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Vikings’ casualties mount, odds of making playoffs decline

REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
Adrian Peterson running between Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings and outside linebacker Lance Briggs during the first half of Sunday's game.

You have to admit that the omens are bleak for your football team when your best player misses the bus to the stadium.

The odds get worse when your quarterback alternately throws wide, short and too long.

And your coach can’t understand why the team’s best deep receiver can’t catch the ball.

The most primitive logic tells you the best teams in football don’t have enough luck or gall to overcome whammies like that. Unhappily, the Vikings had neither in Chicago and lost 28-10 to the Bears.

Granted that Adrian Peterson tried energetically to overcome his spasm of forgetfulness at the hotel when he missed not only the first team bus but the second. According to unofficial league records, this constituted the grand slam of missed buses. Adrian had better luck with the Chicago cab service and managed to get to the stadium without a police escort.

Once the action started he was pretty much the old on-time Adrian, running for more than 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game. But the Vikings needed more, and neither Christian Ponder nor the defense nor the deep receiver, Jerome Simpson, were operating any rescue service Sunday.

When you added Simpson’s dropped passes to Ponder’s equally damaging poor throws, you had a passing game pretty much in limbo. And when you stirred Peterson’s fumbles into the mix, you had the props for coach Leslie Frazier’s heartfelt lament when it was over, that this is not the way you want to start the crucial part of the schedule.

What’s ahead

If this was the beginning of it, the auguries for what lies ahead are not good. With the loss, the Vikings fell to a record of six wins and five losses in their pursuit of playoff eligibility in the NFC North. Chicago is 8-3 and the much-wounded Green Bay Packers are 7-4 after their 38-10 collapse Sunday night against the New York Giants. All of which turns the Vikings game at Green Bay this Sunday into a legitimate a crisis, followed by another game against the Bears in Minneapolis, as well as one more in Green Bay. And still on the horizon is a game with the Houston Texans, one of the hottest teams in football.

Another way to look at it is that the Vikings are now playing against legitimate big-leaguers.

One thing the league might want to consider: The next time the Vikings and Chicago Bears meet, they should ask the athletes to sign a living will before the mauling begins.

It was fundamentally Neanderthal football in Chicago Sunday, and when they sorted out the casualties from the touchdowns, the Bears scored a grand slam. They led in both.      

The agent of the Viking miseries in Chicago was the widely unloved Jay Cutler,  the hard-throwing  quarterback whose playing moods shift democratically from anger to  sullen on alternating downs. Sometimes it’s directed against his coaches and sometimes his playmates. None of this puts him at the top of the popularity charts in the NFL or in his own huddle.

But don’t question his nerve or his ability to throw the football. Nor his toughness. A week ago he was out of the lineup with a concussion. Sunday he was back and in command of the game after Chad Greenway recovered a fumble in the early moments, giving the Vikings a 3-0 lead with Blair Walsh’s 40-yard field goal. But the Bears’ Michael Bush scored a few minutes later, and they never trailed thereafter.

In the midst of all this, the Vikings were caught in a familiar dilemma. They need to get Ponder into a comfort zone as the triggerman of their passing game while remembering that a productive Peterson and Percy Harvin are their best chances to win. On Sunday, Harvin couldn’t play, not yet healed from his ankle sprain. Peterson was there from start to finish, going breakneck with every run — but also fumbling twice, one of which led to a Chicago touchdown.

Ponder was, well, Ponder. He threw well here and there, managed the offense effectively at times and hit 22 passes in 43 tries for 159 yards, including one two-yarder to Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown. But he was also tardy with too many of his throws and worried about interceptions — whereas Cutler isn’t much fazed by the threat of interceptions or bad ratings on his attitude tests. To begin with, he had a superior receiving corps, headed by the lanky veteran Brandon Marshall with 12 catches for 92 yards, most of them at critical times in the game.

Not that there were that many critical times. The Vikings did lead briefly 3-0, but Matt Forte’s power running and Cutler’s passes gave the Bears a 7-3 lead on Bush’s touchdown from a yard out. Robbie Gould later made it 10-3 with a 47-yard field goal. Bush scored again at the end of another drive for an 18-3 Chicago lead, and Cutler’s 13-yard pass to Minnesota native Matt Spaeth made it 25-3 for the Bears.  

Peterson stirred the Vikings’ third-quarter comeback and Ponder connected with Kyle Rudolph from two yards out to cut the lead to 25-10, offering a shred of hope for a few minutes. But the Bears pretty well exhausted that with another field goal by Gould — by which time the casualties on both sides were beginning to mount.

Many injuries

They included the Vikings’ Rudolph, now established as the team’s primary receiving threat with Harvin out; also Harrison Smith, the rookie defensive back, both with suspected concussion. For the Bears, Devin Hester, their premier runback threat and one of their most dangerous receivers, was knocked out of the game. And Chris Spencer and Lance Louis, the Bears’ offensive line duo, both went down — Louis, the victim of what looked to be a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Vikings’ Jared Allen, although Allen argued that it was a legal blow.

All of which promises to make it something less than a bundle of joy when the two teams meet Dec. 9 at the Metrodome. But first there is Green Bay Sunday in Green Bay. One reality is that the Vikings are still in the playoff chase, technically.

The other reality is that you are probably not going to wager the family jewels on the chances that they can sweep the Packers and get even with the Bears — all of which they will probably have to do, plus handling the Houston Texans.

Be brave. The season does end in February.

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