Brad Johnson knew he had to be a smart manager of the game against the Chicago Bears, but he couldn’t live up to his words from the week leading up to the Minnesota Vikings’ trip to Soldier Field.
“When you watch the games that (the Bears) dominated, they’ve created turnovers early in games. They got up 7 points, 10 points, and finished with a frenzy. The teams that have played them close – Arizona, us, Miami, New England – did not give them the game in the first quarter. You have to extend the game,” Johnson said. “These guys are ball-hawking players. They’re stripping the ball at all times. They make the tackle, but they got their hands in there trying to strip the ball at all times. They’ve created so many turnovers that they’ve either scored on, or they’ve given the offense a short field to play on, and that’s why they’ve scored so many points. But when they get turnovers, they are a frenzy type of defense and they’ve got the ball-hawkers to do that.”
While Johnson and the Vikings were able to extend the game beyond the first quarter – they were trailing 7-6 midway through the third quarter – Johnson became careless and the Bears’ frenzy helped them generate five turnovers during the course of a bone-chilling afternoon that started at 20 degrees with a 15 miles-per-hour wind in Chicago. And while the Vikings were also able to cause five turnovers, the offense wasn’t able to generate any points off those Bears mistakes.
After getting the deficit down to one point in the third quarter, the Vikings’ next three drives ended with Johnson interceptions, causing him to be pulled from the game and allowing the Bears to build momentum en route to a 23-13 win.
Johnson finished with a horrendous 10.3 passer rating after completing 11 of 26 for 73 yards and four interceptions. Johnson’s first interception of the second half bounced off the chest of Jeff Dugan and into the hands of Lance Briggs, but the next two were clearly a case of him not seeing a defender on a slant and overthrowing a checkdown pass while under pressure.
Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman didn’t fare much better. He ended the game completing 6 of 19 passes for 34 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 1.3 passer rating, but most of his mistakes came earlier in the game when he tossed first-half interceptions to Napoleon Harris and Antoine Winfield, and then to Ben Leber on the first Bears’ first play of the third quarter. The Bears had 14 points off the Vikings’ turnovers, and by the time the game was finished, the winds and cold helped contribute to an NFL season-high 10 turnovers in the game.
The offensive bright spot was 99 yards rushing from Chester Taylor, who was limited in the second half with a rib injury, but the special teams also let down the Vikings. They caused a game-opening fumble, recovered a punt that bounced off a Bear and recovered an onside kick, but they also allowed a 45-yard punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester that helped the Bears overcome Grossman’s early interceptions and bring a lead to halftime. And the Vikings struggled with field position much of the game, finally leading to a safety for Chicago early in the fourth quarter.
It was a game of miscues of which Chicago took advantage and Minnesota didn’t.
The Vikings couldn’t have had a much better start to the game, as Cedric Griffin hit Rashied Davis on the opening kick return and forced a fumble that linebacker Rod Davis recovered. However, a dropped pass by Chester Taylor and a false start on guard Jason Whittle had the Vikings going backward, forcing a punt.
The first half was marred by five turnovers that were most likely the result of cold weather, numb limbs and a slick ball. The Vikings were the benefactors of four of them, getting Rex Grossman to throw two interceptions, recovering a fumble and another muff on special teams.
But special teams also hurt Minnesota. But the Bears scored first when, on Chris Kluwe’s third punt of the game, Devin Hester had it bounce in front of him, picked it up and set up four converging Vikings with a move to the left and found a wall. He slipped the first tackle attempt of Heath Farwell, another by Ben Leber and, later down the left sideline, powered past Kluwe and into the end zone for a 7-0 Bears lead with 12:20 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings answered that drive with a field goal drive. They did it by picking up only two first downs on the drive, but one of them came on a 42-yard run by Chester Taylor, who got past the initial wave of tacklers and found an opening down the left side of the field. The other first down came on a roughing-the-passer call against Brian Urlacher, but once at the 10-yard line, two Taylor runs and a shovel pass to Jermaine Wiggins picked up only 5 yards and forced Ryan Longwell onto the field for the final three points of the half with the Bears holding a 7-3 lead.
The Vikings opened the second half with an 11-play drive on a mix of the run and pass, but once again it was one long play by a running back that put them in position for a field goal. After picking up one first down with a 6-yard pass to Travis Taylor, Johnson hit Moore in the right flat and he picked up blocking for a 24-yard gain that had 15 yards added to it when safety Chris Harris hit Moore out of bounds. An 11-yard run by Chester Taylor picked up the third first down of the game, but the drive stalled at the 12-yard line. Longwell came on for a 30-yard field to draw the Vikings within one point, 7-6, with 10:10 to play in the third quarter.
After an exchange of interceptions – one where Pat Williams tipped a Grossman pass that Leber intercepted and one that went off Dugan’s chest and into Briggs’ hands – the Vikings were moving the ball to midfield behind two strong runs from Fason and another from Moore, but on third-and-9 Johnson threw a slant pass to Robinson that Ricky Manning Jr. stepped in front of and returned 54 yards for a touchdown and a 14-6 Chicago lead.
Johnson countered with his fourth interception of the game, and four plays later Cedric Benson was running in a 24-yard touchdown for a 21-6 lead.
With 2:59 left in the third quarter and Brooks Bollinger in the game, Minnesota returned to its strong running game on the first play of its ensuing drive with a 14-yard pickup by Fason, but two pass plays in the next three snaps resulted in two sacks, and the game was starting to slip away from the Vikings.
Their defense continued to hold, but when Fason tried to break a run wide left when the Vikings were backed up on the 2-yard line, the Bears swarmed over him in the end zone for a safety and a 23-6 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Again, the defense held, and this time Bollinger was able to execute his team’s only touchdown drive of the game.
Passes of 6 yards to Jermaine Wiggins, 11 yards to Robinson and 16 to McMullen moved the ball to midfield. Moore and Fason each gained 8 yards on a reception and run, respectively, before McMullen broke free for a 19-yard pass play to the 11-yard line. Robinson caught another pass for 7 yards, and Fason finished the drive with a 4-yard run to pull the Vikings within 10 points, 23-13, with 5:40 to play with their starting quarterback pulled and their starting running back limited with a rib injury.
When Greg Blue recovered Longwell’s well-executed onside kick, Minnesota still had hope, but two false starts, a delay of game and a 10-yard sack on a short drive left the Vikings with fourth-and-22, which led to a punt.
The last sack by Adewale Ogunleye gave Bollinger a shoulder injury, giving Tarvaris Jackson his first regular-season experience on Minnesota’s next drive. He began with a 4-yard screen to Fason and, after another false-start penalty and an incompletion, Jackson converted the first down with an 8-yard completion to McMullen and a 23-yarder to Wiggins. But on first down from the Bears 29-yard line, Jackson was chased from the pocket and Ogunleye forced a fumble that Hunter Hillenmeyer recovered to end the Vikings’ desperate hopes.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 5-7 and further out of the playoff picture while the Bears (10-2) clinched the NFC North Division, but Johnson’s careless performance is sure to rekindle another quarterback debate for the last-rights playoff stretch in Minnesota.