The ghosts of Soldier Field strike again.
For the eighth time in nine years, the Minnesota Vikings have lost to the Chicago Bears in a house of horrors – and the one win (which came last year) required 10 points in the last two minutes to happen.
Monday night’s 20-10 loss was yet another cause for concern with the Vikings offense, which managed just 258 yards of offense and didn’t score a touchdown until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter against a prevent defense.
The Vikings run offense struggled again, rushing 18 times for 57 yards – an average of just 3.2 yards a carry with a long run of seven yards. Quarterback Sam Bradford said the running game isn’t the problem. It’s getting consistent gains in the running game, which can be attributed to both the beating the offensive line is taking and being without big-play threats Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon.
“It’s something that we’ve got to figure out how to get going,” Bradford said. “They did a good job taking it away tonight. We’re at our best when we’re balanced. When we’re not balanced or we’re not able to come out and stay balanced, it makes it tough on us.”
Offensive tackle Jake Long summed up the obvious following the game. After Bradford was hit 19 times last week, he was knocked down 10 times Monday – still far too many if you want to keep a quarterback healthy.
“We’ve got to play better,” Long said. “We’ll watch the film and correct it like we always do, but just as a whole we’ve got to play better. We got to keep Sam upright. I mean, when he has a clean pocket he does great things, so we just can’t get him hit like that.”
The Vikings had a brutal game on third down, making good on just two of 13 opportunities – 2-for-6 in the first and 0-for-7 in the second half.
Bradford said that blame was shared throughout the offense. He missed plays, specifically a wide-open bomb to Stefon Diggs trailing 3-0 in the first quarter.
It could have been a game-changer. The Vikings offense hasn’t scored in the first quarter in five of seven games, forcing the defense to hold up its end of the bargain early on in games – a problem that played itself out throughout the game.
“We’re just not keeping ourselves on the field,” Bradford said. “We’re not converting third downs. We’re just doing a lot of things that aren’t good football. It takes 11 guys every play for an offense to go and, right now, there’s just too many plays we don’t have 11 guys pulling in the same direction.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he is hopeful the offensive line, which, for a second straight week, was overwhelmed and pushed backward, can correct the dominance they have had forced upon them.
“It’s difficult right now,” Zimmer said. “We haven’t proven it yet. I don’t know if hopeful is the right word right this second. We’ve got to get it fixed.”
For the second straight week, the Vikings have scored just three points prior to what, at best, could be viewed as prevent defense-related touchdowns that ate a lot of clock. At worst, they could be viewed as mercy touchdowns allowed because the defensive design is to allow Bradford to dump off short passes to open receivers at or near the line of scrimmage.
Is it Bradford’s fault? Is it the lack of a consistent rushing game? Is it an offensive line that seemingly gets worse as each week goes by?
Or is it all of the above?
“It’s all of us,” Bradford said. “I made a bunch of mistakes tonight. I had my share of misfires tonight. I’ve got to do better. I think we all have to take responsibility. We all have to be better. It’s not on one person. It’s not on one group. It’s on the offense as a whole. We have to figure out how to come together.”
Have the Vikings lost confidence? Stefon Diggs isn’t going point fingers. The Vikings were the last unbeaten team for a reason and are clearly capable of righting the ship, despite their post-bye week woes.
“Not at all,” Diggs said. “I’ve got 100-percent faith in my guys. We’ve bounced back from worse, so for everybody else, we don’t really need nobody but the guys in the locker room to have faith and continue to play at a high level and do everything that we’ve got to do to win. On to Detroit, we’ve got a short week. It’s time to get back to it.”
GAME NIGHT NOTES
- The Vikings hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, but Bears rookie Jordan Howard had 97 at halftime and, after getting dinged on his first carry of the second half, came back to finish the game with 26 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown – averaging almost six yards a carry.
- Through three quarters, Howard alone had outgained the Vikings entire offense by a margin of 156 to 147.
- Matt Asiata had 14 carries for 42 yards and a long carry of seven yards, as the Vikings continue to struggle on the ground – rushing 18 times for just 57 yards.
- Bradford didn’t turn the ball over but was sacked five times – completing 23 of 37 passes for 228 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 88.6.
- Jay Cutler had a much better night, completing 20 of 31 passes for 252 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, a passer rating of 100.5 and was sacked just once.
- Cutler made his 100th start as a Bear. With Monday’s win, his career record is 51-49, but he is 9-5 against the Vikings and 7-1 against them at Soldier Field.
- Diggs was targeted 13 times, more than double any other Vikings receiver, catching eight passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
- Tight end Zach Miller led the Bears with seven catches for 88 yards.
- Alshon Jeffery, who was often locked up with Xavier Rhodes and didn’t have a reception in the first half, caught four passes for 63 yards and scored his first touchdown of the 2016 season.
- With punt returner Marcus Sherels out of the game, both Adam Thielen and Diggs dropped back as punt returners.
- There were no turnovers in the game.
- The Vikings saw their NFL-leading streak of nine straight games with an interception broken Monday.
- The Bears outgained the Vikings 403-258 while running just one more play (61) than Minnesota.
- If there was a positive for both teams, it was that there were only three penalties called – two on Chicago for 20 yards and one on the Vikings for 10 yards.
- The lack of penalties may have in part been caused by an injury to head linesman Ed Walker, who injured a knee when he slipped on the sidelines in the first quarter. Instead of having seven officials, there were only six – the crew went without a back judge behind the defense.
- The Bears held a time-of-possession advantage of 32:41 to 27:19, including a 18:57 to 11:03 edge in the second half when the Bears were milking a lead.
- Four of the Vikings’ first five offensive possessions were three-and-outs.
- For the 24th time in Minnesota’s last 25 games, they have allowed an opponent to score two touchdowns or fewer.
- Eric Kendricks led the Vikings with nine tackles.
- The late touchdown to Diggs extended a streak to 67 games that Chicago has allowed at least one touchdown – the longest in the league. The last time the Bears didn’t allow a touchdown was against Jacksonville in a 41-3 win Oct. 7, 2012.
- As if the Vikings’ injury woes along the offensive line weren’t bad enough, guard Alex Boone left the game in the fourth quarter and went back to the locker room. He was replaced by Jeremiah Sirles.
- Long started at left tackle and T.J. Clemmings started at right tackle. Both struggled badly, but Clemmings was overwhelmed by Pernell McPhee, playing in his first full game of the season after returning to the lineup last week.
- The Vikings’ first points shouldn’t have happened as they did. The Bears appeared to have the Vikings stopped when Bradford was hit and fumbled on a pass attempt. Thielen recovered the fumble, but Bears backup defensive lineman Cornelius Washington came out on the field to celebrate thinking the pass was incomplete. It was still a live ball and he became the 12th man on the field and the Vikings got a first down on one of just two Chicago penalties in the game. The extended drive led to a field goal.
- Despite the score, the Vikings had a 16:16 to 13:44 time of possession edge in the first half.
- Chicago got its yards in bigger chunks, outgaining Minnesota 234-95 in the first half.
- The Bears averaged 8.1 yards per play in the first half, which could explain their yardage dominance and lack of time of possession.
- The Bears built a 13-point lead in the first half, the largest halftime deficit the Vikings have faced all year.
- Monday was just the third home win in 12 games with John Fox as Chicago’s head coach.
- For the second straight week, a late touchdown has helped pad the numbers for Bradford, who has thrown at least one TD pass in 30 of his last 31 games.
- CB Captain Munnerlyn left the game with a foot injury but is expected to be fine.