Turning Point: Third-Down Killers

The Vikings put Chicago's offense in third-and-long situations often, but it seemed nearly as often the Bears were turning those into first downs and touchdowns. We run down the most critical defensive breakdowns from Sunday's 24-14 loss.

In a game that featured about a million turning points — from mistakes to botched coaching decisions — the one continuing factor that didn't change the entire game was the Vikings' hideous third-down defense, which became the turning point of the game.

Coming into the game, the Bears had the worst third-down completion percentage of any team in the NFL. But you couldn't tell it Sunday, as the Vikings defense failed to finish drives early and often. The evidence:

  • FIRST QUARTER — On the Bears' second drive of the game, they converted third-and-6 with a 16-yard draw play to Thomas Jones in which two linebackers were caught out of position. Two plays later, Chad Hutchinson converted third-and-16 with a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Gage. Two plays later, faced with third-and-goal from the 5, tight end Desmond Clark caught a TD to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.

  • SECOND QUARTER — With the game tied 7-7, the Bears had to convert a third down twice in the same series — and did it. Faced with third-and-5, Jones took a screen 14 yards. A block-in-the-back penalty moved the ball back 10 yards from the spot of the foul, but Jones converted again with a 9-yard run. The Bears ended up kicking a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

    Later in that quarter, Hutchinson converted third-and-17 with a 32-yard pass to Bobby Wade and, on third-and-6 five plays later, threw a 15-yard TD to David Terrell to take a 17-14 lead.

  • FOURTH QUARTER — Still leading 17-14, Hutchinson converted three straight third downs with passes of 12 yards to Wade on third-and-4, a 17-yard draw to Anthony Thomas on a third-and-6, and a 5-yard TD pass on a third-and-goal to fullback Jason McKie for a TD and the final points in the 24-14 loss.

    As much finger pointing as can be done to each of the Vikings' units — offense, defense and special teams — the defense's inability to stop the Bears on third down became the turning point of the game.

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