Brad Johnson entered the season known as a quarterback that can manage games and turn them into wins. But this season his interception percentage – and thereby winning percentage – is taking a hit. We go inside those numbers, along with laying out nearly 40 other notes that help tell the tale of the Vikings' 23-13 loss in Chicago.
Quarterback controversies are nothing new to the NFL. Whenever a starter struggles, the most popular guy in town is the backup QB. This year alone, Arizona, Tennessee, Dallas, Miami, Oakland, Washington and Denver have benched starting quarterbacks due to ineffectiveness and six others – Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Seattle – have been forced to change quarterbacks due to injury.
Do the math and that adds up to 13 teams that, for one reason or another, have made a change at the most pivotal position on the football field. Sunday we may have seen two more teams added to that list, as Brad Johnson
and Rex Grossman
did nothing to appeal themselves to fans who have grown tired of seeing the same old stuff for several weeks.
In the case of the Bears, it's hard to dispute that a 10-2 team requires a change at quarterback, but once again Sunday the Bears showed that they are winning despite Grossman, not because of him. He did little to engender support from the fans Sunday, completing just six of 19 passes for 34 yards and three interceptions. For a team that many believe should earn home field advantage and be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, Grossman did nothing to lessen the cries for backup Brian Griese
to get a chance to run the offense.
On the flip side is Johnson. When the Vikings sat at 4-3 after seven games despite a brutal schedule that included 2005 playoff teams in Washington, Carolina, Chicago, Seattle and New England, Johnson did what he had done after coming into action in relief of Daunte Culpepper
– manage games and not make critical mistakes. In the 10 games in which he saw significant action, he threw 294 passes and had just four interceptions. Sunday alone, he threw four interceptions in just 26 passes and, for the second time this season, was yanked by Brad Childress.
Johnson's struggles haven't been isolated. In 12 games he has played this season, he has gone without an interception in just four of those. Not coincidentally, the Vikings are 3-1 in those games. In the eight games in which he had at least one pick, the Vikings have a record of 2-6. Heading into this season, Johnson had averaged an interception every 37.2 passes – a number any coach could live with. In that span, he had only one season in which he threw more than 15 interceptions in a season.
This year, Johnson has thrown 399 passes and had 14 of those picked off – a rate of one interception for every 28.5 passes – markedly worse than his career average. The question that may be asked more loudly than ever this week by fans and media alike is whether Johnson will be allowed to throw his 400th pass of the season. With the Vikings likely needing to run the table in the final four games to maintain a chance of making the playoffs, that is a question that will be front and center in the coming days.
The Vikings offense may have more concerns that just at quarterback. Chester Taylor left the game in the second and third quarters with an obvious rib injury and, while he returned to action twice following the initial injury in the second quarter, he didn't have a touch of the ball after the opening drive of the second half.
It would have been difficult for the Vikings to dominate the statistics more than they did Sunday. They outgained the Bears 348-107 – running 77 plays to just 45 for Chicago. The Vikings diced the Bears for 192 rushing yards, while allowing just 83 yards on 25 carries for the Bears – 24 of those coming on one run by Cedric Benson. The passing numbers were even more lopsided, as the Vikings gained 156 passing yards, as opposed to just 24 for Chicago.
You can't pin this loss on the Vikings defense, which allowed the Bears just six first downs all afternoon. The Vikings, who had 21 first downs, had almost as many first downs via penalty (four) than the Bears offense had combined.
The Vikings converted just four of 17 third-down attempts and two of those came in their touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the game.
Want to know why time of possession isn't always an indicator of who wins a game? The Vikings held the ball for 39 minutes and 21 seconds of the game. The Bears had it just 20:39, but that was enough.
The Vikings, who lead the NFL in penalties, committed 12 more infractions Sunday. Of those, seven were false start penalties – three on Jason Whittle and two on rookie Ryan Cook.
While the loss didn't kill the Vikings' playoff chances, it didn't help. With Atlanta's win, the Falcons improved to 6-6 to move ahead of the Vikings. Two of the teams tied with Minnesota at 5-6 heading into play Sunday – San Francisco at St. Louis – both lost. The other 5-6 team (Philadelphia) plays 6-5 Carolina Monday night. Although it might be bad for the Vikings to have another team in front of them for a wild card spot, since they have a tie-breaker over the Panthers, any loss that gets tagged on them would be a bonus.
Chester Taylor became the fifth NFL running back to top 1,000 yards when he had a 7-yard run in the first quarter. When Taylor left the game, he had 99 yards rushing, falling short of his fifth 100-yard game of the year.
In his place, Ciatrick Fason, who has been inactive much of the season, came in and played very well – rushing 11 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Brooks Bollinger replaced Johnson and completed seven of nine passes for 70 yards before leaving with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. But, as happened when he replaced Johnson against New England, Bollinger was sacked three times in a short period of time.
Rookie Tarvaris Jackson, the emergency quarterback, got the call late in the game and completed three of four passes for 35 yards, but his day ended with a fumble on a scramble that allowed the Bears to run out the clock.
Cedric Benson had a solid game rushing for Chicago, picking up 60 yards on nine carries and was more effective than starter Thomas Jones, who gained just 32 yards on 12 carries.
Despite catching just two passes for nine yards, Travis Taylor maintained the team lead in receptions (44) and receiving yards (477). If the numbers hold up through the rest of the season, Taylor will lead the Vikings in receiving yards with just 636 receiving yards – which would be just the third time since 1992 that the Vikings didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver, but the second time in the last two years.
Mewelde Moore led the team with five catches for 51 yards.
Of the six completions Grossman had in the game, four of them went to Bernard Berrian (good for just 21 yards).
One of the big advantages for the Bears came in the punting game. Brad Maynard averaged 43.1 yards a punt on seven kicks with a long of 65 and pinned the Vikings inside their 20 four times. Chris Kluwe averaged just 31.1 yards on eight punts with a long and 47 and put two inside the 20.
E.J. Henderson led the Vikings with seven tackles. He and Darren Sharper (five tackles) were the only Vikings with more than three tackles. For the Bears, Chris Harris had 13 tackles, followed by Brian Urlacher (eight) and Lance Briggs (seven).
Coming into this week, there had been 176 NFL games played this season. The 10 turnovers by the Vikings and Bears were the most of any game, surpassing the nine turnovers in last week's game between the Bears and Patriots.
Grossman had a passer rating of just 2.8 – a career low. Johnson didn't fare much better, posting a career-worst passer rating of 10.3.
Johnson's four interceptions tied a career high.
The Vikings' 192 rushing yards were the most allowed by the Bears this season. Had the game been closer, those numbers could have been worse – the Vikings ran just four times in the game's last 14 minutes.
One of the few bright spots came on a perfectly executed on-side kick late in the game by the Vikings in which Ryan Longwell hit a ball that popped into the air and was recovered by rookie Greg Blue. The kick looked eerily similar to the one the Cardinals pulled off against the Vikings last week.
In their first five games of the season, the Bears had just five giveaways. They had five turnovers in the first 35 minutes of Sunday's game alone.
At one point midway through the third quarter, Grossman had completed six passes – if you count the three he completed to Vikings defenders.
Bears DT Tommie Harris left the game in the third quarter with a left knee injury. He was taken off the field and did not return.
Chicago never got into the Vikings red zone one time Sunday. In fact, the team only got across midfield four times – three times as the result of a Vikings turnover and once because of a free-kick return following a safety.
The Vikings had a clear yardage edge (138-69) at halftime and had the ball for 19:23 of the first half. Johnson completed eight of 17 passes for 39 yards in the first half before going three of nine with three picks in the second half.
Prior to his injury, Taylor was dominating the running attack in the first half, gaining 79 yards on 13 carries.
Sunday was the second straight week that the Vikings special teams allowed a touchdown. Last week, Arizona's J.J. Arrington scored on a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. Sunday, Chicago's Devin Hester returned a punt 45 yards for a TD – the first punt return touchdown the Vikings had allowed since 1998.
As he did last week, Cook replaced Mike Rosenthal for a series or two in each of the final three quarters.
Antoine Winfield had his fourth interception of the season – tying a career high set last season. In 72 career games with Buffalo, Winfield had six interceptions. In 42 games as a Viking, he has had 11 picks.
When Taylor went over 1,000 yards in the first quarter, he became the first Viking to rush for 1,000 yards since Michael Bennett in 2002.
Napoleon Harris got an interception Sunday despite wearing an oversized cast to protect his injured wrist.
The Vikings may want to scrap the purple pants. Sunday was just the second time the team has worn the purple pants since 1964 – the other being earlier this year vs. Buffalo. They have lost both games wearing the fashion faux pas.
Troy Williamson was inactive Sunday, having fallen behind Billy McMullen and Bethel Johnson on the depth chart.
Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson were also inactive, being replaced by Whittle and Mike Rosenthal in the starting lineup.
Johnson was wearing throwing gloves Sunday, one of the few times he has worn gloves. However, this was the coldest game Johnson had ever started as a NFL quarterback, with a gametime temperature of 18 degrees (as reported by Fox Sports) and a windchill that dropped below zero several times as the winds gusted at times in excess of 25 miles per hour.
There was a pre-game flyover at Soldier Field, unlike the fake flyover at the Metrodome last month.
With the win, the Bears officially wrapped up their second straight NFC North title.