Offense Sluggish On Scoring

In the opener it was interceptions. This week it was fumbles that kept the Vikings from putting up more more points, as Byron Chamberlain was involved in two fumbles.

Heading into Sunday's game at Chicago, the Vikings weren't taking the Bears for granted. Despite having won the last five meetings at Soldier Field, the Vikings were fully aware that every win against the Bears had been difficult and realized Sunday would be no different.

But what the Vikings didn't expect is that their offense would again struggle and, despite a solid effort by the defense, backup quarterback Jim Miller would lead Chicago to the last 17 points of the game in a 17-10 win — dropping Minnesota to 0-2 for the first time since 1984.

The game began with a driving rain and neither team looked in sync on offense. It got underway on a horrible note, as Pro Bowler Robert Griffith — who, to the dismay of many, still plays on special teams — broke his right fibula on the opening kickoff and may well be lost for the season.

Despite not having Griffith on defense, the Vikings came out strong, as his replacement, Don Morgan, brought down QB Shane Matthews at the line of scrimmage to end the Bears' first drive. But after the Vikings offense went three-and-out, the defense again stood the Bears up on three plays to force a punt, giving the Vikings the ball at the Chicago 46.

It didn't take long for the Vikings to get deep in Bears territory, as Daunte Culpepper scrambled for 10 yards before finding Byron Chamberlain wide open for 28 yards on the left sideline to the 8-yard line. It looked like the Vikings would pound the ball in, as Michael Bennett took carries of 5 and 2 yards to the 1-yard line. But, on third down, the Vikings called an option run. Culpepper could have pitched the ball to Bennett for an apparent score, but kept it and was brought down on the 1-yard line, forcing the Vikings to settle for a 20-yard Gary Anderson field goal and a 3-0 lead with 6:05 to play in the first quarter.

The Bears finally got a first down on their third drive — on a 17-yard pass to Marcus Robinson — but that drive, too, stalled and gave the Vikings a chance to seize momentum. Minnesota seemed primed to go in for another score, as a 6-yard scramble by Culpepper had 15 yards tacked on when Chicago lineman Bryan Robinson hit him low out of bounds for 15 more yards to the Chicago 45. The drive stalled, however, as two runs by Bennett gained nothing and forced a punt.

As the game moved into the second quarter, the defenses continued to dominate. The Bears again went three-and-out, but lost Matthews, who was hit by Talance Sawyer and knocked out of the game. While the Vikings again failed to take advantage of great field position, the defense continued to do the job, forcing yet another three-and-out — the fourth in five drives.

The Vikings' struggles continued, despite always being close to scoring. Culpepper hit Randy Moss for a 15-yard completion to put the Vikings in Bears territory for the fifth time in five drives, but, when he overthrew Cris Carter on third down, the Vikings again had to punt.

The Bears finally got some offense generated as Miller completed passes of 5 yards to Robinson, 10 yards to David Terrell and 22 yards to Marty Booker, but the Vikings defense again stiffened and forced a punt.

The game went to halftime with the Vikings clinging to a 3-0 lead, but not without a couple of close calls. Culpepper should have been intercepted deep in his own territory, but two Bears defenders collided and Troy Walters fumbled a punt that Jim Nelson alertly recovered or the Bears would have had another chance. In the final minute, Culpepper got the Vikings into Bears territory with a 23-yard pass to Moss, but, on the final play, Chamberlain fumbled and the ugly first half came to a merciful end.

The Vikings made some halftime adjustments, since it was obvious the Bears were going to try to take away Moss and Carter. On the first drive of the second half, the Vikings looked more like what fans are used to. Starting from his own 39, Culpepper opened the drive with passes of 18 and 10 yards to Jim Kleinsasser and, following an 8-yard run by Bennett, Culpepper scrambled for 7 more to the 18-yard line. The ground game continued to control the show, as Bennett went up the middle for 9 yards and Culpepper took another up the gut for 6 more. With the ball on the 3-yard line, Culpepper went back to the air, finding Andrew Jordan alone on the left sideline for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead with 10:34 to play in the third.

The Bears came right back, however, as Allen converted a pair of first downs with runs of 8, 2 and 4 yards and Miller fired a 22-yard pass to Booker for a first down on the Vikings 29-yard line. The defense again came up big, blitzing Miller to force short, bad throws and the Bears had to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Paul Edinger to cut the Vikings lead to 10-3 with 6:15 left in the third quarter.

The Vikes offense again clicked, as a roughing the passer penalty moved the Vikings near midfield and passes of 7 and 5 yards to Bennett followed by a 10-yard Bennett run got the Vikings to the Chicago 33. The Vikings then tried to go razzle-dazzle with a reverse to Chamberlain, but he fumbled the ball and Rosevelt Colvin recovered to kill the drive.

The Bears would return the favor, however, as an impressive drive came up empty. Miller drove the Bears with passes of 16 and 11 yards to Robinson and, after an 11-yard run by Allen, Miller threw a 12-yard swing pass to Allen and a 7-yarder to Dez White to get the Bears in the red zone. Miller went for the tying TD, but his pass was high. It was tipped by Robinson, then by Morgan and finally landed in the hands of Orlando Thomas for an interception in the end zone to keep the Vikings in front in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Needing to eat some clock, the Vikings failed, going three-and-out. With momentum on their side, the Bears started getting yardage in chunks. Starting from his own 46, Miller completed an 11-yard pass to Robinson and, following an 11-yard run by Allen, Miller converted another first down with a 9-yard pass to Booker. Liking what he saw on that play, Booker had his number called again by Miller, who hit him in stride on a crossing route and he dove over the goal line for a touchdown to tie the game 10-10 with 9:29 to play.

The Vikings again failed to sustain a drive. After converting a first down on a 9-yard pass to Moss, an 8-yard pass to Bennett set up a second-and-2 from the Minnesota 45. The Vikings tried to run Bennett twice, but couldn't convert the first down and were forced to punt. Mitch Berger took a high snap and, although it looked as though he could get the punt away, he bailed the pocket and threw an incompletion, giving the Bears the ball on the Vikings 45.

With more than six minutes to work with, the Bears ate clock themselves. After a 4-yard reverse by Booker, Miller threw a 10-yard pass to Booker for a first down. Two plays later, faced with a critical third-and-3, Miller lofted a fade pass to Robinson, who caught the ball in stride for a 24-yard touchdown and a 17-10 Bears lead with 3:39 to play.

The Vikings tried to muster some late-game heroics and it looked good early. Starting from his 23, Culpepper completed passes of 5 yards to Chamberlain, 13 yards to Moss and 7 yards to Jake Reed. After having a 17-yard pass to Chamberlain called back by holding, Culpepper completed his first pass to Carter for 13 yards. He was forced to burn his second time out after being sacked and fumbling, but, when Culpepper tried twice to feather a ball to Moss, both passes fell incomplete and the Bears were able to run out the clock for a 17-10 win.

The loss leaves the Vikings at 0-2 and dangerously close to being in deep trouble for the 2001 season. Things don't get any easier with Tampa Bay coming to the Metrodome next week, but, for a second straight time, the Vikings came away from a game against an inferior opponent with a loss — not so much because the other team beat them, but because the Vikings beat themselves. VU

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