For much of the 2016 season, Minnesota Vikings fans have been forced to get used to an offense that has struggled on the ground and made enough plays through the air to hold up its end of the bargain with a defense that was the top-rated in the NFL.
In Monday’s 20-10 loss to the Chicago Bears, it was the first time that the defense was overwhelmed – and it was done by a Chicago team that has struggled all season to make big plays on offense.
- The Bears rolled up 403 yards on 61 plays against a defense that was allowing less than 280 yards a game throughout the season.
- They allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season – and Jordan Howard was only three yards short of that at halftime.
- They allowed Jay Cutler, who hadn’t played since Week 2, to complete 20 of 31 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 100.5.
- In the first half alone, the Vikings allowed the Bears singular gains of 21, 24, 34 and 69 yards.
- Perhaps the most troubling was that, when the Vikings finally did score a touchdown with 5:41 to play and two timeouts remaining, they didn’t get the ball back until there were four seconds remaining in the game.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was expectedly terse at his postgame press conference because, while he was able to lay much of the blame for the loss to Philadelphia on the brutal play of the offensive line, this time his defense had just as big a stake in losing as the still-struggling offense.
“We didn’t make any plays – we didn’t make any plays,” Zimmer said. “They made them all. When there were opportunities to make plays, they made all the plays.”
The trouble started early. On Chicago’s third offensive play of the game, Howard broke off a 69-yard run when safety Jayron Kearse, who started in place of the injured Andrew Sendejo, got out of position and allowed Howard to rumble through the open lane. The Vikings defense held tough in the red zone, but the damage had been done and Chicago took an early 3-0 lead.
On the first drive of the second quarter, Cutler zipped a 24-yard pass on the first play to get Chicago to midfield. Two plays later, the Vikings came with a blitz on third-and-5 and Cutler stepped up into the pocket and flicked a shovel pass to Howard. With the middle of the field wide open because of defenders selling out on the blitz, Howard took the 2-yard pass 34 yards to set up another red zone field goal to give Chicago a 6-0 lead.
Faced with a short field on the next defensive drive, the Vikings needed an immediate stand to stop the bleeding. Instead, Cutler converted a third-and-9 play with an 11-yard pass to Howard, a perfectly designed play to take advantage of the Vikings’ aggression, and followed it up with a 21-yard strike on another play based on Vikings tendencies to tight end Zach Miller. It led to a touchdown and, midway through the second quarter, the Vikings were down 13-0 – their largest first-half deficit of the season.
One of the hallmarks of the 2016 Vikings defense has been stepping up after halftime, allowing just seven points in the third quarter all season. The Bears would double that total Monday night.
It wasn’t that the Vikings didn’t have chances to get on the field. On Chicago’s 11-play drive to open the second half, they faced three third-down situations – with the line to gain five, 10 and two yards from the line of scrimmage. They converted all three, including one that was a 34-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery. When Cutler and Jeffery next connected, it was an 11-yard touchdown, producing a 20-3 Bears lead with 9:52 left in the third quarter and the Vikings were gassed.
When the Vikings finally did score a touchdown – the second straight week with a prevent-defense dink-and-dunk touchdown drive with the clock rolling – the Bears closed out the game the old-fashioned way. They ran it down the Vikings’ throats.
Pinned on their own 15-yard line after expecting an onside kick, Howard picked up a first down on the first play from scrimmage, rolling 11 yards off tackle. With the clock ticking and the Vikings needing a stop, runs of six and five yards by Howard moved the chains again.
When the Vikings finally stuffed Howard on a first-down run and called their second timeout, the Bears crossed them up and threw a tight end screen that picked up another first down. When Howard took the game to the two-minute with another 10-yard run, it was all over except the sighing and the crying.
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When the Vikings lost coming out their bye week to Philadelphia, the blame was laid squarely on the offense – and rightly so. This time, however, blame had to be shared because the Vikings defense put in its worst game of the season.
The swagger of the 5-0 Vikings has been knocked down two pegs because it has been beaten out of them. The Eagles defense dominated the Vikings offense. The 1-6 Bears dominated the Vikings in every aspect of the game and it showed on the Vikings sidelines.
“They were not confident,” Zimmer said. “They got beat. Sometimes you get beat. The other team beat us tonight. We didn’t play good enough. They played better than we did. Simple as that.”