Vikings-Bears: What we learned
MINNEAPOLIS — As time expired Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sought out coach Mike Zimmer with a late Christmas present: The game ball.
Bridgewater threw for 209 yards and the only touchdown in the game, leading the Vikings to a 13-9 win over the Chicago Bears, delivering the first-year head coach his first win inside the NFC North.
The victory also gave the Vikings seven wins, two more than Minnesota had last season under coach Leslie Frazier.
“I didn’t even think about it, but he came over to me and handed me the ball and said ‘first division win,'” Zimmer said. “I like to win. The more that we can go and the more we can win, I think it gives everybody… some hope.”
Chicago dropped to 5-11 and big changes could be on the horizon, as coach Marc Trestman and the Bears won three fewer games in 2014 than they did in his first season there last year. Trestman has a 3-9 NFC North record in two seasons, but said he planned to get back to work Monday on fixing the team’s problems “if present the opportunity.”
Bridgewater connected with receiver Adam Thielen on a 44-yard scoring strike with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, taking advantage of a busted coverage and giving the Vikings a 10-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Bears safety Brock Vereen was playing the middle of the field while cornerback Damontre Hurst was playing a shallow zone, leaving Thielen unguarded on the go-route.
“As soon as I got the snap, I just kind of peeked over there,” Bridgewater said. “It seemed like the corner and the safety had a miscommunication. Easy throw, just lay it out there and allow [Thielen] to make the play.”
For Thielen, a second-year player from Division II Minnesota State, it was his first career receiving touchdown. He entered the game with five catches for 69 yards all season, but finished Sunday with three catches for 68 yards.
“You might not get a lot of opportunities, but when you do, you have to make the most of them,” Thielen said. “You don’t know when your next time will be.”
Minnesota led by four with 8:53 remaining and drove 13 plays all the way to the Bears 3-yard line. Running back Matt Asiata was stuffed for no gain on consecutive plays, including on 4th-and-1, giving quarterback Jay Cutler one final chance with just under three minutes remaining.
Cutler scrambled for a first down on the first play of the drive, but a series of penalties moved the Bears backward and on 4th-and-9, Cutler’s pass to tight end Martellus Bennett came up one yard short of a first down.
“Offensively we didn’t get it done,” Trestman said. “We had opportunities [in the Vikings’] end of the field. We weren’t able to convert and we weren’t able to get the ball down the field. We stopped ourselves on too many occasions.”
Kicker Blair Walsh connected on his second field goal of the day early in the fourth quarter, giving the Vikings a seven-point lead.
Chicago’s Marc Mariani returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards to the Vikings 35-yard line, putting the Bears in prime position to tie the score. But Cutler misfired on a third-down pass to Bennett, settling for a 35-yard field goal by kicker Jay Feely.
Feely made three field goals on the day but missed wide right on a 43-yard attempt in the third quarter that would have made it a 10-9 game.
Cutler, starting one week after being benched for Jimmy Clausen, was back in as the starter because of Clausen’s concussion and finished 23 of 36 passing for 172 yards.
“They showed a lot of different fronts, a lot of different coverages,” Cutler said. “We just couldn’t get a rhythm it felt like.”
Asiata finished with 91 yards on 19 carries.
What the Vikings said:
“I was happy with the way the defense responded after last week’s performance. For the most part, we lined up and did our job. They did what we asked them to do.” — Coach Mike Zimmer, on the Vikings keeping the Bears out of the end zone one week after allowing 37 points in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
What the Bears said:
“We had a lot of opportunities this year to do some things. There were some games where it wasn’t good at all, start to finish, but in some of the close games, we had opportunities and didn’t finish. We have to do something because we don’t want to go through this again.” — OL Jermon Bushrod, on the team’s 5-11 season.
What we learned about the Vikings:
1. The Vikings must be pleased with the steady progression of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While his statistical day wasn’t his best, Bridgewater looked the part Sunday, having several passes dropped and another touchdown pass overturned following a replay review. While accuracy was an issue early in the season, Bridgewater cleaned up that part of his game. His 44-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Adam Thielen in the third quarter was right on the money. He also moved the chains with several well-thrown sideline routes.
2. Playing without linebacker Chad Greenway, the Vikings’ defense looked pretty good with Audie Cole filling in. Cole led all players with 14 tackles, including 11 solo stops, despite playing “probably out of position,” according to coach Mike Zimmer. “I want to make every tackle I can,” Cole said. “I want 30 every game, but obviously, that’s never going to happen. It’s fun.”
–WR Adam Thielen caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. The scoring reception was the first of his NFL career and his second touchdown overall. He blocked a punt and returned it for a score earlier this season.
–QB Teddy Bridgewater finished 17-for-25 for 209 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. The lone pick came on a pass that was dropped by WR Cordarrelle Patterson and caught in midair by Bears CB Kyle Fuller. Bridgewater finishes his rookie season with a 6-6 record, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions to go along with 2,919 passing yards.
–K Blair Walsh made each of his field-goal attempts, connecting on kicks of 37 and 44 yards. His 72.7 percent field-goal success rate this season was a career low.
–LB Audie Cole, starting in place of Chad Greenway, made 14 tackles, including 11 solos. Cole entered the game with 12 total tackles this season.
What we learned about the Bears:
1. Running back Matt Forte could be one of the most under-appreciated players in the NFL. He finished the season over the 1,000-yard rushing mark by gaining 51 yards on 17 carries. He also caught eight passes, giving him 102 receptions for the season — the most ever by a running back.
2. Sunday’s game could be the final one for Marc Trestman as the Bears’ head coach. After leading Chicago to an 8-8 season last year, Chicago was one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments, finishing the season 5-11 and giving Trestman a 3-9 record in two years inside the NFC North. Trestman also oversaw a number of off-field distractions, including the regression of quarterback Jay Cutler, who was benched before a Week 16 loss to Detroit. Cutler started Sunday against Minnesota after his replacement, Jimmy Clausen, sustained a concussion against the Lions.
–RB Matt Forte carried 17 times for 51 yards Sunday, crossing the 1,000-yard mark with a 9-yard run on the first drive of the game. Forte has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and in five of his seven seasons overall. His third-quarter reception gave him 100 for the season, as Forte became the second player in NFL history (LaDainian Tomlinson) with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 receptions in the same season. He also hauled in eight passes, giving him 102 this season and establishing an NFL single-season record for running backs.
–QB Jay Cutler completed 23 of 36 passes for 172 yards one week after being benched for Jimmy Clausen. Cutler started Sunday because of a concussion Clausen sustained in Week 16.
–K Jay Feely kicked three field goals Sunday, accounting for all nine points scored by the Bears. He missed one kick from 43 yards out in the third quarter that would have made it a one-point game.
–DE Jared Allen finished with two tackles and one pass defensed in his first game in Minnesota against his former team. In his first season with the Bears, Allen finished with 5 1/2 sacks, giving him 134 in his career.