CHICAGO — On a spectacular sun-splashed Sunday in my hometown of Chicago at historic Soldier Field, the Vikings had their bubble of expectation busted by the monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears — Bears 28, Vikings 10.
It was more like a mauling. Clearly, for whatever reason, the Vikings were not ready Sunday. Jay Cutler returned to the starting lineup at quarterback for the Bears after battling concussion symptoms, and maybe that was enough to inspire the Bears, who had lost back-to-back prime time contests to 10-1 Houston (13-6, the game in which Cutler suffered a concussion) and to 8-2-1 San Francisco, who beat the Bears up 32-7 on Monday Night Football.
The Vikings were just what the Bears needed, a team half-stepping along but not totally committed to getting the job done. Their superstar running back, Adrian Peterson, missed the team bus to Soldier Field and arrived in a cab about 90 minutes before kickoff. That type of distraction is difficult to measure. “It’s not good any time one of your leaders is not where he’s supposed to be,” said Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier. ”It’s a big deal.” It’s an indication that you’re not totally committed to the task at hand. And it showed!
The Vikings missed blocks and tackles, dropped several balls, and Peterson fumbled twice. He was awful in the first half with seven carries for just 25 yards and a fumble. The Bears had 16 first downs to the Vikings’ three; the Bears were seven of 10 on third down while the Vikings were 0-3. It was Bears 25, Vikings 3 at half.
By then it was already “Game over — get out of town, you pretenders!” The Bears own the Vikings, you might say, having won six in row now dating back to 2009.
The Vikings still lead the all-time series, which began in 1961, 52-49-2. But since Lovie Smith has been head coach of the Bears, this being his ninth season, Chicago has won 11 of 17 meetings. The Bears are now back on top of the NFC North at 8-3. The Vikings are third at 6-5, still very much in the playoff chase. The Packers are next for the Vikings.
The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants dominated the Packers Sunday 38-10, knocking them out of a tie for first with the Bears in the NFC North. Next Sunday the Vikings travel to Green Bay and will get a shot at the 7-4 Packers, who are in second place in the division.
The Vikings played poorly across the board — they never sustained anything. The kicking game let them down as well. Punter Chris Kluwe had a 23-yard punt that led to a Bears first half score. I asked Leslie Frazier after the game if there was a turning point in the game, but he could not identify one or chose not to. However, I think the game turned into a rout after Blair Walsh had his 30-yard field attempt blocked by Julius Peppers of the Bears. It was a 10-3 game early in the second quarter; had the Vikings got that field goal, it would have been a 10-6 game.
However, the Bears took the momentum from the block and marched 80 yards in 14 plays. Michael Bush scored on a one-yard run to make it 16-3 Bears. Then the Bears caught the Vikings napping and converted a two-point play: 18-3 Bears. Then in the next series, quarterback Christian Ponder threw an interception and Chris Conte of the Bears returned it 35 yards to the Vikings’ 13. Cutler then hit tight end Matt Spaeth for a touchdown of 13 yards: game over, 25-3 Bears.
The Vikings lost two replay challenges on scoring plays, one on a fumble for a touchdown. But as they say in the business, “If ‘if’ was a fifth, we would all be drunk.” The Bears were better prepared; they played tougher and pounced on the Vikings’ mistakes. And the Vikings made many mistakes — it was a giant setback.
The Vikings have now lost three of their last four games. After starting 4-1, they have lost four of six. Nobody said this would be easy for the Vikings with Green Bay, Chicago, St. Louis and Houston, three of which are on the road, and then Green Bay at home to finish the season.
It’s fish or cut bait time. Peterson finished the game with 108 yards on 18 carries and had six receptions for 30 yards. That’s five straight games rushing for 100 yards or more, 148 yards total, so not a bad day. However, the fumbles were critical, and being on time is always important.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.