The Vikings came into their game at Soldier Field looking to run the ball — even without the services of Michael Bennett. Onterrio Smith provided the ability to do that with a 148-yard game in his first start, but the Vikings weren't able to get into the end zone for much of the game with the Bears crowding the line as the Vikings moved closer to the goal line.
Instead, it was a true black-and-blue matchup in which the Bears came away with a 13-10 win.
With a score so close, the Vikings will be left to look at the what-ifs in this game. What if Mike Rosenthal didn't suffer a concussion, forcing Everett Lindsay, who had a number of important penalties, into action for more than half the game? What if Michael Bennett had been available? What if another special teams gaffe hadn't set the Bears up for the eventual game-winning field goal on the Vikings 20-yard line? What if D'Wayne Bates didn't flat-out drop a pass with wide open field in front of him with 3 minutes remaining?
Instead, the Bears did just enough to pull out the three-point victory at home, and the Vikings left the Packers with a chance to tie them for the NFC North division lead with an 8-6 record.
The Bears started the game with a big play, but it came only because of pass interference on Ken Irvin. When rookie Rex Grossman, starting his first NFL game, lofted a pass with too much air underneath it, Irvin was caught holding Justin Gage coming out of his break and that cost the Vikings 33 yards. But after one more first down on the ground, the defense pressured Grossman into three incompletions with the Bears settling for a 38-yard field goal from Paul Edinger.
The Vikings followed with a heavy dose of Onterrio Smith in the first quarter, and he was impressive. On the first drive, he carried for 2, 19 and 10 yards, but two sacks by Alex Brown brought that drive to an end.
After Chicago drove past midfield, the Vikings forced a punt, giving Smith more opportunities. The Minnesota rookie started the drive with carries of 11, 3 and 6 yards, and after a 2-yard pass to Randy Moss to convert a third down, Smith continued with carries of 5, 4, 1, 1 and 3 yards before a 4-yard pass to Jim Kleinsasser came up short of the first down.
The Vikings punted, Grossman went for the bomb again, and — just like the first play of the game — this one had help, too. With Brian Williams in coverage, Marty Booker went high down the right sideline to haul in the pass. But while his left foot came down in bounds, replays appeared to show his right foot came down out of bounds. After being ruled a catch and challenged by Vikings coach Mike Tice, the play was upheld and Booker had a 39-yard catch. That was the start to a nine-play drive that featured a heavy dose of short passes from Grossman to an assortment of check-down receivers. Anthony Thomas finished the drive with a 1-yard dive, and the Bears had a 10-0 lead with 10:53 left in the first half.
The Vikings stuck with their ground plan, with Smith picking up 7 yards to start the drive and Kleinsasser getting the first down with an 8-yard pass. Smith picked up the next first down with three rushes, and, two plays later, Culpepper turned third-and-5 into a first down with a gutsy scramble for 6 yards. Three more plays couldn't pick up another first down, but with the ball at the 33-yard line on a cold and breezy afternoon the Vikings were in no-man's land again. Instead on punting, they went for their most talented man and Moss pulled down a go route for a 14-yard gain to the 19-yard line. Smith continued with two more rushes, and Moe Williams got the final first down to the 8-yard line. But the Vikings couldn't hit the big play, and when Kleinsasser was brought down for a 3-yard gain on third down they had to settle for a 22-yard Aaron Elling field goal to pull within a touchdown with 1:10 to play in the half, a 10-3 score that held until halftime.
It was a productive first half for the Vikings in all areas but the score. Smith had already surpassed 100 yards on the ground, as the Vikings were determined to win the ground game, and the Bears were content to pick away at the Vikings defense with the passing game.
The teams traded punts to start the second half, but the Bears were gaining in the battle of field position. When the Vikings took over for the second time in the second half at the 8-yard line, they needed a sustained drive. Instead, after picking up one first down and stalling, a special teams gaffe that cost them points — and maybe the game. The combination of a bad snap and a bobble from punter Eddie Johnson gave the Bears the ball on the Vikings 20-yard line. When an ugly drive was finished, Chicago came away with a 22-yard Edinger field goal and a 13-3 lead with just more than four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Vikings failed to move the ball on their next possession, and after a strong dose of Thomas and a 24-yard pass to David Terrell the Bears were in scoring position again. This time, however, it was the Bears missing out on special teams when Edinger hooked a 46-yard field goal
Field position at the 36-yard line was enough to get the Vikings offense going, as they seemed to switch philosophies from the ground game and Smith to mixing it around to the wide receivers. Culpepper started with a 5-yard pass to Moss, and a 6-yard run by Smith had 15 yards tacked on after a facemask from Keith Traylor. Culpepper went back to Moss for 6 more yards, then Kelly Campbell for 14 yards and Nate Burleson for 7 yards on a nice toe-dragging sideline catch at the 16-yard line. One throwaway later, Culpepper found Moss in between the cornerback and safety and hit him with a bullet for a 16-yard touchdown with 10:23 to play in the game. The running game was working all day, but when the Vikings switched to an aerial attack they were finally able to get the ball in the end zone to pull within three points.
The touchdown seemed to inspire the defense as well, as it held the Bears to only one first down on their next two drives, and with 4:53 left to play the Vikings started the pivotal drive of the game down 13-10.
Moss dug the Vikings out of a field-position hole with a 20-yard reception out to the 27-yard line. Burleson picked up 9 yards before the game's biggest missed opportunity for the Vikings.
At least three times previously, the Vikings ran wide receiver screens for modest gains. But when Culpepper faked the screen for Moss and Bates slipped behind the initial coverage he nearly had a touchdown. However, with the safety flailing his arm in front of Bates just before the ball arrived, Bates just dropped the ball with all open field in front of him.
Moss quickly got back into the act with a 14-yard reception. Again, the Vikings made a great play call on first down. Earlier, a screen to Moe Williams needed just a little more patience to produce big yardage. Instead, Brian Urlacher broke through for a tackle after a minimal pickup. This time, Moss took Urlacher with him on a fake reverse and Williams picked up 37 yards on the screen down the right sideline to the 8-yard line. But, one play later, Culpepper went for Moss in the end zone and cornerback Charles Tillman pulled the ball away from Moss for an interception with 1:02 to play, effectively ending the game.
It was a test of the NFC North, and the Vikings barely failed — and it may have put their division title hopes in jeopardy. They fell to 8-6 and were forced to await the results from the Green Bay-San Diego game, with a Green Bay win pulling them into a first-place tie with the Vikings. It appears this division race will go all 17 weeks.
Downed In Chicago
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