The Vikings didn’t wait for the second half to begin their collapse Sunday night at Soldier Field – this time they started it right at the beginning. Three plays into the Bears’ first series the Vikes surrendered a 48-yard TD pass from Jay Cutler to Devin Hester, and it only got worse from there. By halftime they were down 26-3, and in the third quarter, after a little glimmer of hope broke through courtesy of Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson, they sealed their own fate by kicking straight down the middle to Devin Hester who housed one from 98 yards.
The decision to kick to Hester was only one of a multitude of questionable coaching moves that compounded what was already a frustrating night. Someone needs to clamp Bill Musgrave in a torture device and get him to explain in detail what he was thinking when he elected to kill the Vikings’ offensive rhythm not once but twice in the first half by switching over to the Blazer package. There also needs to be an investigation into why the Vikings needed to burn a time out right after the two minute warning in the first half while deciding whether to kick a field goal or go for it on 4th down.
Other puzzling moments: Marcus Sherels calling for a fair catch on the five yard line. Ryan Longwell missing a field goal badly to the left despite a good snap and hold. Tyrell Johnson being in the game to miss an interception chance (I guess Fred Pagac and Leslie Frazier forgot about those two picks Jamarca Sanford had against Arizona). Donovan McNabb not bothering to throw the ball away while being chased by Julius Peppers and instead meekly allowing himself to be pushed down from behind. Also, what do you call the effort McNabb made on the play where he was tackled in the end zone for a safety?
I don’t want to pick on McNabb too much here because, in all honesty, he was far down the list of things that went wrong for the Vikings Sunday night. In fact McNabb played pretty well – when he was actually allowed to run the offense. Had it not been for the Blazer debacle, McNabb may even have been able to generate enough points in the first half to keep the Vikings in the game. But we’ll never know now because of Bill Musgrave’s exquisitely bad timing.
The Blazer stuff was only part of what was an overall brutal offensive night for the Vikings. If you seek to understand what went wrong against a Bears defense that was supposedly on the verge of totally crumbling, look no further than the offensive line. The same Bears D that Jahvid Best ran roughshod over somehow was able to hold Adrian Peterson to 39 yards. Peterson had no holes to run through, a circumstance only partly attributable to the Bears stacking the box. The Vikings O-line was quite simply physically whipped by the Bears. Things got even worse when both Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan had to leave with injury. When Leslie Frazier finally cried no mas and pulled McNabb, the battered QB was certainly more grateful than annoyed.
I don’t mean to short-change the Bears, who obviously succeeded in making the offensive line and defensive tweaks they needed to recover from the Detroit debacle, but that was a total team breakdown by the Vikings. Outside of a couple decent offensive drives and one or two big plays on defense, nothing worked. The secondary was god-awful, especially Cedric Griffin who can no longer stay with guys he’s trying to cover thanks to his ruined knees. The linebackers were their usual worthless selves in coverage and got totally overpowered on Marion Barber’s TD run. The defensive line put only sporadic pressure on Jay Cutler and the interior guys, as has been their habit for most of the season, were totally erased. Jared Allen, Erin Henderson and Chris Cook were the only defensive players who put in a good night’s work. Pretty much everyone else was bad to terrible.
By the fourth quarter things were bad enough for Leslie Frazier to finally fulfill the wish of many a McNabb hater and put in Christian Ponder. It was too late for Ponder to pull off any kind of miracle but the young man did at least bestow a shred of hope upon Viking Nation by not looking totally overwhelmed. Does this mean Ponder will now become the quarterback, bringing an end to the era of the Retread QB in Minnesota? We’ll have to wait to find out. All we know for sure is that this season is now a total write-off. With their loss the Vikings sank to 1-5, two games out of third in the North. There’s nothing left to root for except an unforeseen Packers collapse.