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Vikings at Bears: Five Game-Changing Plays

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Looking back at the most important plays from the 16-6 loss in Chicago.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Losses like Sunday’s 16-6 debacle at Soldier Field on Sunday are starting to feel like a hard-to-watch version of Mad Libs at this point.

“The Vikings got off to a slow start on the road. The defense was out-schemed by ___________[young, innovative offensive coach]. Mike Zimmer and George Edwards made adjustments to keep the game close, but it wasn’t enough to overcome another disappointing performance from the Vikings offense.

Kirk Cousins finished with a stat line of ______________[box score that doesn’t reflect how poorly he played]. He had ___[number between 1-5] crucial turnovers and most of his production came with the Vikings trailing by ___[number, 2 or more] scores. The offensive line didn’t help either. Cousins was sacked ___[number between 2 and 10] times.

____________ [Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, or both] was visibly frustrated during the game after __________ [failed play that could have given the Vikings a chance].

After the loss, the Vikings record falls to ____ [record one game on either side of .500]. They’ll look to rebound next week when they face __________ [a less talented team that the Vikings will probably beat, giving us false hope before the next crushing loss to a good team].”

There is plenty of blame to go around after the Vikings’ second straight ugly loss to a divisional opponent on the road. A month into the 2019 season, the Vikings are alone in last place in the NFC North. Of course, the season is far from over; a 2-2 record is hardly a death sentence. But explaining away this loss to the Chicago Bears as “just one road game against a great defense” is just as irresponsible as declaring that the season is over. “Just one of those days” is an explanation that Vikings fans use more often than any other fan base. ”Just one of those teams” is much more accurate. This pattern has been established for quite some time, especially for the quarterback.

Kirk Cousins was brought in to be a crucial missing piece of a team that was obviously in a championship window. Twenty games into his tenure with the Vikings, we’re trying to figure out ways to have him do less. Cousins was paid handsomely to address the team’s issues, not add to them. Expecting him to transform into a top-5 quarterback after what he showed in Washington was unrealistic, but it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that he could play better than replacement-level quarterbacks. This season, there are literal replacement quarterbacks that are outplaying Cousins.

Again, quarterback is not the only issue here. Far from it. The offensive line is still a big problem, especially with pass blocking. The game planning can certainly be called into question on both sides of the ball. The team often seems to be unprepared for players and tactics that they should be intimately familiar with in these divisional matchups. But until Cousins can prove to be much more dependable and serviceable, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Vikings can become the serious contenders they were before his arrival.

Before we delve any further into the downward spiral of post-loss fandom, let’s take our weekly look back at the five most important plays that got us there.

Play 1: Bears ball, 3rd & 4 at the Chicago 43. First quarter, 12:19 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky sacked at CHI 33 for -10 yards (D.Hunter). FUMBLES (D.Hunter), RECOVERED by MIN-E.Griffen at CHI 33. E.Griffen pushed ob at CHI 33 for no gain (J.Daniels). CHI-M.Trubisky was injured during the play. He is Out. PENALTY on MIN-A.Harris, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at CHI 43 - No Play.

On the opening drive of the game, it looked like the Vikings defense had created a momentum-changing play on multiple levels.

Danielle Hunter strip-sacked Mitchell Trubisky and Everson Griffen recovered. The Vikings looked to be in business in Bears territory. Trubisky was also hurt on the play,

But the play was called back for defensive holding by Anthony Harris on Trey Burton. Chase Daniel replaced Trubisky and the Bears were still able to what they have done to the Vikings defense since Matt Nagy took over: dink and dunk their way down the field with misdirection and scheming mismatches. Tarik Cohen capped off a 15-play drive that took half of the first quarter with an easy touchdown. Instead of an early chance at taking the lead, the Vikings were trailing by a score without possessing the ball for the first 1/8 of the game.

Of course, with how the offense performed on Sunday, not having the ball for that long may not have been the worst thing in the world.

Play 2: Vikings ball, 3rd & 10 on the Chicago 47. First quarter, 3:14 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to A.Thielen.

The Vikings actually had two third down conversions to get them into Bears territory on their opening drive. Dalvin Cook was stuffed twice in a row to bring up a big 3rd & 10. Cousins and Thielen almost tied the game on the next play.

But as my eighth grade science teacher always used to say: almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and slow dancing.

Deep throws like this are difficult for even the best quarterbacks, and even when the protection is perfect like on this play. But this isn’t the first time Cousins has missed one of his star wide receivers streaking down the field.

Cousins was a top-ten passer in attempts that went 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage in both quarterback rating and adjusted completion percentage when throwing deep last season. This might surprise you, but his deep numbers are actually better through four games in 2019. Cousins is currently tied for third in adjusted completion percentage and first in quarterback rating. The problem? He has attempted a grand total of ten deep passes this season. Misses like this stand out even more than if the team was taking deep shots on a regular basis.

The Vikings punted the next play. That incompletion was the closest the Vikings ended up coming to making this one a contest.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Chicago 44. Second quarter, 6:42 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete short middle to S.Diggs. Chicago challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short middle to S.Diggs to CHI 34 for 10 yards (P.Amukamara). FUMBLES (P.Amukamara), RECOVERED by CHI-H.Clinton-Dix at CHI 20.

On the Vikings’ next drive, they made it back into Bears territory, almost against their will. Chicago’s defense committed neutral zone infraction, roughing the passer, defensive holding, and illegal use of hands penalties to escort the Minnesota offense down the field. Unfortunately, the Vikings were also in the giving mood.

Diggs had the ball punched out by Prince Amukamara right after the catch and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made the recovery. The play was originally blown dead as an incompletion, which negated what could have been a big return for Clinton-Dix. But after replay, it was ruled that Diggs had possession and then fumbled, canceling another golden opportunity for the Vikings to put points on the board in the first half. Diggs had more catches and yards on Sunday (seven for 108) than he had the first three games combined (six for 101), but most of that came with the Vikings playing catch-up late in the game. The fumble was more about great timing from Amukamara than carelessness from Diggs, but it hurt the Vikings’ chances just the same.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 25. Third quarter, 15:00 remaining. K.Cousins sacked at MIN 18 for -7 yards (K.Mack). FUMBLES (K.Mack), RECOVERED by CHI-N.Williams at MIN 16. N.Williams to MIN 16 for no gain (R.Reiff).

As terrible as the first half was, the Vikings were only down ten points and had the ball to start the third quarter. Just move the ball down the field, score some points, and make this a game, right?

Nooooope.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Khalil Mack blew past Riley Reiff and strip-sacked Cousins. The defense held firm and the Bears had to settle for a field goal, but this play felt like the emotional point of no return. It was the literal point of no return as well: the ensuing field goal gave the Bears a 13-0 lead. The biggest comeback win of the Mike Zimmer era?Eleven points.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 2nd & 16 at the Chicago 36. Third quarter, 0:40 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins sacked at CHI 47 for -11 yards (N.Kwiatkoski). FUMBLES (N.Kwiatkoski) [N.Kwiatkoski], touched at CHI 47, RECOVERED by CHI-L.Floyd at 50. L.Floyd to MIN 45 for 5 yards (D.Cook). FUMBLES (D.Cook), RECOVERED by MIN-B.O’Neill at MIN 43. B.O’Neill to MIN 45 for 2 yards (N.Kwiatkoski). The Replay Official reviewed the loose ball recovery ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) K.Cousins sacked at CHI 47 for -11 yards (N.Kwiatkoski). FUMBLES (N.Kwiatkoski) [N.Kwiatkoski], touched at CHI 47, recovered by MIN-B.O’Neill at MIN 43. B.O’Neill to MIN 45 for 2 yards (N.Kwiatkoski).

In what has to be the longest official playbook description we have ever included in these recaps, the Vikings lost their last semblance of hope at the end of the third quarter.

This time it was Nick Kwiatkoski joining in on the forced fumble party. Leonard Floyd appeared to recover and then fumble back to Brian O’Neill on a double change of possession. However, it was ruled that Floyd never had possession. The Vikings had a 3rd & 35 from their own territory one play after being in field goal range.

You’re never going to believe this, but the Vikings didn’t convert and they punted the ball away on first play of the fourth quarter. They managed a late stat-padding touchdown drive that got them to within ten points with just under three minutes to go, but the game had been all but decided by then. For the third time in four weeks with the Vikings involved, the home team coasted to an easy victory.

Since the game ended, all the same explanations are flying around like more Mad Libs.

“It’s the ________’s [quarterback, offensive line, coaching staff] fault. The Vikings never play well at Soldier Field. It’s just one game; the Vikings are _____[record] and there’s still plenty of season left.”

Regardless of how you fill in the blanks, it still ends up with the same conclusion: the Vikings are looking up at the rest of the NFC North and looking for a lot of answers. As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Poll

What was the most important play from the Vikings’ loss to the Bears?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Trubisky’s fumble negated by penalty
    (401 votes)
  • 26%
    Cousins misses Thielen deep
    (229 votes)
  • 10%
    Diggs’ fumble
    (92 votes)
  • 13%
    Mack’s strip-sack
    (115 votes)
  • 2%
    Kwiatkoski’s strip-sack
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (20 votes)
877 votes total Vote Now