Most Vikings players were out of the locker room when they learned of Mike Tice losing his job, but a couple of players knew it was a tough few weeks. As it turned out, Tice was let go after one of the team's most impressive all-around performances, albeit against largely a backup Bears team. Plus, get two dozen game notes.
The Mike Tice era as head coach ended Sunday as something of a testament to the four full seasons he was head coach. Not including the Baltimore game that was postponed due to the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 – when Tice was named interim coach for one game – in the four years he was the head coach of the Vikings, he had a record of 33-33 – 32-32 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason.
His team's final game under his watch ended with one of the best outings for all sides of the balls. The offense put up 396 total yards, the defense limited the Bears to less than 100 yards of passing offense, and the special teams made good on a pair of field goal attempts – including a 54-yarder.
To many, the Tice era will be remembered as one of scandal off the field and .500 football on the field. But to the players he coached and mentored, there was a feeling that they had let him down – not the other way around.
"After awhile you get sick of hearing ‘as rumor has it,'" offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie
said. "We know that (Tice) has been talked about for the last few weeks and that's all people ask about – will he stay or get fired? It's got to be tough on him because all he could do is try to win and hope that's enough."
In perhaps one of his finest jobs of coaching, without his franchise quarterback, his All-Pro center, the offensive coordinator he picked as his and one of the game's great game-changers in Randy Moss
, Tice got the most out of his players – winning seven of the last nine games and leaving fans and owner Zygi Wilf with reason to believe there are big things in the Vikings future.
"We can build on this finish," running back Mewelde Moore
said. "We ended the season strong and have a lot to look forward to with the guys who will be coming back."
Unfortunately for Tice, that future promise won't include him as the team's head coach.
Much was made during the last week about who would win the team's internal competition for most tackles. Coming into the game, Sam Cowart held a slim lead with 96 tackles – one more than Antoine Winfield and four more than E.J. Henderson. While Henderson won the day with nine tackles, Cowart's five tackles was enough to give him the team leadership for 2005 with 101 tackles. Henderson and Winfield finished tied for second with 99 tackles each.
The Vikings finished the season with Brad Johnson leading the team in passing yards with 1,885, Mewelde Moore leading the team with 662 rushing yards and Travis Taylor leading the team with 602 receiving yards. It marked the first time in the 45-year history of the Vikings that the team had a team passing with leader with less than 1,900 yards and rushing and receiving leaders with less than 700 yards in the same season – including a pair of strike-shortened seasons and two decades of playing with a 14-game schedule.
The Vikings finished the season with nine players with 22 or more receptions and five of those with 30-plus receptions – Jermaine Wiggins (69), Taylor (50), Moore (37), Marcus Robinson (31) and Nate Burleson (30). It was the first time in team history that nine players had 20 or more receptions for the Vikings in any season.
Two players – Fred Smoot and Marcus Johnson – were on the active roster but didn't see any action.
Marcus Robinson and Bennett finished tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five each.
Johnson finished the season as the NFL leader in interception percentage – throwing just four interceptions in 294 attempts. His 1.4 percent interception rate bested Denver's Jake Plummer to win the title for 2005. Johnson's mark outdid the previous bests set by Rich Gannon in 1991 (six interceptions in 354 passes and Fran Tarkenton in 1973 (seven picks in 274 attempts). The last time a Vikings QB led the league in that category was when Tarkenton did it in 1973.
Michael Bennett's 61-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest of the season by the Vikings and the longest run by Bennett since he hit the record books in 2002 with three straight games with a 60-yard run or better.
The Vikings put together one of their most impressive drives of the year in the third quarter – running 15 plays that covered 82 yards and took 8:28 off the clock.
Thanks to a dominant second quarter, the Vikings held a big edge in yardage, despite the Bears holding the ball for 16:07 of the half. Minnesota had 13 first downs as opposed to six by Chicago. The Vikings had 227 total yards (195 passing, 32 rushing) while the Bears had 142 yards (87 rushing and 55 passing).
The Vikings had two sacks in the first half, while the Bears were held to none.
One of those sacks was by Henderson, who had five solo tackles, two shared tackles and a sack in the first half alone.
The Vikings' playcalling in the first half was distinctly pass oriented. Of the 35 offensive plays the Vikes ran in the first half, 29 of them were pass plays.
The Vikings effectively abandoned the run for the short passing game in the first half – rushing just six times. Aside from 36 yards by Moore, the Vikings' other five runs in the half netted minus-4 yards.
The Vikings did something Sunday they haven't done all year – dominate the second quarter. Coming into the game, the Vikings had been at their worst in the second quarter – being outscored 136-72. Meanwhile, the Bears had outscored their opponents 82-52 in the second quarter. The Vikings put up 17 unanswered points in the second quarter.
Taylor's 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter was just the third passing TD allowed by the Bears in the last 12 games – after being lit up by Cincinnati for three passing TDs in Week 3. Chicago finished the season allowing just 10 passing touchdowns – two of those coming Sunday.
Moore's 33-yard run in the second quarter was the longest run by a Viking player this season – until Bennett's 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Bears had to take points off the board early in the second quarter. Following the long field goal by Paul Edinger (see below), the Bears Robbie Gould appeared to answer the kick with a 52-yarder of his own, but offensive lineman Roberto Garza was called for holding on the play – taking the points off the board and forcing a Bears punt.
Edinger opened the second quarter with a 54-yard field goal. It now gives him the longest field goal in team history (56 yards), the second longest (54 yards) and is tied for the third longest at 53 yards. His three field goals of 50+ yards in one season ties a franchise record he now shares with Jan Stenerud (in 1984) and Fuad Reveiz (in 1992).
The Bears held a 63-44 yardage edge in the first quarter thanks in large part to the Vikings running just one time – a 6-yard loss by Bennett. For the quarter, the Vikings ran 13 plays – 12 passes and just one run. Including the pass by punter Brad Maynard, the Bears ran 14 plays in the first quarter – nine runs from Thomas Jones and five passes.
The Bears wasted no time in getting Brian Urlacher out of the games, sitting him down before the end of the first quarter.
During the week much was made of getting Rex Grossman more snaps with the first-team starters, but the Bears opted to start Kyle Orton. Grossman didn't play the entire game.
The Bears were painfully typical on their first drive of the game. They held the ball for 13 plays and took 7:26 off the game clock – including some fourth-down trickery in which Maynard threw a pass for 18 yards to running back Adrian Peterson out of a punt formation. But, as has happened so often for the Bears this year, the long drive ended with a 21-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.
The Vikings, who have had one of the best kick return games in the league, opened the game with rookies Troy Williamson and Ciatrick Fason.
The paid attendance was 64,023 – the 84th consecutive sellout at the Metrodome.