Notebook: The Fumble, 360

See what the principal characters from the Vikings and Bears had to say about the fumble that quickly changed the flow of the game late in the fourth quarter and who took the blame. Also, we go deeper into the decisions and execution that hurt the Vikings in the end, along with notes and quotes on turnovers, penalties and the state of the division now.

In a game that the Vikings had control of with a 16-12 lead with less than four minutes to play, there were a number of takes on the fumble that changed their fate.

Officially, the play is listed as "Brad Johnson fumbles (aborted)" in the play-by-play, but there were several explanations on what happened.

Vikings center Matt Birk started by accepting the blame for letting defensive tackle Tommie Harris slip through the line.

"It's a situation where we can't let penetration, and penetration killed the play," Birk said. "Obviously it did there and no one feels worse about it than me. Luckily, I've got great teammates and I think this team overall has got a lot of character and we're going to need to have to bounce back after a loss like this."

Although Johnson was officially credited with the fumble, he backed what the replays seemed to show.

"I felt like the exchange was there. I felt like the nose guard or somebody just got their hand in there somehow. It happened so quickly," Johnson said. "I'm really going to have to look at it on film. I really don't know what happened until I see it on film closer. It felt like it was a good call, felt like we were just trying to run the clock out and maybe get it if it was there. It was a good call. There was really only a five-man box and potentially we'd get the first down, at least punt it and make them go the distance. It was the right call."

It might have been the right call, but the execution wasn't what was needed.

On the snap, Harris slipped past the offensive line and got a hand on the ball as Taylor went to secure it.

"I just had to step up and make a big play," Harris said. "I saw that the guard was sitting kind of light and I knew I would have to get off the ball and get into the pocket. I got behind him and all I could get to was the ball and I knocked it out."

Said Taylor: "They had a great defensive scheme on that play and the defensive lineman got penetration. Before I could tuck it away, he hit it out. … If I would have got it quick, I would have tucked it away quicker, but, no excuse, I lost the ball."

Ready and willing to accept the fumble into his arms was defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

"It was like a gift sitting out there on the ground," Ogunleye said. "I wanted to pick it up, but I didn't want to make a mistake so I just jumped on it."

The Bears offense fed off their defense's big play and scored the only offensive touchdown on Sunday afternoon coming off of that fumble recovery.

After picking up one first down with an 11-yard pass to receiver Muhsin Muhammad, the Bears went to Rashied Davis to tie Chicago's longest play of the game.

"They were definitely thinking about the ball going to Moose (Muhammad)," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think he had like 120 yards (118, actually). That is why you need that third receiver to step up in those situations."

Davis felt like the corner-post pattern was being set up all game long.

"We knew it was open all game," said Davis of the only regular-season touchdown of his career. "He was playing the outside for a corner route, so we countered that with a corner-post."

Vikings safety Darren Sharper said there wasn't any confusion on the game-winning touchdown pass. "They made a play, we didn't," he said.

"We felt like we were in position to win the game, and to put our defense in that position was bad on us," Taylor said.

HINDSIGHT DECISIONS

Getting the ball with less than six minutes to play and a 16-12 lead, the Vikings went into run mode, which not only helped them take more time off the clock but also picked up the initial first down of the drive on three straight runs. When they ran the ball on the next first down for 2 yards, the Bears called a timeout. But on second down, Brad Johnson threw an incomplete pass, which stopped the clock with less than four minutes to play. On the next play, a handoff from Johnson to Taylor was officially ruled an aborted play.

But if the Vikings' decision to throw a pass on second down while trying to control the clock before the fumble was questionable, then their gamble on the next series was nearly as strange.

This time, they knew it would be their last possession and now they were trailing 19-16 with 1:45 to play. After a 3-yard pass to Mewelde Moore and an incompletion, the Vikings decided to run Moore on third-and-7 from their own 41-yard line. He picked 5 yards but didn't pick up a first down, forcing the Vikings to use their second timeout of the half.

On fourth-and-2, they called for a deeper pass play to Troy Williamson that was overthrown to turn the ball over on downs.

"We just tried to throw it to a playmaker," head coach Brad Childress said. "Troy has been good for us, and he had man-to-man coverage out there."

It wasn't the decision to pass that was as questionable as the route called, one that would be more difficult to complete than a shorter route. When Johnson was pressured, the ball sailed high, leaving only three kneeldowns for the Bears to slip out of town with a 3-0 record.

"It was a man-to-man coverage. I couldn't believe they were in the coverage, actually. (I) took a hit on it, they applied a lot of pressure. It was there for the taking and I had to take the shot if it was there, so I took it," Johnson said. "I was hoping I would get that kind of coverage actually and we just didn't come through with it."

SHORTHANDED ON THE LINE

Offensive lineman Jason Whittle got more playing time than he bargained for when both starting guards – Artis Hicks and Steve Hutchinson – each suffered injuries. Both returned to the game, but the Vikings' game-day inactive list may have hurt their ability to compensate for those injuries.

After deactivating offensive linemen Ryan Cook and guard Anthony Herrera, Whittle was the only interior offensive lineman available. Tackle Mike Rosenthal was also active.

"As far as Whittle, he can play left guard or right guard. That's why he's here – he's a pro and he stepped in and didn't miss a beat," center Matt Birk said.

Childress wasn't going to use the injuries and shuffling of the offensive line as an excuse.

"I don't zero in on those guys, and I would not make that excuse," he said.

VIKINGS' TURNOVERS CAME

The Vikings defense had been hoping that they'd start to get more turnovers after entering the game with only one – and that came on a recovered lateral pass during the trickery Carolina tried to pull off in last weekend's game.

Sunday, the Vikings intercepted two passes – picked off by Dwight Smith and Antoine Winfield – and Winfield returned his 7 yards for his first career touchdown.

Just as the Vikings gave the game away with a turnover, they nearly won the game when Winfield's interception gave them a 13-9 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"Once I realized I was in the end zone and had somebody around my feet I just tried to throw the ball away and could not see there was a corner out there," Grossman said of his interception.

PUNITIVE PENALTIES

Penalties continued to be blamed for the Vikings' red zone troubles, where they were 0-for-2 in scoring touchdowns Sunday.

"The number of penalties have been high the first few games and I know that is something Coach will address," Sharper said. "If they are aggressive penalties, they're fine, but a lot of these penalties that we're making are just mental mistakes.

"We had a stat in the first two games that whenever we got penalties on an offensive drive, we didn't get points and then on defense we allowed points."

CHICAGO BRAVADO

The Bears were fortunate to escape with a tight road win, but the euphoria of the win seemed to give at least one Bear invigorated confidence.

"Now we've got the division by the horns. We are kind of in control right now of our own destiny," defensive end Ogunleye said.

"We are 3-0 in the division, so that means it comes through us," wide receiver Davis said.

All three of the Bears' wins have come against division opponents, but it is only three games into a 16-game regular season, and the Vikings, trailing by only one game, have a chance to reverse their fortune on Dec. 3 in Chicago.

"We're going to see this team again and we'll have another opportunity," Sharper said.

While the Bears have beaten what looks to be inferior teams in the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, both playoff teams last year.

But none of the Vikings' games have been easy. All three games were decided by three points, and no one has scored 20 points in those games.

"The three teams that we've played, those were all playoff teams from last year, three dominant teams," Johnson said. "Going into it you knew what we were facing. We were close to having what we wanted, didn't get it done (Sunday). But we've got a good football team and I'm not going to let anybody take that away from us. We've been in position to win ball games and we've come through two out of three times. (The Chicago loss) hurts, and we'll move on."

NOTES

  • Sharper said the Vikings defense should have had about five turnovers. "Antoine's play was a huge play, but we just didn't make enough and that probably was the difference in the game," said Sharper, who dropped a second-quarter chance at an interception that likely would have resulted in a Vikings touchdown.

  • In a three-point game, the importance of field goal kicking can't be underestimated. Minnesota's Ryan Longwell made all three of his attempts, but Chicago's Robbie Gould tied his career-best mark with four field goals made and his 49-yarder in the fourth quarter was his career longest by 4 yards.

  • Wide receiver Marcus Robinson was inactive for the game with a hamstring injury suffered last week against Carolina. Robinson played his first five seasons in the league with the Bears and set a Chicago franchise record with 1,400 yards receiving in 1999. Robinson had six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown against Chicago on Dec. 5, 2004. With Robinson sidelined, Maurice Mann saw extensive action in the first half.

  • Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris is from Chicago.

  • Winfield led the team with 10 tackles, double the amount of the next highest tackler on defense – cornerback Fred Smoot.

  • Smoot didn't start the game, reportedly because he was having difficulties with his helmet. Rookie Cedric Griffin started in his place.

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