MINNEAPOLIS – In the end, rolling with a third-string castoff quarterback (fourth string, if one presumes that Connor Shaw was more in Bears plans than Matt Barkley before Shaw broke his leg in preseason) truly caught up with the Bears.
John Fox and every other coach cite turnovers as the key to most games and Bears poor ball security effectively undid Fox’s team again. Three giveaways (two by the offense, one by special teams) set up 17 Minnesota points in the first half, and two more in the second half ended one Bears drive and gave the Vikings 7 more points on another. The Bears turned the football over four of the first seven times they had their hands on it, including a muffed punt by recent-addition Bralon Addison.
The offense generated 323 yards after topping 400 in three of the last five games. Coaches let the running game loose, with some success, but the turnovers destroyed opportunities. Those will be on Barkley’s mind heading into whatever future the Bears or anyone else offers him.
“Every turnover or every play that could have been a touchdown,” Barkley said without citing any one mistake over another. “I do not want to say ‘haunt,’ but I do not ever want to make those mistakes again. That is my goal going forward, to not make the mistakes I made this year. My outlook will be positive going into this offseason.”
The quarterback evaluation needs look no further than Matt Barkley being pulled in the fourth quarter after losing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, followed by David Fales getting into the game and himself sacked once, for symmetry if nothing else. “We just wanted to look at David,” Fox said. “We had not seen him. Neither one of those quarterbacks were even on our team in [training] camp. So again, it’s an opportunity for us to evaluate.”
Barkley, who finished with 10-of-14 passing for 125 yards, opened his day the way his one against Washington generally went, with an interception. This one killed a promising opening drive on which the run game appeared to be in gear. Instead, Barkley off play-action forced a back-foot throw toward Alshon Jeffery, into double coverage and underthrown such that cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a better chance at the football than Jeffery.
“We knew that he was going to throw some balls and we just had to be in position to make [takeaways],” said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
It was one of two Barkley interceptions, plus losing the football a final time in the fourth quarter when he was sacked by Linval Joseph. The ball was recovered and run 20 yards by Everson Griffen for Minnesota’s final touchdown.
Running back: B+
Jordan Howard has been the offensive story for the Bears for 2016 and that held true on Sunday when Howard rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries (5.9 ypc), setting the franchise rookie rushing record at 1,313 yards. It marked the seventh 100-yard rushing game for Howard and the 11th time in 13 starts that Howard has topped 100 combined yards from scrimmage.
“[The record] means a lot,” Howard said. “My teammates did a great job opening the holes and the coaches getting us in the right place… . It does mean something to me and the offensive line because they did a great job."
Damaging the overall grade for the position was Jeremy Langford losing a fumble in the Bears end of the field on his second carry, without the Vikings even going for a strip on a second-quarter run. The turnover resulted in 7 Minnesota points and a loss of momentum when the game was still forming. Langford caught 3 passes for 41 yards, with a long of 19.
Receivers were generally non factors, partly because of the score, partly because of poor play at quarterback killing off three possessions. Cam Meredith led the Bears with four catches, the seventh time this season he topped the Bears or was tied in receptions. His 61 yards also were a team high and he was able to make two acrobatic catches to convert near-throwaways into first downs.
Meredith also contributed the Bears’ only touchdown pass, taking a handoff from Langford on a reverse and flipping to a wide-open Barkley in the right side of the Minnesota end zone.
Alshon Jeffery was again ineffective as the Vikings repeatedly devoted double coverage to the wideout, limiting him to 1 catch on 3 targets, with one pass intercepted as Barkley tried to force the ball to him in the end zone.
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Offensive line: A-
Any ‘A’ grade in a defeat with only 10 points scored can be suspect. But the Bears offensive line pounded on a very good Minnesota front to get 183 rushing yards and allow 2 sacks, but both in the fourth quarter when the Vikings had no need to worry about defending the run.
Guard Josh Sitton was dominant at the point of attack, getting consistent movement on the Vikings’ down linemen and getting to the second level as Howard in particular powered late in plays rather than going down on first contact. Center Cody Whitehair was stout in the middle despite crowd noise and interior Minnesota linemen among the NFL’s best.
The game turned on giveaways, mostly by the quarterback, and no game plan is going to overcome those on offense. Coaches stayed with pounding the football in the first half, with 22 rushing plays vs. nine passes. The offense generated 211 yards for the half and 10 points, which likely would have been substantially more but for a fumble and interception by the offense and a special-teams punt muff, all combining for 17 Minnesota points. The offense began the second half with another strong drive but were done in again by a Barkley interception deep in the Vikings end.
Defensive execution was poor, particularly in the secondary, and Sam Bradford was not sacked, and hit only once, the entire game. Tackling and angles throughout were not good.
Special teams had breakdowns in several areas but against one of the NFL’s better return games, the Bears were put in position to succeed but appeared to fail to maintain lane integrity, allowing good returners openings they exploited.