Vikings laid a big eggIn honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Minnesota Vikings came out on Sunday against Chicago and performed like an awkward, ugly, mostly flightless bird. Unfortunately, Chicago came out and performed more like, well, a bear. And that bear was given a second Thanksgiving feast.
By: Casey Johnson For the Sun, The Jamestown Sun
In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Minnesota Vikings came out on Sunday against Chicago and performed like an awkward, ugly, mostly flightless bird. Unfortunately, Chicago came out and performed more like, well, a bear. And that bear was given a second Thanksgiving feast.
Adrian Peterson fumbles, a Christian Ponder interception, a blocked field goal, a couple of costly penalties, and several dropped or inaccurate passes filled Chicago’s table and gave the Bears an easy 28-10 victory.
For Minnesota, there’s no good way to look at the loss. There’s no nice way to spin it, no positive angles, no silver lining. They came out and, in sticking with the turkey analogy, laid a big egg.
This was a game that Minnesota was supposed to be prepared for. Coming off of its bye week, they were supposed to rested and ready to put forth the kind of effort that could get them to 7-4. But maybe something went afoul on the Chad Greenway-led pheasant hunting expedition that a few players partook in, or maybe Leslie Frazier just had so much time between games that his emotional fuel tank just got too full. Maybe the guys were a step behind because of their newly gained Thanksgiving pounds, or maybe it was just that the tryptophan hadn’t worn off yet. In any event, it was a pathetically ugly and unacceptably sluggish performance by the Vikings.
In the early stages of the game, it seemed that the Bears were the ones that needed the cold water in the face treatment. On Chicago’s first possession, Matt Forte fumbled by running into his own fullback, and Minnesota recovered. Then, after a Vikings’ field goal, a Bears’ return man was tripped up by a teammate on the ensuing kickoff, and on the next play, Jay Cutler was stepped on by his own center and lost five yards. That drive would then end in a quick three-and-out.
But Minnesota wasn’t able to take full advantage of Chicago’s sloppy play early on. After the Forte fumble, Jerome Simpson dropped a Christian Ponder pass on third down that would’ve been enough to move the chains, and the Vikings were quickly forced to settle for a field goal. On the Vikings’ next possession, Adrian Peterson coughed up his first of two fumbles on the day, and the Bears recovered on Minnesota’s 33-yard line.
The Simpson drop and the Peterson fumble really did mark the beginning of a long, sloppy, forgettable day for Minnesota, as true to form, the Bears capitalized on those and several other Vikings’ miscues to dominate the game from the early going. After those mistakes, Minnesota also had a field goal blocked and Christian Ponder threw an interception, which both led to Bears’ touchdown drives punctuated barely two minutes apart from each other just before halftime.
I’ve already listed a plethora of things that Minnesota did to shoot itself in the foot on Sunday, but thankfully (sarcasm), there are many deeper deficiencies that we can explore after this loss.
Obviously, the absence of Percy Harvin hurt greatly, but the other receivers on the roster are in the NFL and need to be able to get open and catch balls that him them in the hands. Simpson, alone, dropped at least three, maybe four, very catchable passes, some of which would have gone for first downs and extended drives. And catching the ball becomes even more important when you have a struggling quarterback who refuses to take any chances in the passing game.
Ponder completed 22 of 43 passes for just 159 yards. That’s an atrocious 3.7 yards per attempt average. Again, that’s 3.7! Peterson, who had yet another 100-plus yard game, averaged more yards per rush than Christian did per throw, and I’m sure that isn’t the first time that has happened this season. In fact, although Ponder is ninth in the NFL in completion percentage this season (65.2), he is 28th among NFL quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.42), which seems to be a direct indictment of his unwillingness and inability to throw the ball down the field.
The bottom line is that, with Adrian’s remarkable season and the success that the Vikings have had running the football, there should be opportunities for big plays in the passing game as teams bring more men into the box to stop the run. As a matter of fact, the Vikings have had the fewest 20-plus yard pass plays in the NFL this season, while, at the same time, they have the most 20-plus yard rushing plays (stat courtesy of the FOX broadcast).
And again on Sunday, Ponder missed the few opportunities he actually took to throw the ball down the field by soaring passes over the head of Kyle Rudolph, Devin Aromashodu, and others (emphasis on “few.”) As stated many times in recent weeks, it appears that Ponder’s confidence is shot and that he is more scared to make mistakes than a former Bob Knight player. As a result, he attempts few passes down the field and doesn’t throw with confidence or conviction when he does have men open downfield.
Meanwhile, Minnesota had no answer for the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection. The two hooked up on several third downs, and they drew a questionable, but greatly significant, pass interference penalty on Antoine Winfield in the end zone that led to the Bears’ second touchdown.
For the game, Marshall had 12 receptions for 92 yards, and although his yards-per-catch average wasn’t staggering, Marshall played a key role in extending drives for the Bears and helping them to an astounding 37:30 in time of possession compared to just 22:30 for Minnesota. It was the second straight game that Minnesota gave up 12 receptions to a single receiver (Calvin Johnson last game), which illuminates the fact that the Vikings are sorely missing Chris Cook or someone else who might be able to make things a little more difficult for opposing receivers that are big, physical, and talented. Sorry Vikings fans, you’ll have to imagine what having a receiver like that would be like.
No matter which way you slice or dissect Minnesota’s loss to Chicago on Sunday, it was a sloppy, ugly, and disappointing performance. Any time that an opponent tries and converts a fake extra point for a 2-point conversion on a first half touchdown, you’re just not having a good day.
For the Bears, the smile on punter/holder Adam Podlesh’s face after his 2-point conversion run was pretty much telling of the whole game: enjoyable, fun, and shockingly easy.
For the Vikings, well, their bird was cooked before halftime.
Hopefully next week offers some more positive analogies.
Casey Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner