5 things: Vikings, Bears different teams than earlier meeting
NOV 30, 2013 1:25p ET
The late-game collapse ended up being a harbinger for Minnesota, which lost three other games in the same manner and had to settle for a tie last week at Green Bay after giving up the lead in the final minute of regulation. The Bears (6-5) entered this week still tied with Detroit at the top of the NFC North standings but have been inconsistent since opening the season with three straight wins and a defense that has faltered with injuries.
Here are five things to watch as the Vikings (2-8-1) try to win their second straight game at home on Sunday against Chicago:
1. McCown sees Vikings 10 years later
The play will live in infamy in Minnesota in part because of the radio call, but Josh McCown ended the Vikings' playoff hopes a decade ago in Arizona. Minnesota was 9-6 and trying to secure a playoff spot in the final week of the season. The Cardinals, with McCown in his second NFL season, were at the bottom of the standings and primed for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
The Vikings were almost ready to celebrate before McCown connected on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. The last was a desperation, 28-yard heave as time expired and was caught in the end zone by receiver Nate Poole for an 18-17 win that famously "knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs."
Sunday will actually be McCown's second game against Minnesota since the fateful game on Dec. 28, 2003. He also appeared in the regular-season finale of the 2011 season at the Metrodome. McCown's had a resurgence in his NFL career this season in Chicago with coach Marc Trestman. Filling in for the injured Jay Cutler, McCown has played five games and made three starts this season. He has a 100.8 quarterback rating, completing 65.5 percent of his passes and has seven touchdowns and just one interception. The Bears have won two of his three starts.
2. Late-game issues started then
It was back in Week 2 when the Vikings first gave up the lead in the final minute in a loss. Since then, two more losses have come in the final minute and Minnesota has given up the lead in the final minute four times total this season.
Cutler drove the Bears down the field in Week 2, connecting with tight end Martellus Bennett on a 16-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left in Week 2. The late-game deficiencies showed then, with the Vikings' defense out of position and issues arising between the schemes called and the execution. Eventually players would complain about the play-calling later in the year.
Minnesota had shown some improvement in recent weeks, but the late-game issues are still present. Last week, Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn came off the bench in relief of Scott Tolzien and surprised the Vikings in bringing the Packers back from down 16 points in the fourth quarter. Green Bay's final drive in regulation ended with a 27-yard field goal with 46 seconds left in the fourth. Minnesota has held the lead in all but two games this season. Can the Vikings keep it Sunday if they're in the same position?
3. A different Bears team
Besides McCown, who has Chicago's offense performing at least as efficiently if not better than Cutler, the Bears are without several key players. While Minnesota will be healthier than its been in several weeks with only tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Josh Robinson out Sunday, Chicago has been decimated. The biggest concern for the Bears is on defense. Chicago has slipped to 25th in the league in total defense and is without four starters from the first time the two teams played.
Cornerback Charles Tillman – long a thorn in the side of the Vikings – defensive tackle Henry Melton and linebacker D.J. Williams are on injured reserve. Maybe Chicago's best defensive player, linebacker Lance Briggs, has already been ruled out for this week with a shoulder injury. One thing never changes for the Bears. Even without four starters, Chicago is tied for seventh in the NFL with 22 takeaways this season.
4. Peterson and the Bears
Without Melton, Briggs, Williams and Tillman, the Bears are last in the league in run defense. Chicago is allowing 145.2 yards per game this season and 4.9 yards per carry. Last week, the St. Louis Rams ran for 258 yards, including the first 100-yard game for Benny Cunningham. This week it's the reigning MVP in Adrian Peterson, who has often enjoyed his games against the Bears.
Peterson is averaging 107.7 rushing yards per game against Chicago and 4.88 yards per carry, with 14 touchdowns in 11 career games. Peterson's first game against the Bears was a 20-carry, 224-yard performance at Soldier Field in just his fifth NFL game, a sign of things to come for the best running back in the league. Peterson had 26 carries for 100 yards in the first meeting this season when Chicago was healthy and has gone over 100 yards in his last three games against the Bears.
Peterson, off his best game of the season last week with season-highs of 32 carries and 146 rushing yards, is now second in the league in rushing and just 12 yards behind Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and three yards shy of the sixth 1,000-yard campaign of his seven-year career.
Backup Toby Gerhart has also become an important piece to the run game with 158 yards on 15 carries the past two weeks. Gerhart had eight carries for 91 yards last week as Minnesota racked up a season-high 232 rushing yards against Green Bay. The Vikings will look to control Sunday's game on the ground against an overwhelmed Bears' defense.
5. Height against height
Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes has passed his concussion testing and is expected to start Sunday at left cornerback with Chris Cook on the other side for Minnesota's defense. When the Vikings drafted the 6-foot-1 Rhodes in the first round, these are the matchups they envisioned with the 6-foot-2 Cook on the other side. Chicago features 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery at receiver, with Bennett coming in at 6-foot-6 at tight end.
Cook and Rhodes have the size and physicality to play with Marshall and Jeffery, but they need to compete with them too. Cook is still looking for his first interception in his fourth NFL season and has struggled at times this season. Rhodes had a slow transition to the NFL game in his first season, but is coming off the best game of his career last week against the Packers' talented receivers. Rhodes had four passes defensed last week.
In the first meeting in Week 2, Marshall had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Bennett had seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Matt Forte added 71 receiving yards with 90 rushing yards. Jeffery was limited to one catch for 11 yards but has come on as the season has progressed. Marshall is tied for third in the NFL with 74 catches and Jeffery is tied for 19th with 58 catches. Marshall is 10th in receiving yardage in the league with 945 yards. Jeffery is 13th in receiving yardage with 860 yards, giving the Bears the top receiving duo in the league.
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