PASSING OFFENSE: D — QB Daunte Culpepper threw three interceptions in the red zone, including one on first-and-goal at the 3. Of course, it didn't help that he was running for his life behind a patchwork offensive line and poor blocking by tight end Jermaine Wiggins and running backs Onterrio Smith and Michael Bennett. Culpepper was sacked five times and had to throw on the run several times. He still completed 23 of 33 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, including a high-arcing 40-yard moon shot to Marcus Robinson just inside the back of the end zone. Culpepper's first interception led to the Bears' first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. His second interception was snared by LB Brian Urlacher at the goal line. It was a poor throw that Culpepper shouldn't have made. The last interception came with 2:01 left in the game and the Vikings trailing by 10. Randy Moss caught only four passes for 31 yards, none longer than 13, and had the ball ripped from his hands for a turnover by Charles Tillman.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C — Onterrio Smith looks comfortable as the featured back. He got 13 carries and responded with 79 yards, a 6.1-yard average. The Vikings were able to run the ball only 10 times in the second half, 22 overall, because of the Bears' lead. The running backs got only 14 carries for 82 yards. For the second consecutive game, former starter and Pro Bowl running back Michael Bennett did not get a carry. He played only one snap, giving up a sack in pass protection. He played on two snaps last week against Jacksonville.
PASS DEFENSE: F — Horrible. Absolutely horrible. Considering the Vikings were playing the worst offense in the league and a quarterback (Chad Hutchinson) who hadn't started in two seasons and had never played a snap with the Bears, the Vikings should be ashamed. They allowed Hutchinson to throw three touchdown passes on a team that entered the game with five for the season. They allowed the worst third-down offense in the league to convert 10 of 17 (59 percent), including all three of Hutchinson's touchdown passes. The Bears entered the game with a 23-percent success rate on third downs. The pass rush was decent. DT Kevin Williams had two of the five sacks, while Lance Johnstone had a sack and a forced fumble on the play. The Vikings were hurt when CB Antoine Winfield left the game for good near the end of the first quarter because of a sprained left ankle. That forced journeyman Derek Ross to play in the nickel. Ross gave up a 31-yard completion and a 15-yard touchdown pass on third downs during the Bears' two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Ross eventually had to be benched in favor of Ralph Brown.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — Considering how bad the run defense has been this season, giving up 144 yards on 35 carries for a 4.1-yard average isn't too bad. But there were moments of embarrassment. For example: On third-and-seven at the Vikings 20, the Bears ran a draw play to Anthony Thomas. The Bears had the Vikings so spread out with four receivers that Thomas ran 17 yards through a huge hole up the middle. Thomas wasn't caught until he reached the 3. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said all the reads and signals screamed draw play, but the Vikings' defenders weren't aware the play was coming. That's not good when it's the 12th game of the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D — Morten Andersen's 38-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter was partially blocked. That would have tied the score at 17-17. The kickoff coverage unit played very well, holding the Bears to a 16.7-yard average on three returns. P Darren Bennett punted once for 34 yards. PR Nate Burleson had three returns for three yards. The kickoff return team averaged a pathetic 12.8 yards on five returns. And, finally, the Vikings' ill-designed fake punt on fourth-and-five from their own 49 midway through the fourth quarter had no chance from the start. Lined up with five players split wide right and three wide left, FS Brian Russell took a long snap from center and rolled to his left. He was trying to throw to S-LB Willie Offord, who has never shown the ability to catch. Russell was pressured immediately. He scrambled to his right and dived over a couple of Bears, extending the ball near the first-down mark. A measurement showed he came up inches short. The Vikings argued that it was a bad spot, but the play appeared doomed before it even started.
COACHING: D — Mike Tice and his staff haven't been able to make this team take inferior road opponents seriously. For the second consecutive season, the Vikings should have walked into Chicago and done their jobs. For the second consecutive season, they didn't. So instead of leading the Packers by a game in the division and trailing the Falcons by one game for the second-best record in the conference, the Vikings are no better off than they were before the Bears game. The offense got too cute in the red zone, especially when it passed on first-and-goal from the 3 and was intercepted by LB Brian Urlacher. The defense was atrocious on third downs. It was the 12th game of the season, and yet we're still hearing excuses about players lined up incorrectly and not recognizing their keys. The Vikings need to shape up and make the playoffs, or it's going to cost Tice and his staff their jobs.
Grading The Game: Bears
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