Notebook: Cold Game Brings Colder Offenses

Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball in the NFL's most turnover-prone game of the season. We detail the mistakes that seemed to have the weather to blame, look at the Vikings' colder offense and offer various other notes from Minnesota's 23-13 loss in the truly Windy City.

With a little imagination, the winds at Soldier Field could have mustered up a John Facenda quote about the winter wind wreaking havoc on a bone-chilling day in Chicago.

While the official starting conditions of the game were 20 degrees with a 15 miles-per-hour wind, according to Fox Sports the 18-degree start at Soldier Field was the coldest starting temperature Brad Johnson has made in his career, and the weather played a part in numerous plays throughout the first half in Chicago's 23-13 win over the Vikings.

Cedric Griffin forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that the Vikings recovered, but they couldn't move the ball on the Bears defense, as one short pass squirted through the hands of Chester Taylor. Then, on the first punt of the game, the ball slipped through Chris Kluwe's hands before he picked it up and punted it away.

On the Vikings' next possession, a third-down pass by Johnson while under pressure sailed over the head of Jim Kleinsasser, a pass where the wind looked to take the soft pass a bit and safety Danieal Manning intercepted it.

When the Vikings got possession again, Marcus Robinson caught a third-down slant pass and had it knocked out of his possession. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins recovered that pass, and the game seemed to settle down, at least for a dozen plays.

The wind seemed to be a factor on Chicago's next drive. Despite having success with their running game, Grossman launched a second-down pass deep down the right sideline that hung up enough for cornerback Antoine Winfield to turn and locate it for the Vikings' second interception of the game on the first play of the second quarter.

But after that, weather could only be blamed for maybe one other first-half mishap, this one coming on punt. Late in the second quarter, a Kluwe punt fluttered in the wind and hit Dante Wesley, who was looking to block. While linebacker Ben Leber recovered, it was another Bears miscue that the Vikings couldn't take advantage of.

While forecasts in the middle of last week called for inclement weather for Sunday's, the Vikings opted to practice indoors last week and said the weather wouldn't affect their game plan.

"I don't think we can really judge what we're going to do by what the forecast is going to be because we know plenty of times that they're wrong," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said last Wednesday. "We're going to do what we do, and we're still going to run the offense the way we want to run it. You wouldn't notice much change because of the weather.

"I think the first thing you have to do is get your mind mentally right and mentally prepared for it. Don't let yourself believe that you're cold and all of those kinds of things. I think it's more of a mental frame of mind thing than it is just going out and practicing it."

COLDER OFFENSE

The players were cold, but with the exception of the running game the offense may have been colder.

The Vikings had the ball 17 times on Sunday with an average starting field position of their own 27-yard line. The Bears had the ball for 14 series with an average starting position of their own 40-yard line.

While the Vikings had four of their possessions start inside their own 10-yard line – including one that started on the 2-yard line and ended with Ciatrick Fason being tackled for a safety – the Bears had just one drive begin inside their 10-yard line.

FALSE STARTS

While Jason Whittle got his second consecutive start as a Viking, he didn't help his cause with penalties.

The Vikings entered the game with 83 penalties, the most in the NFL, and their 12 penalties in Chicago tied a season high that they obtained earlier in the season at Buffalo.

Whittle was one of the main offenders. He had a false start on the second snap of the game and then again three drives later. He had a third and final one on the team's second-to-last drive of the game in the fourth quarter.

The three-penalty performance for Whittle came after head coach Brad Childress praised his performance against Arizona last week, saying, "Jason did a very good job. He battles you; he fights you. He gives away some things in terms of size at times, but makes up for it with that veteran kind of savvy."

That assessment will probably change slightly in Childress day-after comments Monday.

Substitute tackle Ryan Cook also had two false-start penalties called on him.

WILLIAMSON LEADS INACTIVES
There was plenty of intrigue in the deactive list on Sunday, and the Vikings made a statement with their list.

Wide receiver Troy Williamson was deactive for the first time this season, and it's unlikely that it had anything to do with an incident early last week when he was punched in the eye early last Monday morning by a security guard clearing out patrons for the Myth nightclub following Darren Sharper's "Sharperpalooza" charity event.

Was Williamson deactive because of the shiner he took?

"We've kind of allayed those fears by making sure there are no physical problems there," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said Wednesday.

Last Monday, Childress reiterated his stance that his players have to take care of the football when asked about Williamson's propensity to drop passes.

"I've mentioned to you the drops end up killing you in this deal, whether it's a drop on a third down or a first down to put you in a normal second down and they kill you on the other side if you have one in your hands obviously because it's going to change the possession," Childress said last Monday. "But hanging onto the football and being a consistent catcher of the football ends up being a big deal as a wide receiver."

"Obviously we've cut down his turns, his reps. He's got to play through. He's a first-round draft pick, the seventh pick in the draft. You've got to be able to catch the football."

The other deactivations affecting the starting lineup Sunday were those of guard Artis Hicks and tackle Marcus Johnson. Each of them suffered ankle injuries two weeks ago against Miami, and the insertion of Whittle at right guard and Mike Rosenthal at right tackle had the Vikings putting together one of their best offensive line efforts of the season last week against the Arizona Cardinals.

Childress said the chemistry between Hicks and Rosenthal, who are good friends off the field, can't hurt on the field.

"They are like the odd couple walking around. You see one walk through the door, you see the next guy walk through the door. They are comfortable with each other," Childress said. "And just having guys that have played with the minimum reps know the system and then know how to get themselves ready to compete at that level you need to on Sundays, it helps your comfort level."

MORE DROPS

Bethel Johnson and Travis Taylor ended up starting against Chicago, but Marcus Robinson was clearly Johnson's favorite target, at least early on. Robinson had five catches for 37 yards, but he also struggled to hold onto the ball.

On one drive late in the first half, Robinson maybe could have had two consecutive receptions on passes thrown his way. The first was a long pass down the left sideline where he had the coverage beat and might have been able to get his hands on the ball had he dove. On the second one, a shorter pass, he got a hand on the ball but couldn't haul it in.

Robinson also had a fumble that Jermaine Wiggins recovered.

NOTES

  • The Vikings became the seventh team this season to rush for more than 100 yards against Chicago. Chester Taylor led them with 99 yards on 17 carries before having his rushes cut off in the third quarter because of a rib injury. Ciatrick Fason picked up where Taylor left off, getting 75 yards on 11 carries, including a touchdown. As a team, the Vikings had 192 rushing yards.

  • While Johnson had a 10.3 passer rating for the game, Brooks Bollinger's rating was 99.1 on 7 of 9 passing. Tarvaris Jackson was 3 of 4 for 35 yards and a 101.0 rating.

  • After a scoreless first quarter and despite a low-scoring game, both teams scored in each of the last three quarters.

  • The Bears had only one first down passing, and the Vikings allowed only 107 yards of total offense to Chicago. The Bears averaged only 1.2 yards per pass play.

  • The Vikings defensive line had only one sack of Grossman. All three of the Bears' sacks came at the expense of Bollinger.

  • Before Chicago's last kneel-down drive to kill the clock, each team had three drives that produced negative yardage.
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