned it for an apparent touchdown. But, after reviewing the play, the call was reversed and the Bears went on to kick a field goal, turning what could have been a 25-17 lead into a 28-10 lead.
Chicago held a dominating edge in time of possession, holding the ball longer than the Vikings in each of the four quarters and finishing with a 37:30 to 22:30 disparity in T.O.P.
The Bears quarter-by-quarter time of possession was dominant – 10:12, 9:27, 9:02 and 8:49.
In one of the stranger looks of the game, the Bears had to burn a timeout in the second half after Cutler couldn't get the playcall. Why? Because he was tying the shoelace of offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb.
Kevin Williams recorded a blocked field goal Sunday, the third of his career.
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.