By Nate Johnson
Even with an extra week to rest up, get healthy, and prepare, the Chicago Bears fell deeper behind in the NFC North race, falling to the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Once again, the Bears held strong for most of the game, but gave up the lead in the late minutes. Following after Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hit Stefon Diggs with a short pass that the Chicago secondary managed to turn into a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game, kicker Blair Walsh drove home the winning field goal as time expired from 36 yards out.
The win was the first for Minnesota in their last eight visits to Chicago and their first on the road in the NFC North in three years. With the loss, the Bears fell to 2-6 on the season, while the Vikings strengthened their divisional standing at 5-2, trailing only the 6-1 Green Bay Packers.
“Unfortunately, the last two weeks we weren’t able to hang on with a touchdown lead late in the game,” head coach Jon Fox told chicagobears.com. “One went to overtime and one was won in regulation. That’s sometimes the difference between 2-5 and 5-2. Other than the Seattle game (a 26-0 loss), we’ve had opportunities in games. We just came up a couple short in these last two.”
Poor play throughout the defense and special teams cost the Bears on this day. Bridgewater came into the game having been sacked 19 times through their first six games, but Pernell McPhee was the only Bear to reach the quarterback. Adrian Peterson had his fifth straight 100-yard game against the Bears, as he ran for 103 on the day.
“I think we’re capable of playing better, not that it was poor or bad,” Fox said. “We allowed them 16 points or one touchdown as a [defensive] group, not just the d-line. “
The punt coverage team was victimized as well in the first quarter as Marcus Sherels returned a Pat O’Donnell kick 65 yards for the first Minnesota touchdown of the day. The punt return touchdown was the third special teams touchdown allowed already this season, an alarming sign for a team that had hoped to turn around the woes they have suffered in the third phase the last few seasons.
“Without going into too much detail, I think it was not a well-executed play,” Fox said. “It started with the kick. It started with a couple of contain issues that were out of whack with where we wanted the kick. It just wasn’t executed very well.”
The Bears offense played short-handed most of the game, as Matt Forte and Eddie Royal both left the game with injuries. In addition, the offensive line featured only one starter at the same position from the opening game of the season.
Despite the lack of two of his best tools, Jay Cutler put forth his cleanest game of the year, both running and passing for a touchdown and going turnover-free for this first time this season. In connecting with Alshon Jeffery for the second straight game, Cutler tied Sid Luckman for the most passing touchdowns in team history.
Initial reports indicate that neither Forte nor Royal will miss the remainder of the season, but both are questionable for next Monday’s prime-time matchup with the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers will welcome the Bears coming off a 29-26 loss to Baltimore.