Vikings get buried again as defense collapses to lowly Bears
CHICAGO — The Minnesota Vikings' fast start seems like a distant memory now.
One week after losing their first game, they dropped another one Monday night. The last team in the NFL to lose, they now find themselves in the middle of the motley mess from which the NFC will have to find some playoff teams.
More troubling than the sudden losing streak, however, is the way the Vikings are playing. A team that just a month ago played with swagger and ferocity now looks lost and tentative.
The offensive line can’t protect Sam Bradford, and a defense that was the league’s stingiest now can’t stop anyone. After allowing a league-low 279.5 yards in their first six games, the Vikings were gashed for a whopping 403 by the Chicago Bears, a team that has made losing games an art form.
“We didn’t make any plays. We didn’t make any plays,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after a 20-10 loss that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. “They made them all.”
Unlike last week, when Zimmer lit into his offensive line and called it soft, there were no reprimands or biting evaluations Monday night. It was a controlled fury, evidenced by Zimmer’s short, clipped answers and his white-knuckle grip on the sides of the podium.
A season can spiral out of control very quickly in the NFL, and Zimmer has to see the Vikings might very well be on the verge of it.
“The mindset is get back on our ground and get back to our winning ways,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said. “We know what we need to do, we just need to go back and get it done. Bottom line.
“It’s simple,” he added. “Less mistakes, score.”
Minnesota’s offense was always going to be vulnerable, what with Adrian Peterson’s absence and a line that has seen better days. But the defense was supposed to make up for those shortcomings, suffocating opponents and keeping scoring to a minimum. During their fast start, the Vikings had given up just one play of 40 yards or longer. They were particularly stingy against the run, allowing less than 82 yards per game.
But on Chicago’s third play of the game, Jordan Howard ripped off a 69-yard scamper. It was the longest gain Minnesota had allowed all season. It also was more yardage than any other individual player had managed during an entire game against the Vikings.
“We had a couple of missed tackles,” Zimmer said, tersely, when asked to explain the lapse.
And on it went. By halftime, Howard already had 145 yards offense, and the Vikings had almost matched their game average by giving up 234 to all of the Bears. Howard would finish with 202 yards, including 153 on the ground.
Now, if this were Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, that kind of bulldozing would be a little more acceptable. But these were the Bears, a team that hadn’t won in almost a month. Quarterback Jay Cutler was playing for the first time in six weeks, and Chicago’s offensive line was missing starting guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton.
Yet the Vikings sacked Cutler just once. They thought they had him another time, only to see him slip away and flip the ball to — who else? — Howard for a 34-yard gain.
“They controlled the game. They controlled the tempo of the game,” Zimmer said. “We’ll get back to work.”
They have no choice, with more than half of the season still to play.
“It’s not the same team that came out and started 5-0. But we still have that team in that locker room,” Bradford said. “I think everyone in there believes we have a special team, that we have the ability to go and play good football.
“We just have to figure out the way that we did it, what the formula was those first five weeks. And we have to do it.”
So formidable only three weeks ago, the Vikings’ cracks have begun to show. Whether they’ll break the team apart is up to them.
Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour
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