The Vikings' December slide has coincided with a few key injuries.
The team got Antoine Winfield back from a foot injury three week ago against the Cincinnati Bengals, but it's becoming more obvious that he's playing without that injury being fully healed.
Winfield missed six straight games in the middle of the season and has been trying to make his way back.
"I think he's probably playing himself back into that football shape. Obviously he did all of his rehab and mending and all the things that he could do when he hurt that foot," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "That, however, is not playing football and the only way to do that is to play football. He came out here and practiced to where he felt comfortable. Obviously, practice is different than game tempo, but he's getting there."
Winfield's return the field was an impressive one against the Cincinnati Bengals three weeks ago. He was solid in run support and forced a fumble after a screen pass. But since then, he appears to be off in defending the pass.
Steve Smith had a long touchdown against Winfield on Dec. 20. On Monday night, the Bears exposed Winfield for the game-winning touchdown, a 39-yard go route by Devin Aromashodu in which Winfield couldn't catch up.
"I know that a throw stands out, a throw at the end of the game. But he isn't going to make any excuses, you're right," Childress said. "He's still a good player out there as he is."
Winfield said during his weekly appearance on KFAN radio that he doesn't believe he'll be 100 percent until his foot has a chance to rest in the offseason.
It doesn't help the middle of the Vikings defense that linebacker E.J. Henderson was lost for the season when he fractured his femur in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals game on Dec. 6. Fifth-round draft pick Jasper Brinkley has filled in for Henderson the last three games and has been part of a four-game stretch in which the team has given up more than 100 yards rushing.
Childress said he thought Brinkley did a pretty good job against the Bears.
"It's definitely on-the-job training," Childress said. "It's not that he gets eased in and gets a series here and a series there. But I thought he did a good job by and large yesterday. He had the one (pass interference) running down the middle of the field, but good physical job with them when they were running the football between the tackles."
Bears tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen combined for eight catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns and were targeted a combined 13 times in Monday night's game.
The Vikings were also without nose tackle Pat Williams, who suffered an elbow injury the previous week and was inactive for the Bears game.
On offense, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe left the field in the fourth quarter with an unspecified injury, but Childress was hopeful that Shiancoe will be available against his former team, the New York Giants, on Sunday.
"He's been banged around the last few weeks," Childress said. "He plays so lights-out."
Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was a key third-down target for much of the season, has returned to action the last two games after missing the Cincinnati game on Dec. 13 with migraine headaches.
After catching only one pass in his return to action against Carolina, Harvin rebounded for a four-catch, 40-yard effort on offense in Chicago.
"I thought he made a couple of nice plays yesterday. He had a full gamut of plays," Childress said. "Had a couple of different ones we had to get out of – automatics, if
you will, to a different play.
"… I think he's back up to full speed. I don't see that there's any ill affects at all. He had a good week
of practice last week and he had a good accounting of himself in the game."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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