Heading into Sunday night's game with Chicago, about the only thing that could have been seen as a certainty was that the Vikings would score at least one touchdown. After all, they had done it in 97 consecutive games dating back to a 14-6 home loss in 1995 to the Bears.
History, it seems, was determined to repeat itself, as the Vikings snapped their 97-game streak with a 13-6 loss to the Bears that left just about everyone shaking their heads.
"You aren't going to win games scoring just six points," coach Dennis Green told VU. "They took advantage of a few series and we did not. The times we did, we didn't get in the end zone. We're disappointed, obviously."
At the outset, however, it looked as though the Vikings were going to continue their prime-time magic. Taking the opening kickoff, Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper converted a third down with a 15-yard pass to Cris Carter and, following a 5-yard run by Michael Bennett, Culpepper flipped a 5-yard pass to Randy Moss for another first down and the Vikings were in Bears territory.
The drive stopped dead in its tracks, however, as a holding call on Matt Birk backed the Vikings up 10 yards and the team was forced to punt the ball away — killing the game's opening drive.
The Vikings offense again had a shot at making a difference, as the defense forced the Bears into a three-and-out, but Culpepper's next third-down pass was batted by Phillip Daniels and intercepted by Rosevelt Colvin, giving the Bears the ball at midfield.
With runs of 4 and 19 yards by James Allen, filling in for the injured Anthony Thomas at running back, Chris Hovan made a huge defensive stop, blowing through a gap and hitting Jim Miller as he went to hand off the ball. Stalin Colinet recovered, and the Vikings avoided a bullet.
For the third straight drive, the Vikings got into Bears territory, as Culpepper found Carter over the middle for 17 yards, but in what would become a recurring theme the Vikings had to punt and Mitch Berger's kick sailed into the end zone.
"We didn't take advantage of playing against a very good defense," Carter told VU. "We didn't convert a lot of third downs. We just had a sporadic passing and running game. We were just out of sync."
The defense again held up its end of the deal, forcing the Bears into another three-and-out on the next two drives, but the Vikings couldn't take advantage. Once again, the team moved the ball behind runs of 9 and 13 yards by Bennett and passes of 10 yards to Moss and 7 yards to Byron Chamberlain, but once in Bears territory the drive fell flat and the Vikings again had to punt a minute into the second quarter.
Despite having the ball for more than 12 of the game's first 16 minutes, the Vikings had failed to take any advantage in the game and the Bears finally grabbed momentum for themselves.
Starting from the 20, Miller completed a 17-yard pass to Dez White. On the next play, Allen broke off a 15-yard run that had 5 more yards tacked on for a facemask. Two plays later, faced with a third-and-2, third-string running back Leon Johnson broke off a 34-yard run to the 4-yard line. One play later, Johnson capped the drive with a 1-yard dive and the Bears had a 7-0 lead with 9:43 to play in the half.
The Vikes tried to come back with a drive of their own and Culpepper did his part, converting a third-and-7 with a 9-yard scramble. But his passes continued to be errant, as he overthrew Moss on one pass and behind him on another to force yet another punt.
The teams exchanged punts into the final 1:38 of the half, but the Bears were able to mount a mini-drive, thanks to a great punt return that left them on the Vikings 34-yard line. After a 15-yard run by Allen, the drive stalled, but it was close enough for Paul Edinger to knock through a 30-yard field goal, and the teams went to the locker rooms with the Bears holding a 10-0 lead.
As the second half began, the defense again stood tall, forcing a three-and-out to open the third quarter. With the Vikings looking to get some momentum back, they sustained their first long drive of the game.
Starting from the 31-yard line, Culpepper came out passing, completing passes of 3 yards to Harold Morrow, 2 yards to Andrew Jordan and 12 yards to Jake Reed for one first down. After a 7-yard run by Bennett, Culpepper completed a 10-yard pass to Moss to get the Vikings to the 35-yard line. The drive stalled at that point, but the Vikes were close enough to get a 44-yard field goal from Gary Anderson to cut the Bears' lead to 10-3 with 7:52 left in the third.
Vikings fans were finally in the game, but a crucial penalty would kill the drive. A 1-yard run by Culpepper was followed up by a third-down pass of 13 yards to Morrow that left the Vikings a yard short of a first down on the Bears 46-yard line. Culpepper broke off a 14-yard run on the fourth-down play, but a holding call on Moss brought the play back and the Vikings again had to settle for a punt.
The Bears were being dominated defensively by the Vikings, but came up with two big plays, as Miller completed passes of 26 and 25 yards to rookie David Terrell to get the ball to the Vikings 26-yard line. The Vikings defense stood strong from there, but Chicago was close enough for Edinger to notch a 43-yard field goal to give the Bears a 13-3 lead with 13:29 to play in the game.
The Vikings' chances were beginning to fade, but after an exchange of punts the Vikings had life and the ball on their own 36-yard line with 9:54 to play.
Culpepper moved the Vikings up the field, but the drive took far too long to materialize — almost six-and-a-half minutes. After a 6-yard pass to Chamberlain, runs of 8 yards by Bennett and 10 yards by Culpepper got the Vikings to the Chicago 40-yard line before a huge play turned the game around.
Attempting to complete a pass while rolling out, Culpepper's knee locked up and he was in obvious pain — not understanding fully what happened.
"I went to throw and it felt real weird," Culpepper said of the injury. "There was a lot of pain. I don't know exactly when I did it, but it's all part of the game."
The drive continued, but it was obvious that Culpepper's mobility was greatly affected by the injury. He completed passes of 10 yards to Travis Prentice, 23 yards to Chamberlain and 14 yards to Morrow to get the ball to the 1-yard line, where it seemed obvious that the Vikings were going to get the score to cut the margin to three points.
It wasn't going to be that simple, however. On first down, Prentice was stuffed for no gain. On second down, Culpepper tried to hobble into the end zone on a quarterback sweep, only to be tackled on the 1-yard line for no gain. Looking prepared to take four shots at the end zone, Culpepper fumbled the snap and fell on the ball at the 3-yard line, effectively ending any hope of scoring a touchdown. The team settled for a 21-yard Anderson field goal to cut the lead to 13-6 with 3:17 to play.
Needing a final stand from the defense, it wasn't to be. Allen was given the ball and made the most of it, picking up one first down with runs of 3 and 9 yards and, with the Vikes down to one time out, he broke off a run of 13 yards as the game moved inside of 2 minutes. From there, the Bears were willing to play safe and milked the clock down to 16 seconds before punting the ball to the Vikings.
Culpepper's final chance wasn't much of an effort, as the Bears' prevent defense refused to permit anything deep. Vikings fans let Moss have it with mock applause when he caught a 6-yard pass, and the game ended on a short flip to Bennett that was brought down over the middle to end the game.
The frustration after the game was obvious, as the Vikings players who chose to speak to the media refused to give up on a season that could well require the Vikings to win their final six games just to make the playoffs.
"We still have a chance and that's the way we have to look at it," Culpepper told VU. "It's not going to get any easier going to Pittsburgh, but we just have to play better. We still have a chance, but this loss was huge for us." VU
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