We interrupt your regularly scheduled "Ponder sucks" screamfest to inform everyone that, much like last week's loss to the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field was, truly, a group effort.
I'll start with Christian Ponder first, because that seems to be the most popular topic of conversation, he said without a hint of sarcasm. Yes, Ponder got off to an ugly start, including another interception that was returned for a touchdown. At that point in the game, he was 4-of-11 for just 52 yards and the interception. Immediately after the pick-6, he led a drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. Allegedly, I mean. . .and I say that because the only thing that was worse than Christian Ponder for most of the first half was FOX's coverage of the game.
Here's the thing. . .after the interception, Christian Ponder actually played some pretty damn good football. From the time he threw the pick-6 to the end of the game, he went 12-for-19 for 175 yards and the touchdown for Rudolph. In the second half, he was 10-for-16 for 146 yards. He made some big time throws, showed some pretty good awareness, and showed some toughness on a play where he dove for a first down and took a really solid shot at the sidelines. Yes, Ponder had his contributions to the loss, but with just over three minutes to go, he had also gotten his team into position to have a six-point lead in a place where they hadn't won since 2007.
The lead could have. . .and probably should have. . .been higher, but the Vikings' inconsistent play calling came back to bite them again. After a great play on defense by Letroy Guion to force a turnover from Matt Forte with a 27-24 lead, the Vikings maneuvered down to the Chicago 6-yard line, where they had a first and goal. On first down, Adrian Peterson ran for two yards, and the Bears burned a time out. Then things got wonky.
On second down, Ponder overthrew Kyle Rudolph on what would have been a touchdown had they been able to connect. The play stopped the clock and allowed Chicago to preserve a time out. On third down, with the Bears seemingly knowing it was coming, the Vikings handed off to Peterson again, who was stopped for no gain, and Blair Walsh came in to give the Vikings their last points of the afternoon and a 30-24 lead.
After the second down incompletion, I don't think there was any point in not taking another shot at the end zone. Ponder had been playing well, and the Bears appeared to be ripe for a play-action fake. If the clock is just going to stop after the play anyway, there wasn't a reason not to take a shot into the end zone. But, the Vikings settled for a field goal, and it wound up costing them at the end. Another example of playing not to lose rather than playing to win. It's definitely a call that can be debated.
But, along with the playcalling, there are a litany of other problems with this team as well. Let's start with the special teams. In something we haven't seen a lot of since Blair Walsh was drafted, the Vikings got killed on kick returns against Chicago, via their old nemesis, Devin Hester. You know all the great things that Hester has done as a returner and all the records he's set and stuff like that? Well, today was the day that he set the Bears' record for return yardage in a game. He averaged 50 yards a return, and had returns of 80 and 73 yards immediately following Minnesota touchdowns. I know that the Vikings are probably accustomed to Walsh simply blasting the ball through the end zone, but when the conditions don't warrant it, they need to be better prepared for returners, particularly one of Hester's caliber.
The defense, with the exception of a couple of players (notably Harrison Smith, Jared Allen, and Brian Robison) has been relatively awful. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Vikings are giving up an average of 32.5 points a game. That figure is the worst in the National Football League. The linebackers have been particularly terrible, and Chad Greenway looks like he managed to age ten years over the off-season. Now, it's not as though the offenses they've faced have been bad or anything, but with all respect to the 2013 Lions and the 2013 Bears, nobody's going to be confusing them with the 1998 Vikings or the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams any time soon. The defense needs to tighten up in a big way going forward, and I'm not sure if the Vikings have the personnel to mask the glaring weakness they have at linebacker at the present time.
The Vikings are in an 0-2 hole right now after two roller coaster performances on the road against division foes. If they want to be a factor in any way going forward, the ship needs to get righted starting next Sunday. The Vikings will finally get to play at home in the Metrodome when they take on the Cleveland Browns before the big trip to London to battle the Pittsburgh Steelers. An 0-2 start is hard enough to come back from. . .an 0-3 start would be nearly impossible.
And, with that, we return you to your regularly scheduled "Ponder sucks" programming.