Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner walks up to a split level. Knocks on the door and says, “Happy Halloween.” Looks down and sees his options: a box of Chiclets, two unsharpened pencils, some broken glowsticks, a toothbrush and some Play-Doh.
Those, metaphorically, were his options while calling plays Monday night in the Vikings’ rather stunning 20-10 loss on Halloween to the Chicago Bears. At this point, it doesn’t matter what costume the Vikings put on their offensive line — it’s downright ghoulish to see what’s happening up front.
Last week, we wrote that the Vikings still have the chance to overcome that weakness. This week, we’re reconsidering what we wrote. Starting tackles Jake Long and T.J. Clemmings had nightmarish games, unable to block the Bears’ Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd most of the night, and it reduced the Vikings’ offensive options to the last call for trick or treating. That was a huge reason why the Vikings, candidates for the best team in football the first five games of the season, lost to a Bears team that had won four of the past 20 games at Soldier Field.
The NFL’s trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon — any time left to swing a season-saving deal? Sam Bradford is not going to last long behind this blocking. Oh yeah, and Alex Boone, maybe their best blocker, left the game in the fourth quarter with a potential concussion. Good times.
“It’s difficult right now. We haven’t proven it yet,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said when asked about his offensive line. “I don’t know if ‘hopeful’ is the word right at this second. I’ve got to get it fixed, though.”
The Vikings now have scored two touchdowns in their past 24 drives, and it was the first game this season that their defense couldn’t come close to compensating. The Bears racked up 403 yards of offense against a Vikings defense that had not allowed more than 339 all season, and the return of quarterback Jay Cutler — who fumbled twice and was sacked five times against these Vikings last December — actually helped the Bears.
Cutler played turnover-free ball, and after a scattershot start got hot and started dicing up the Vikings’ secondary. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes dropped two would-be interceptions and then left the game with an injury. The Bears immediately went after his replacement, Trae Waynes, and Cutler (252 passing yards, TD) hit Alshon Jeffery for his first touchdown of the season and a 20-3 lead that would hold up.
And it should have been more. The Bears broke down in the red zone twice in the first 17 minutes and settled for a pair of field goals. No back had rushed for more than 56 yards against this Vikings defense this season, but the Bears’ Jordan Howard topped that number with one run in the first quarter. Bursting through a missed tackle from Vikings safety Harrison Smith, Howard ran for 69 yards to set up a first-quarter field goal and finished the night with an impressive 153 yards on the ground and another 49 receiving.
Howard’s 2-yard TD run in the second quarter capped off a great drive full of clever play designs by Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. Earlier in the series, Cutler stung the Vikings with a trap pass to Zach Miller for 21 yards in which the play action sucked in the linebackers. Then, the Vikings were fooled by the Bears bringing in 305-pound defensive lineman Mitch Unrein as a fullback, and Howard walked into the end zone against a soft edge.
This is the Vikings’ defense that ate up opponents for the first six games of the season? And furthermore, this is a Zimmer-coached team coming off a horribly sloppy performance in their first loss of the season last week?
It was a bad night for all in purple. Even Zimmer blew a challenge 71 seconds into the second half — Zim’s first red flag thrown this season — perhaps out of desperation when Howard was clearly down for a full second before the ball came out.
The only excuse is that Zimmer knew at that point he couldn’t win the game without a gift turnover. That’s where his offense is right now. Even the Vikings’ lone TD drive of the game was a fairly artless deal: It took 10 plays and more than 3 minutes when they should have been in hurry-up mode down 17 points. The longest play of the drive came on a play breakdown when Matt Asiata, who dropped two passes in the game, scurried for 31 lucky yards.
Can the Vikings fix this? It’s not Turner’s fault, and though Bradford’s warts are starting to show, you can’t really pin this on him. The line is a hot mess. There’s no Adrian Peterson to pull a rabbit out of a hat. The first-round pick, Laquon Treadwell, can’t graduate from his spot as a part-time gunner.
It’s never fun to look in your candy basket and see that selection to choose from.
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