Chicago Bears coverage | Late-season descent
Vikings' runningback Adrian Peterson, the league's leading rusher, established Vikings dominance early, with a 51-yard run during the game's opening drive. Peterson concluded the drive with a Vikings touchdown. Three minutes later, Peterson ran in a second touchdown. That score was made possible by Peterson's teammate Brian Robinson, who intercepted a Jay Cutler pass, and ran the ball back 44 yards. AP pillaged the Bears' defense early, stealing over 100 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter alone. By the second half, the Bears' defense managed slow AP's assault, though damage had already been done. He finished the game with 154 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Bears' defense, whose players still top the stats charts for forced fumbles andinterceptions, have not been creating the momentum they did in the first half of the season. Of course they feel weaknesses in the loss to injury of Tim Jennings, the league's interception leader, and defensive anchor Brian Urlacher. However, all teams experience injury loss. That's a fact of the game. Baltimore has suffered similar losses on defense and still remains on top of its division. A barrage of injuries might explain some struggles, but it's a coach's duty to fortify his team with adequate backups for the inevitable.
Penalties and dropped balls tormented the offense. Though wide receiver Brandon Marshall executed athletic and odds-defying catches, in double and triple coverage, his ten catches for 160 yards were challenged by his own teammates' penalties. In the second quarter, a 23-yard reception by Marshall, that would have put the Bears in the red zone, was nullified by a holding penalty on J'Marcus Webb. The Bears ended the game with 80 yards of penalties. Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester both missed cathing near-certain touchdown passes. Kellen Davis was lumbering and also dropped balls. Cutler continued the self punishment, throwing a second interception in the third quarter that was picked off by Harrison Smith and run 56 yards for a Viking touchdown.
Though the tables turned in this meeting of Bears and Vikings from just two weeks ago, when the Bears came out the victors, the expense for players was similar. Two weeks ago, five Bears could not finish the game. This Sunday, Shea McClellin and Craig Steltz on defense both went out. More critically, Jay Cutler was pulled in the fourth quarter, after simultaneous high and low blocks tweaked his neck. This is of great concern just four weeks after the concussion he sustained in the loss to the Texans.
Additionally consequential was the fluke calf injury that kicker Robbie Gould sustained in warmups for Sunday's game. Though he remained suited and on the sidelines, he only made appearances to kick on the two extra points after touchdowns. Punter Adam Podlesh took over on the rest of kicking duties. For this reason, the entire potential of scoring from field goals was lost. Losing the sixth most accurate kicker in NFL history is troubling, for any amount of time.
Gould's loss was especially evident when Major Wright intercepted Christian Ponder with 32 seconds left in the first half. The Bears showed little urgency in trying to convert the interception to a score. Last week, 24 seconds was enough to get Gould into game-tying field goal range. By contrast, the Bears could only hope for a miracle in the passing game to make the turnover count. And there were no miracles to close out the half. The Bears ultimately lost the turnover battle and blew the opportunity to score off of their single interception.
The silver lining to this downward spiral is that, if the Bears lose out and/or miss playoffs, sweeping changes are likely for the Bears' future. Coach Lovie Smith could be fired. His contract ends at the end of this season and this last half of the season has not proved the worth of a "players' coach," as he's often described. Nor has his entire tenure. In nine years with the Bears, Smith has the division championships, one conference championship, zero Super Bowl championships. Bill Belichick is not known for being particularly cuddly or even moral, but he's taken the Patriots to five Super Bowls, three of which he's won.
The Bears face Green Bay, the division leaders in the NFC North, at Soldier Field on Sunday at noon.