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Vikings-Bears Notebook: Third Downs Decisive

The Vikings were rested from their bye but appeared a little rusty Sunday against the Bears, as the offense failed to crank it up and the defense was unable to apply the brakes to too many of Chicago's drives.

That combination was too much to be overcome by the execution of a savvy special teams play that helped Minnesota take a 10-point lead by the end of the first quarter and led to a 21-13 loss at Soldier Field.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he was disappointed by multiple aspects of the game.

View images from the week 11 matchup at Soldier Field between the Vikings and Bears.

"We did not tackle, we did not block," Zimmer said. "On third down and in critical areas of the ball game, we did not play good. I don't know if it had anything to do with Chicago, or you go up 10-nothing and your mindset changes a little bit as opposed to putting our foot on their throat. It kind of went the opposite way, so it's disappointing."

Chicago (4-6) converted 10 of 17 third downs and two of the three fourth downs it faced to stack up 468 net yards of offense, but Minnesota (4-6) remained in the game and had a shot at recording its third straight victory involving a fourth-quarter comeback.

The Vikings forced a Bears punt and opened their final possession at their 34-yard line trailing by eight with 2:03 remaining and no timeouts left. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on the opening play, and the clock — which was not working properly on the field — stopped for the two-minute warning.

Bridgewater responded with a 21-yard gain to Charles Johnson to move the ball to midfield, then hit Jerick McKinnon for a gain of 14, and Johnson for a gain of 7 and a second-and-3 to the Bears 29. Because of the clock malfunction, the rookie QB wasn't able to know how many seconds were remaining when he fired the ball into the end zone for Johnson on the following play. Chicago safety Ryan Mundy was able to close on the ball and intercept it with 42 ticks left. Bridgewater said it's the first time he's ever been in a hurry-up situation without the benefit of a visible clock.

"For some reason I just felt we wanted to take a shot down the field and we called the play that I could throw it up for our guy to make a play," Bridgewater said. "Charles made a great effort of trying to come down with the catch and distract the defender but we didn't get the results we wanted.

"I think I could have done a better job of understanding the situation," Bridgewater added. "I could have gotten the ball down to Adam Thielen. He was running across the field on a drag route or I could have thrown the ball to Jerick and given him a chance. We probably could have lined back up on the next play, spiked the ball and had another chance to take a shot at the end zone."

Zimmer said it's a learning experience for the QB who is 3-3 in six games as a starter, but the first-year coach was frustrated by the clock malfunctioning multiple times during the game.

"There was still quite a bit of time left," Zimmer said. "It's another new experience. It's hard when, because no one is telling you how much time is left, and the clocks here are (bull), so, all day that thing was going out, so it's just another thing. Excuse my language."

Bridgewater finished 18-of-28 passing for 158 yards with one touchdown and the interception for a passer rating of 76.2, and the Vikings finished with 243 net yards.

Minnesota was 2-for-11 on third down conversions (a season-low of 18 percent) and 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions, and its time of possession of 21:22 was 8:32 less than its average for the season.

"Part of that was the defense," Zimmer said. "We didn't allow (our offense) to get in any kind of rhythm whatsoever throughout the day because we kept letting them convert on drives. I think it's hard offensively when you're sitting on the sidelines for a long time."

Chicago had four possessions last 10 or more plays, and two of those resulted in touchdown passes from Jay Cutler to Alshon Jeffery (a 27-yarder in the second quarter) and Brandon Marshall (a 4-yarder for a 21-10 lead with 8:51 left in the game). Cutler also connected with Marshall for a 44-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Bears a 14-10 lead with 2:49 left in the first half.

Cutler finished 31-for-43 for 330 yards passing with two interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0, and more important, he wasn't sacked a single time by a team that has 30 sacks on the season and had recorded 20 of those in its past four games.

Multiple factors affected the lack of sacks. The Bears success in short throws to running back Matt Forte has to be accounted for, and Cutler was mixing in plenty of quick throws to Jeffery, who had 11 catches for 135 yards and Marshall, who had seven receptions for 90 yards.

"Some of it was the quick passes and some of it was we didn't rush the right way," Zimmer said. "It was the first time in about four weeks that we let the quarterback get out of the pocket, and bad things happened today when that occurred. We've been rushing the quarterback so well and done so many good things. It was just like we reverted back."

Forte, who had six catches for 58 yards, helped ice the game with 18 of his 26 carries and 68 of his 117 rushing yards in the second half.

EARLY LEAD: Minnesota went up 10-0 after its first two possessions included a 50-yard field goal by Blair Walsh and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Rhett Ellison.

The field goal was Walsh's fourth of the season from that distance or longer and capped a drive that was highlighted by a 23-yard run by McKinnon after the Bears committed a penalty to extend the Vikings first possession. Walsh is now 16-for-20 on field goals from 50 or more yards since his 2012 rookie season, which is the most in the NFL in that span.

The TD toss occurred on a play with misdirection where the Vikings moved the entire line of scrimmage toward the left and had Ellison reverse course to the right. It was his first TD catch of the season and second of his career.

RARE FAKE PUNT: Misdirection also help Minnesota set up its second score of the game when the Vikings executed a fake punt. Thielen fielded the snap and took a few steps to his right before handing the ball off to Andrew Sendejo, who sped to the left, turned the corner and zoomed down the sideline for a 48-yard gain to the Chicago 7.

It was the first fake punt attempt by Minnesota since December 2004 in Chicago, when Brian Russell gained 4 but needed 5 yards.

Sendejo's yield on the play made him the leading rusher of the day for the Vikings and set a team record for longest run on a fake punt in franchise history (previous was 45 yards by Bobby Walden against San Francisco in 1966) and longest run by a defensive back (previous was Russell's against the Bears).

TAKE TWO: Xavier Rhodes recorded his first career interception, and Harrison Smith recorded his fourth of the season and ninth of his career.

Rhodes picked off Cutler at the Minnesota 33 with seven seconds remaining in the first half during a curious possession by Chicago, where the Bears appeared content to take a 14-10 lead into the locker room then decided to take a shot.

The Bears had received the ball at their own 26 with 1:05 remaining but opted to run with Forte on two plays before calling their final timeout with 15 seconds left. Cutler then fired toward Jeffery, but Rhodes made the play.

Smith's interception occurred when Cutler tried a fadeaway pass to Martellus Bennett at the Minnesota 21 where defensive lineman Brian Robison had dropped into coverage. Smith corralled the ball and headed to his right, setting up enough blocks for a 52-yard return to the Chicago 27.

It was Smith's third interception return of 50 or more yards in his three-year career, tying Charlie West's franchise record, and the seventh longest by the Vikings against the Bears (Smith also had a 56-yarder for a touchdown against Chicago as a rookie).

The Vikings, however, were unable to capitalize, gaining 7 yards on three plays and settling for a 38-yard field goal by Walsh that was wide right. Chicago followed with a 16-play, 72-yard drive that lasted 7:35 and ended with Marshall's second TD.  

"CHs" for "C.J.":Johnson, who entered the game with six catches for 60 yards on the season, had an expanded role Sunday when injuries sidelined Jarius Wright (hamstring) and Greg Jennings (ribs). Johnson finished with career highs of six catches for 87 yards.

UP NEXT: The Vikings host the 7-3 Packers, who defeated the Eagles Sunday 53-20, to begin a three-game homestand at TCF Bank Stadium.  

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