When does a two-game winning streak not feel like a two-game winning streak? When the two wins were gift-wrapped by the referees. When you only managed two first-half points against the Lions and had to squeak the win out with a last-second field goal. Some would say, “A win is a win.” But how many such lucky victories can a team keep racking up? Can a team go 10-6 just on flukes and blown calls and the other team shooting itself in the foot? Obviously the answer is no. If you want to get to 10-6 – or 9-7, which might be enough to win the division – at some point you have to play like you’re a 10-6 or 9-7 team. This year, the Vikings have looked that good only in spurts – some of the Carolina game, the first half of the Indianapolis game, maybe a few minutes of the Saints game when Gus Frerotte was leading us back. Otherwise the team has been lackluster to downright awful. Like the economy of the last few years, this model is not sustainable. At some point you have to show some consistency. Block. Get first downs. Hold onto the ball. Not get called for dumb penalties (looking at you Ryan Cook).
The Vikes get another shot at it today against the Bears. Chicago has the same record we do, 3-3, but they’ve looked more like a real team for more of the season. Their problem has been late defensive meltdowns and just generally not being able to finish off opponents. The Vikings could legitimately be 1-5, and the Bears could legitimately be 5-1. But some force seems to be at work in the NFC North that wants to bunch all the teams toward .500 (except the poor Lions) – some sort of football cosmological constant that has, so far, prevented anyone from taking a lead. The Vikings can escape this mysterious dark gravity and nudge ahead one game if they win today and the Packers lose. So can the Bears.
So what to expect from today’s contest? If history holds, the Vikes will look brutal on offense and pretty good on defense, and will get torched by Devin Hester. Meanwhile, the Bears will be stymied in the ground game, move the ball some through the air and build a lead they start to squander in the second half. What, then, are the keys to the game? For the Vikings, the key is just to shore things up. This figures to be another grinding, low-scoring affair (keep in mind that, the last time I said this, the Vikes and Titans ended up scoring 47 combined). One fumble can kill you, or one missed field goal, or one dumb coaching move (go for two Chill-Chill). Or one punt straight to Devin Hester when it’s supposed to be kicked out-of-bounds. For the Bears, the main thing is to hold on late. Don’t let the tenacious Gus Frerotte lead a comeback. Don’t give Ryan Longwell a chance to break your heart at the last second. It should be a fun game for lovers of defense. Hopefully it will not be quite as brutal as the Lions game. The Bears are at home so I am forced to pick them, 13-12. But I could see us pulling it out too. If the refs give us another pass interference call.