MINNEAPOLIS — When the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Chicago in Week 8, they still held high hopes of a season that had started with a 5-0 record.
Minnesota lost at Philadelphia coming out of its bye before the Bears surprised many with a 20-10 victory over the Vikings that week. The downward spiral continued until Minnesota was ousted from the playoff picture with a 35-28 loss to Green Bay last week, their eighth loss in 10 games.
The Vikings are left searching for answers for a lost season as they host Chicago in the season finale on Sunday.
“I really don’t think the team lost confidence, I didn’t lose confidence,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “Our penalties were up this year; our pre-snap penalties were up especially. Offensive penalties were up this year. There’s a lot of things to evaluate and try and figure out why.”
While the Vikings (7-8) still held on to playoff hopes, the Bears’ (3-12) season faded quickly amid a debilitating string of injuries. Chicago heads to the finale with young, unproven players still proving themselves.
“We’re evaluating guys and I think our guys understand that,” Bears coach John Fox told the team’s website. “At this stage, there are a lot of (teams) who have nothing left to play for. It’s about pride and respect. And it’s a division opponent at their place. They have struggled of late. I think they’ve won two of their last 10. So it’s going to be who executes. And it’s a game in the NFL.”
Execution has been an issue for Chicago all season. The Bears are hoping to avoid the franchise’s worst record since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978 and the second-worst mark in team history after 1-13 in 1969.
With Minnesota 2-8 since its bye, Chicago is 1-6 since it had its bye.
The Bears’ biggest issue — aside from injuries — has been turnover-differential. Chicago has an NFL-low 10 takeaways and is a minus-16.
“Minus-16 is a big reason we’re sitting here at 3-12,” Fox said. “It’s not a good formula when you’re minus-16.”
While the Bears have not generated a takeaway in five of their last six games, quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions the past two weeks. Barkley is the third Chicago quarterback to throw a pass this season.
“There was a lot to learn from,” Barkley told the team’s website. “The big picture was just when it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Don’t try to force things or try to make a big play out of nothing. When the timing is off, don’t make a bad play worse. I came away realizing that some plays we get beat and just to take a loss and not make it worse.”
Jay Cutler was the quarterback when the Bears beat Minnesota on Halloween night. Cutler avoided turnovers and Jordan Howard rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown.
The Vikings’ once-stout defense has allowed 72 points the past two weeks. The performances culminated in supposed miscommunication between Zimmer and his defensive backs, the position group long his specialty.
Zimmer, Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman were all involved as the early understanding was Rhodes and Newman didn’t follow Zimmer’s plan to cover Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson last week. All three said Monday it was a matter of miscommunication.
“We changed a couple calls later in the week,” Zimmer said. “I probably wasn’t specific enough in the things I was asking them to do. The one thing about it is Xavier and Terence, these guys are as good as people as there is in the world. They’re going to do their best every single time. They come out and they work every single day, they study. They’re really good kids. I could’ve been more specific.”
Miscommunication, turnovers, execution; the issues that creep up when teams fall apart, have marked Minnesota and Chicago the past two months. The two teams will finish their season Sunday hoping to make the fewest mistakes.
“You look at what we were able to do in those first five games, when we started 5-0, we weren’t making those mistakes,” Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford said. “They started to show up, and they started to compound, and we just weren’t able to get over the hump when we did make those mistakes. And I think that’s a big reason we are where we are right now.”
CHICAGO (3-12) at MINNESOTA (7-8)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, Fox
OPENING LINE — Vikings by 6
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Chicago 7-8, Minnesota 8-7
SERIES RECORD — Vikings lead 57-52-2
LAST MEETING — Bears beat Vikings 20-10, Oct. 31, 2016
LAST WEEK — Bears lost to Redskins 41-21; Vikings lost to Packers 38-25
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Vikings have won four straight vs. Bears at home. … This is fourth time in 12 years Vikings have hosted Bears in season finale with no playoff implications for either team. … This will be worst finish by Bears since 2002, when they went 4-12. Last time they had fewer than four wins in non-strike year was 1973, when they went 3-11. … Bears trying to avoid first winless road record since 1974 team went 0-7. … Bears RB Jordan Howard had season-best 153 yards rushing in last meeting. He’s seventh in NFL with 1,178 yards and is 60 yards short of Matt Forte’s franchise record for rookie set in 2008. … Bears QB Matt Barkley will make sixth straight start. He has three 300-yard games but eight interceptions in last two games. … Loss by Vikings would give them losing record for fifth time in last seven years. … Vikings QB Sam Bradford leads league with 71.3 completion percentage, which would be all-time NFL record. Drew Brees is current record holder with 71.2 percent in 2011 for Saints. … WR Adam Thielen has 960 yards receiving, seeking to become first Vikings player with 1,000 yards receiving since Sidney Rice in 2009. Stefon Diggs also has 903 yards. … Vikings DE Danielle Hunter has 12 sacks, most among all DEs in league. … Fantasy Tip: Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson leads NFL with average of 31.5 yards per kickoff return and would set record with third time leading league in four-year career.