The Minnesota Vikings are now in the precarious position of being 0-2 this season after Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Chicago Bears and Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier took to the podium following the loss to accept the blame.
“I told our players after the game, as a staff, I don’t think we could have asked for any better preparation or fight from our team,” Frazier said. “But personally, I have to do a better job of guiding our team in that last sequence. I wanted them to know. I couldn’t ask for anything more from them what they did today. At the end of the day, there were some things that I didn’t do in my role that could have helped our football team. The effort that they gave, we’ll always have a chance because of it, but I’ve got to do some things better to help them and didn’t get that done that last two minutes.”
Frazier was disappointed with Chicago’s final drive, in which the Bears went 66 yards in 10 plays and scored on a pass to tight end Martellus Bennett right at the end zone line with 10 seconds left. The Vikings had just taken a six-point lead on a field goal by Blair Walsh and now Minnesota’s season hangs in the balance after the 0-2 start.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings’ loss:
1. Needed one more stop
The final drive, which Frazier is blaming his coaching, overshadows a strong defensive game and a strong recovery following the season’s first week. This week didn’t start well for Minnesota with Chicago scoring touchdowns on two of its first three drives. But the Vikings stayed in the game because of an opportunistic defense. Minnesota created four turnovers on two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Harrison Smith’s interception and defensive tackle Letroy Guion’s strip of the ball away from running back Matt Forte led to Vikings’ field goals and the lead in the second half.
Chicago had not scored in the second half until the two-minute drive and touchdown with 10 seconds left. Even faced with a short field after Adrian Peterson’s lost fumble, the defense went three-and-out allowing just a yard. Yet, Cutler and the Bears converted three third-downs on the game-winning drive, including the touchdown to Bennett on third-and-10.
2. Not beating the Bears at their own game
All week long the talk was about Chicago and its turnover-forcing defense. The talk was warranted and Bears cornerback Tim Jennings was living up to the status when he intercepted Ponder in the first half and returned it for a touchdown. But it was Minnesota that was causing the back-breaking turnovers on Sunday.
Jared Allen had a strip sack that led to a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Brian Robison. Cutler threw an interception in the end zone on a goal-line play after defensive end Everson Griffen deflected the pass on the rush, the ball was tipped in the end zone when Smith went up against Chicago tight end Steve Maneri and Kevin Williams intercepted the ball. Smith’s interception and Guion’s strip of Forte were big plays. Peterson’s fumble was negated with a stop by the defense and the third turnover was on the late kickoff when John Carlson fumbled looking to lateral. But Minnesota couldn’t take advantage of being plus-1 in turnover-margin on the road and having the most impactful turnovers.
3. Ponder bounces back
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder looked bound to be buried under similar issues as last week. He was struggling to find anything going on in the passing game, was forced out of the pocket because the offensive line was getting beat and then had the poor decision and throw to receiver Jerome Simpson that Jennings returned for a touchdown on the interception. Before the game, FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer had reported that, “From a lot of what I’m hearing inside that locker room, he’s on a much shorter leash than anybody has any idea about.”
The calls for backup Matt Cassel were continuing. The interception put Ponder at 4 of 12 passing for 52 yards. Then Ponder hit two passes on Minnesota’s final drive of the first half, including a 20-yard touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. He came back in the second half and was 10 of 16 for 146 yards and came up with big completions on third downs to Greg Jennings and also ran for a first down. Again, when Ponder seems to be at his lowest, he showed why the Vikings continue to have trust in him. After the interception, Ponder was 12 of 18 for 175 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers.
4. Being pestered by Hester
Minnesota opened the game with a team record-tying 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, demonstrating his game-breaking ability and need to get the ball in his hand. But Chicago’s returner isn’t too shabby himself. Devin Hester has long pestered the Vikings and it continued Sunday. He nearly broke two returns himself for touchdowns, but was caught late.
Right after Patterson’s momentum-grabbing return, Hester had a 76-yard kickoff return of his own setting up a Bears’ touchdown. He had kickoff returns of 80 and 42 yards as well, averaging 49.8 yards on five returns. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who had one of the best touchback percentages in the league last year, couldn’t pin Hester deep enough in the end zone for some reason and the coverage teams struggled as well. On the final drive, Walsh popped the ball high in the air to keep it away from Hester. Rookie punter Jeff Locke did come through with a strong game and didn’t allow a return from Hester.
5. Finding some rhythm
Minnesota came away from last week looking at several pieces of the team that needed work. A last-second loss is disappointing and will be a hit emotionally, but the Vikings may have more to build from this week. Included in Ponder’s resurgence in the second half was improved play from the offensive line. The offensive line had curiously struggled all season, even dating back to the preseason, and was having trouble early Sunday. The line wasn’t giving Ponder much time or holes for Peterson.
Then the entire offense started to find some rhythm along with Ponder. Ponder was sacked just once in the game, with it coming on the second offensive drive in the first quarter. The Bears contained Peterson for the most part, but the MVP running back did reach 100 yards Sunday. He finished with 26 carries for 100 yards, with a long run of 36 yards.