Over the years, the Vikings it seems have always been able to get healthy against the Detroit Lions. And with six starters out, it was a tumultuous week. Head Coach Mike Zimmer (no excuses) had eye surgery Monday, and during the week Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner resigned.
After back-to-back losses, the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense needed to beat the Lions. Since 1961 the Vikings all-time are 71-37-2 against Detroit. Head Coach Jim Caldwell is establishing a winning tradition in Motown. The Lions have won four of their last five games after Sunday’s thrilling 22-16 overtime win at U.S Bank Stadium.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has found a way to pull a rabbit out of his helmet. In his eighth season out of Georgia, Stafford has won 25 games in his career, five this year alone when the Lions were behind in the fourth quarter. Sunday, the Vikings battled all day to finally take their first lead 16-13 in the fourth quarter with just 23 seconds left.
All Stafford did with the calm of a burglar starting at his 25 was drive the Lions 35 yards with no time outs to the Vikings’ 40. The big one was hitting Andre Roberts for 27 yards. He quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with two seconds left. Kicker Matt Prater then drilled a 58-yard field goal at the buzzer. He kicked three field goals Sunday for 47, 53 and 58 yards.
Tie game 16-16: Yes, another NFL overtime game. The Lions in overtime won the coin toss and then drove 87 yards against the Vikings vaunted defense, ending with Stafford to Golden Tate for a 28-yard touchdown. Lions win 22-16.
The Vikings have lost three in row and for the first time before 66,807 at home. In the three consecutive losses, the Vikings rushed for 93 yards against the Eagles, 57 yards against the Bears, and 78 yards against the Lions. Football is a 60-minute game. Coaches preach to their teams about having balance in running and passing.
“Anytime you lose one at the end like that, it’s hard,” said Kyle Rudolph. “We did not do enough things to win the game. We fought hard offensively, we stalled some drives, and we did not get points when we needed it.”
Suddenly, after starting 5-0, the Vikings have lost three straight, and just like that the NFC North is up for grabs: Vikings 5-3, Lions 5-4, Green Bay 4-4. They are getting behind early: 18-3 vs. Philadelphia, 20-3 vs. the Bears, and Sunday 10-3 vs. Detroit.
I’ve said the pilot light is out on this team. They have failed in the red zone to score touchdowns multiple times: against Philadelphia at the 2, the Bears at the 2, and the Lions at the 18 and 5 yard lines with zero points. Throw in kicker Blair Walsh missing an extra point and having a 46-yard field goal blocked.
Mentally the Vikings are losing games. They have six starters out with injuries. “We played a good football team today,” said Brian Robison. “They’ve beat some good teams. We just did not capitalize on the opportunities we had in front of us.”
When you don’t have balance offensively, you become predictable. The defense beats you to the punch, and that’s what has been happening. Opponents can see the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense, 31st in rushing, not able to establish the running game. In Sunday’s game the Vikings had a total of two yards gained in the second quarter.
Opponents are game planning the defense by spreading the offense out and just working their way down the field. The Lions were 7-14, 50 percent on third downs against the Vikings defense. Most of the season the Vikings have been winning on third down defensively, but not on Sunday. That’s part of the wear and tear of spending too much time on the field. Penalties hurt the Vikings also, eight for 54 yards.
Next Sunday the Vikings travel to Washington.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.
Bears 20, Vikings 10
CHICAGO — In the midst of the 2016 World Series, 24 hours after the hometown Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 3-2 at Wrigley Field in game five, it was the first World Series win by the Cubs at home since 1945, forcing game six in Cleveland with the Indians leading three games to two. The Cubs are trying to win their first World Series in 108 years.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears, 1-6 and struggling along for second-year Head Coach John Fox, delivered an inspiring performance in prime time on Monday Night Football. They shocked the football world and the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings with a 20-10 victory.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler started for the first time in five weeks and four games, returning from injury. Cutler has had a love-hate relationship over the years with fans in Chicago. He has teased Bears fans over the years with his talent. His contract, signed through 2020 with the Bears, owes him $78 million. If Monday night was an audition for another team, he will find a future home.
Cutler is now 9-5 all-time versus the Vikings after engineering the masterful win Monday Night. He also has had a successful history against the Vikings at Soldier’s Field; you might say he was “house money,” because now he’s 7-1 versus the Vikings at Soldier’s. He has thrown more touchdown passes — 26 — against the Vikings than he has thrown against any other NFL team. Cutler was 20-31 passing Monday for 252 yards and one touchdown to Alshon Jeffery.
He led the Bears to a dominating performance against the NFL’s number-one-rated defense. The Bears had balance on offense; they virtually ran and passed the ball at will against the Vikings. The Bears had 403 yards in total offense and led the entire game. In fact, the Vikings trailed 20-3 for the first time all year, down by as many as 17 points.
Chicago attacked the soft spots in the Vikings defense. Right now the Vikings’ pilot light is out. Next Sunday the Vikings return home to U.S. Bank Stadium where they are 3-0 with a chance to re-ignite the pilot against the 4-4 Detroit Lions.
Rookie running back Jordan Howard combined for 202 yards, 153 yards rushing and 49 yards receiving. It was the best rookie performance by a Bears rookie running back since 1965, when Hall-of-Famer Gayle Sayers had a 200-yard game with six touchdowns.
Howard delivered Monday night big-time for the Bears. Suddenly the Vikings have fallen to sleep in the middle of the season. If you snooze you lose, and the Vikings were totally out-played and out-coached.
The Vikings made no plays on offense and defense when the game mattered. Quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked five times. He missed Stefon Diggs early in the game for a touchdown. The Vikings offensive line can’t protect him; he’s been sacked 11 times in the last two games, both losses on the road.
Mike Zimmer called his football team “soft” after losing to Philadelphia. Two weeks ago he put stuffed animals around the team’s locker room, and that backfired. Somebody used red paint and slit the throats of several of the stuffed animals.
“They got after us pretty good tonight,” said Zimmer. “They controlled the game and the tempo of the game. We got to get back to work. We didn’t make any plays. They made them all. When it was time to make plays, they made all the plays. Sometimes you get beat. They played better than us.”
The question is how does a 1-6 Bears team dominate the game against a first-place 5-1 Vikings team that had been the NFL’s last unbeaten team? The Bears had 158 yards rushing and 19 first downs and kept the ball for 33 minutes against the NFL’s number-one defense.
Offensively the Vikings had 258 yards total offense with just 57 yards rushing. The Vikings are 31st in the NFL in total offense and last in rushing and can’t protect their quarterback. The entire league can see the issues they have. The team can’t feel sorry for themselves. However, it’s Zimmer’s job to fix them.
Philadelphia, better known as the City of Brotherly Love, was a rude host to the Vikings. Minnesota, the NFL’s then-only unbeaten team at 5-0, ran into the fired-up Eagles and were exposed for all to see.
For the ninth time in Vikings history, they started on a road to a perfect season: 1973, 9-0; 1974, 5-0; 1975, 10-0; 1996, 4-0; 1998, 7-0; 2000, 7-0; 2003, 6-0; 2009, 6-0.
The greatest seasons in Vikings history resulted from those great starts. In 1973’s Super Bowl VIII it was Miami 24, Vikings 7. In 1974’s Super Bowl 9 Pittsburgh 16-Vikings 6.
Until Sunday in Philadelphia the Vikings were 5-0 and had no losses and zero turnovers. Sunday they had four turnovers, and quarterback Sam Bradford, on his return to Philadelphia, was sacked six times. He fumbled four times and had three turnovers.
The Vikings special teams were awful, including allowing a 98-yard touchdown return by the Eagles’ Josh Huff. Marcus Sherels fumbled away a punt. Harrison Smith’s roughing penalty led to a two-point Eagles conversion.
The Eagles and Vikings were a part of NFL history, however, with the league’s first-ever 11-3 halftime score.
Maybe the bye week distractions and news of DWIs by Coach George Edwards or the DWI by the released development roster player contributed.
The Vikings’ resolve and focus were definitely missing. In the NFL it does not take much. “It was…embarrassing, really,” said Mike Zimmer, “the offense and special teams. I’m very disappointed in the performance in this game today. If you’re going to do those things, you have no chance to win.”
Or did having a patched-up offensive line, losing both starting tackles and the league’s 30th-ranked offense and league-worst 32nd-ranked running game, catch up to them?
“We need to do a better job,” Zimmer said. “We’re not going to go down the street and pick up a bunch of guys. We need to get these guys better, and we need to do it quickly.”
After Sunday’s 21-10 defeat, the Vikings (5-1) travel to Chicago next week. It’s Monday Night Football against the Bears.