When it comes to pinpointing when the 2016 season for the Minnesota Vikings started to go in the tank, many point to the first time the Vikings met the Chicago Bears on a Halloween edition of Monday Night Football.
On that night, the Bears dominated the Vikings. They gained more than 400 yards, while holding the Vikings to 250. Jay Cutler carved them up and running back Jordan Howard ran 26 times for 153 yards and a touchdown, controlling the clock and keeping the Vikings defense frustrated and confused.
As they meet on New Year’s Day, the Vikings hope to produce a reversal of holiday fortunes when they meet the Bears for a second time. While neither team has anything tangible to play for other than pride, the Vikings are looking to end their season against the team that started them on their true downward turn and linebacker Anthony Barr said the Vikings are trying to get some of their old defensive magic back.
“It’s just a normal week,” Barr said. “We want to play hard for the guys. We understand that the season didn’t go the way we wanted, but we can finish out on a positive note and that’s our goal for Sunday.”
When asked what would qualify as a positive note, winning isn’t just the objective. It’s putting together a game that will help erase the memory of the last two games.
In their first 13 games, the Vikings had allowed 21 or fewer points 10 times and never allowed more than 26. In back-to-back blowout losses to Indianapolis and Green Bay, Minnesota allowed the Colts to score 34 points and Green Bay to post 38.
A positive note would entail getting back to situation normal for the Vikings defense.
“Just playing better than we have the last couple of weeks – it’s as simple as that,” Barr said. “After playing the way we have the last couple of weeks, we’re looking forward to getting back to being ourselves, playing hard, playing good football, getting off the field on third down and getting a win.”
The Bears won’t have Cutler for Sunday’s game – he’s on injured reserve and has been replaced by Matt Barkley. Barr is no stranger to Barkley. The last time the two played against each other, Barkley was the starting QB for USC and Barr was a starting linebacker for UCLA. Barr slammed Barkley on a blitz and knocked him out of the game.
While it’s been a while since Barr saw Barkley, he has a lot more recent familiarity with Howard, who ripped off a 69-yard run in the first quarter on Halloween that set the tempo for the rest of the game. He will be critical to stopping Sunday.
“He had a big play early was pretty tough the rest of the game,” Barr said. “If we play our defense – our rules and our assignments – we’ll always have to be more physical with him. He’s a big, tough runner and he’s a good player for them. This will definitely be a point of emphasis for us this week.”
The biggest number Howard put up wasn’t the 153 yards, it was the 26 carries that kept the clock and the chains moving in Chicago’s favor.
Of all the things the Vikings defense needs to clean up, stopping Howard will be a priority because it was a key to Chicago keeping the Vikings on the losing path two months ago.
“If something’s working, you’re going to keep going with it,” Barr said. “If you run 26 times, you’re doing something right and it’s working for them. We’ve got to try to get them out of that as soon as possible.”
The Vikings tailspin has been pronounced in the two months that have passed since, but Barr is confident the defense can return to its old form against the Bears and put a strong conclusion to the season.
“Things haven’t gone as we had expected and it’s been disappointing,” Barr said. “But we have one game left and we want to end this season on a positive. We want to show that we can dominate games and get back to doing what we’ve done for the last couple of years.”null