Vikings defense can't hold at end of halves

The Vikings defense couldn't get it done at the end of each half, giving up a combined 10 crucial points that surrendered the halftime lead and then the game in the fourth quarter.

In what appeared to be a role-reversal in which the Vikings seemed to play the Chicago Bears' style of football to what had all the makings of a win Sunday at Soldier Field, it was a late collapse by the Vikings defense in both halves that led to a 31-30 loss on a gut-wrenching turning point for the players and coaches.

In a game that had myriad of strange twists and turns of momentum – from huge kick returns to defensive touchdowns – the Vikings' struggles at the end of the first half had a positive moment at the end, but resulted in Chicago taking a lead to halftime. The Vikings had tied the game 21-21 with 1:11 remaining in the first half, but the Vikings allowed QB Jay Cutler to gash them.

It shouldn't have happened in the first place, since the Bears seemed content to run time off the clock with a 1-yard run by Matt Forte from their own 20-yard line. But a 15-yard personal foul changed all that and, when Cutler completed a 31-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, Chicago was knocking at the door for a go-ahead touchdown. While the Vikings made a goal-line stand, the Sanford penalty got the Bears moving and eventually into scoring position and they took advantage with a field goal and a three-point halftime lead.

Minnesota battled back in the second half, keeping Chicago out of the end zone until the final 10 seconds. The Vikings had a 27-24 lead with 3:28 to play in the game with the ball on the Chicago 4-yard line. The Vikings had run the ball up the middle and Chicago used its first timeout to stop the clock at 3:28. With the Bears prepared to use their two remaining timeouts, the Vikings called a pass play to Kyle Rudolph, but he got caught up in traffic getting off the line and Christian Ponder played it safe by putting in a position where the defender couldn't get to it. Neither could Rudolph. On third down, the Vikings opted to take a shot on the ground that would either force the Bears to use their second timeout or, if A.D. got a seam, would be the game-clinching touchdown. Peterson was brought down for no gain and the Vikings settled for their third field goal of inside 30 yards in the game – taking a 30-24 lead with 3:15 to play.

Things would unravel quickly from there. After allowing a Bears franchise-record 249 return yards to Devin Hester, the Vikings opted not to show confidence in its return team. Instead of risking a fourth big kick return from Hester, the Vikings kicked short. The ball came down around the 20-yard line and it was returned to the 34, which one could argue was a surrender to the Bears. Jay Cutler had three minutes, one timeout left and 66 yards to go. He would need nearly all of that time, but, in the end, found a way to gash the Vikings defense for the game-winning score.

The Vikings had a chance to push the Bears to the limit, as Cutler faced a third-and-4, but he completed a 12-yard dart to Brandon Marshall to move the chains. Once again, facing a third down two plays later, Cutler and Marshall connected again for a first down to the Vikings 29-yard line with just 49 seconds to play.

The Vikings caught a break on the next play when left tackle Jermon Bushrod was called for a holding penalty on Jared Allen, but on the very next play, tight end Martellus Bennett worked his way across the field and caught a short check-down pass that he took for 23 yards down to the Vikings 16-yard line. With the clock rolling, Cutler spiked the ball with 21 seconds to play and his timeout remaining.

After a throwaway on second down, the Bears again faced a third-down situation and, with Bennett crossing through what appeared to be zone coverage with Chris Cook. Cutler threw a perfect pass that Bennett hauled in for a touchdown with just 10 seconds remaining to give the Bears a 31-30 win.

Any chance for a bomb/time out/field goal miracle at the end of the game was squandered when, instead of taking a knee on a squib kick, John Carlson tried to return it and had the ball stripped away from him, giving the Bears the ball and the win.

In a game that featured a little bit of everything, it was the inability of the Vikings defense to stop the Bears at the end of both halves that resulted in the 10 points Chicago needed to win and a turning point that has the Vikings two games behind the Bears with a loss in hand to two divisional opponents. It's only two games into a 16-game season, but it couldn't have started worse for the Vikings, who had chances to win both games, but mistakes in all three phases, highlighted by defensive failures, have them at 0-2 in a pretty deep hole.

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.

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