Simply put, since both the Vikings and Bears recently faced the Packers, things have not gone well for either team since.
The Bears have acted like the Thanksgiving win at Lambeau was their Super Bowl, following it with two flat home performances against San Francisco and Washington squads that both rode into Soldier Field with 0-5 road records this season. The week before, Minnesota seemingly had Green Bay right where it wanted them, as the visitors limped into the Twin Cities reeling after three straight losses. But the hosts' opportunity to grab control of the NFC North disappeared in a 30-13 loss. After rebounding the following week against quickly-fading Atlanta, the Vikings returned home and got thrashed by Seattle, then lost last Thursday in a tight, tough loss at Arizona.
The Vikes will have 10 days of rest for the Bears (just as Tampa Bay will a week from Sunday). And even though the Packers own a one-game lead and a tie-breaker, this is by no means a lost cause for Mike Zimmer's club. Green Bay now travels to Oakland and Arizona before hosting the rematch in the season finale. Even if the Pack wins those two tough road games, Minnesota would still hold the tie-breaker (by division record) with a win at Lambeau, provided they take care of business at TCF Bank Stadium against the Bears and Giants.
Norv Turner's attempt to speed up Teddy Bridgewater's production has yet to happen, despite the sophomore quarterback's career-high 335 yards passing versus an impressive Cardinals secondary Thursday night. The return of Adrian Peterson was supposed to make him better. The presence of a downfield threat in Mike Wallace was supposed to make Bridgewater better. And while some of the intangibles may be improved, the numbers haven't. His 13 games this season matches his number of starts as a rookie. Check it out:
Wallace has just 33 receptions through 13 games, and only seven (113 yards) in the last seven games, including Thursday night's three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. As for Peterson after his year "off," he leads the NFL in rushes (268), yards (1,251), yards per game (96.2) and ... fumbles (6). In the face of adversity after the embarrassment at home by Seattle (when he carried just eight times for 18 yards), he made a point to say the Vikings were "outcoached" as well as outplayed. Odd, since, if memory serves correct, Zimmer was one of the few non-players in the organization who publicly had his back while serving his suspension a year ago (while A.P. pushed for a trade behind the scenes). Excluding 10 points in the final two minutes of the second quarter in Denver, the Vikings have trailed at halftime by a combined 67-13 in their five defeats. And Turner probably naturally reacts with having to go the air, despite the track records of Peterson and Bridgewater. Here's Peterson's production by wins and losses this season:
Bridgewater's numbers were helped Thursday by checking down while being blitzed 65 percent of the time, finding 11 different receivers. It's helped that tight end Kyle Rudolph's remained healthy after missing 15 games the last two years. His 45-421 catches/receiving yards numbers has almost matched the career-best of 53-493 when he last played a full season in 2012. The Bears learned the hard way about rookie Stefon Diggs' speed (44-638, two TD's) on the late tying score Nov. 1 at Soldier Field. They were also victimized by Charles Johnson's sixth catch of the year on the missed pick opportunity by Antrel Rolle that set up Blair Walsh's winning field goal. He has just three catches since, after seemingly having a bright future with a strong finish to 2014 (31-475).
The offensive line that allowed 51 sacks a year ago is already up to 38, and left tackle Matt Kalil still hasn't turned things around since being a Pro Bowler as a rookie (fourth overall pick) in 2012. With the Vikings looking to get a little closer for a Walsh game-tying field goal at the Cards' 30 with 13 seconds left and no timeouts, Dwight Freeney beat Kalil to force a game-ending fumble, the third the Vikings lost that night.
It was an impressive effort against Carson Palmer and company in the desert considering the key parts Zimmer's defense was missing. We'll know more when the Vikings return to practice Wednesday about the possibility of starting safeties Harrison Smith (knee & hamstring) and Andrew Sendejo (knee), run-stuffer Linval Joseph (foot), and rising linebacker Anthony Barr (groin & hand) being available Sunday. All but Joseph were injured in the Seahawks' blowout, when fellow safeties Antone Exum was lost for the season and Robert Blanton also got banged-up. That forced Zimmer to play 37-year-old Terence Newman (team-high three interceptions) at safety and give first-round pick Trae Waynes his first significant playing time, though it was a shaky one at cornerback.
Rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the team with 70 tackles (nine ahead of former UCLA teammate/roommate Barr), while adding four sacks. That's second on the unit to the 8.5 belonging to Eversen Griffen, who was held to one quarterback hit by Charles Leno, Jr. in the first meeting. On the left side, though, 32-year-old Brian Robison has gone from a combined 25.5 sacks his first three years as a starter to 4.5 a year ago, to only three so far this season. Tackle Sharrif Floyd missed the first matchup.
Alshon Jeffery had a monster 10-catch, 116-yard game with a TD in the first game, primarily matched up against talented 6-foot-2 corner Xavier Rhodes.
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A bit of solace for Robbie Gould: Walsh has been a younger, just-as-accurate kicker as Gould to begin his career, but the move outdoors at home has made him a little more "human," too, the last couple of years. Walsh is 26-for-31 this season. Gould is 26-for-32, but his recent misses have been more dramatic.
The most recent of the three touchdowns Bears Teams have allowed came on Marcus Sherels' 65-yard punt return on the lakefront. He's ninth in the NFL with a 9.6-yard average, but the bigger concern should still be Cordarrelle Patterson's league-leading 31.1-yard kickoff return average, which includes a pair of returns to the house.