One fumble and one pass play in the fourth quarter were all it took for the Chicago Bears to go from accepting bad news to dancing out of the Twin Cities with a 19-16 win.
True to the Black and Blue roots of the NFC North, the Vikings and Bears battled into the fourth quarter with Chicago possessing a 9-6 lead Sunday, but the only touchdowns scored came in a final quarter that saw an exchange of leads and an uncharacteristic fumble on an exchange between quarterback Brad Johnson and running back Chester Taylor while trying to grind out time and yardage with a 16-12 lead with less than six minutes to play.
Chicago took advantage of the miscue and quickly answered with a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave them the lead and the eventual win when the Vikings offense bowed out after four plays on the ensuing drive.
In the course of six plays and a minute-and-a-half, the Vikings went from a 16-12 lead and possessing the ball to a 19-16 deficit that they weren't able to overcome in their last-chance drive.
It should have come as no surprise, as the Vikings offense wasn't able to produce a touchdown the entire game, and their red zone inefficiency continued at 0-for-2. The Vikings defense stopped Chicago's rushing attack, holding it to 51 yards, but with an offense that couldn't find the end zone, that crucial fourth-quarter fumble proved to be more than the Vikings could overcome.
It wasn't a complete lack of being able to move the ball, as the Vikings gained 286 yards, 97 of that in the rushing game, but their starters continued to shuffle in and out of the game with injuries.
Those started even before the game began.
Without Marcus Robinson active, Johnson initially found plenty of openings in the defense with Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor. Williamson started with a 19-yard catch along the left sideline on a stop route defended by single coverage. Two plays later, Taylor scraped off of Jermaine Wiggins, who was out wide, and found an opening down the right sideline for a 36-yard pass play. While that put the ball on Chicago's 20-yard line, the Vikings wouldn't get much further, settling for a 31-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell 4:11 into the game that foreshadowed their inability to put the ball into the end zone.
Chicago couldn't generate much of a running game, but quarterback Rex Grossman found enough room in the seams to move the chains – the first coming on a 14-yard pass to Desmond Clark – before the Bears gambled on fourth-and-1 in Vikings territory and won out with a 2-yard run from Thomas Jones. The defense stiffened and forced Robbie Gould on for a 41-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3 with 6:20 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings crossed midfield on their ensuing drive with a 13-yard Chester Taylor run after Williamson got the initial first down with a 6-yard reception. But the drive went backwards after an intentional grounding call halted momentum and forced a punt, the same way the next three drives ended.
Minnesota got into scoring position two drives later when Travis Taylor caught a pass in stride and advanced it to the Chicago 28, but two defensive ends in pursuit created a turnover. Alex Brown stripped the ball from Taylor and Mark Anderson recovered.
However, one good turnover deserved another. With less than five minutes to go in the half, Grossman launched a third-down pass across the middle of the field that came up well short of Bernard Berrian, and Dwight Smith dove for an interception that he returned 30 yards, setting up the final scoring drive of the half.
Penalties dominated the drive, as an Artis Hicks holding penalty put the Vikings in third-and-11 straits, but a horse-collar tackle at the end of a 10-yard run by Mewelde Moore allowed the Vikings to advance to the 11-yard line. Once again, they settled for a field goal, this one going 26 yards off of Longwell's foot for a 6-3 lead with 1:08 to play in the half.
The Bears drove into Minnesota territory with a pass to Berrian and three completions to Muhammad, but they ran out of time in trying to get their field goal unit onto the field.
Grossman carried that momentum into the second half with first-down passes of 22 and 2 yards to Muhammad, with the second one getting 15 yards added to the end with an unnecessary roughness call on Dwight Smith. Grossman followed with a 17-yard completion to Desmond Clark to the 9-yard line, but that was all the further Chicago would advance before Gould converted on a 24-yard field goal to knot the game, 6-6, with 10:53 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings weren't able to get a first down on their next drive after Williamson was flagged for offensive pass interference, and the Bears answered with another field goal drive to take a 9-6 lead.
The Vikings offense picked up one first down with a 9-yard pass to Wiggins and a 10-yarder to Williamson, but when Chicago's Tommie Harris blew through for a sack of Johnson, the drive quickly ended.
Looking to turn the tide of the game, Antoine Winfield did what the Vikings offense was unable to do – score a touchdown – on a 7-yard interception return to give Minnesota the lead again at 13-9.
Once again, the Bears answered a Vikings score with a score of their own. They got into position via the pass game, with completions of 14 yards to Berrian and 16 and 15 yards to Muhammad before Gould connected on a 49-yard field goal with 10:37 left to play.
The Vikings returned the field goal with one of their own. Billy McMullen picked up the initial first down with a 20-yard reception, followed immediately with a 24-yard run by Chester Taylor, setting up a 41-yard field from Longwell to extend the Vikings' lead to 16-12 with 7:27 to play.
The defense rose to the occasion with a three-and-out stymieing of the Bears, but, with the Vikings offense looking to put the game away with an extended drive that started with 5:58 to play, Taylor fumbled an exchange from Johnson on the sixth play of the drive and Harris recovered.
Five plays later, Rashied Davis scored the winning 24-yard touchdown on a corner-post route to give the Bears the 19-16 lead with 1:53 to play.
Williamson answered with a 31-yard kickoff return, but it only took the offense four plays to give it away. Moore runs of 3 and 5 yards sandwiched an incompletion, so facing fourth-and-2, the Vikings called for a pass to Williamson that went long when Johnson was pressured, allowing the good-luck Bears to dance out of town with a 19-16 win and a 3-0 record in the NFC North division.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 2-1 and 0-1 in the division.
Vikings Fumble Away Game, 19-16
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