By David La Vaque
MINNEAPOLIS – The Bears' playoff chances, listing before Sunday, slipped below the surface for good after a 38-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Improved effort has been noticed despite a 5-9 record. But a lack of execution could not be overcome. The willing but unable Bears were swept by Minnesota (9-5) in divisional play for the first time since 2007.
“No, I wouldn’t say that at all,” Bears’ linebacker Shea McClellin said when questioned whether the team let down. “I don’t know where everyone’s head is, but I don’t think giving up was ever felt.”
The teams’ passing offenses were stark contrasts. Jay Cutler endured five sacks, completed 26 of 37 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
Cutler’s counterpart, Teddy Bridgewater, tallied 231 yards on 17-for-20 passing, a career-high four touchdown passes and a rushing score.
Getting the Bears out of rhythm, Cutler said, were problems with penalties and protection. On the five sacks, Cutler said, “It’s not all on [the offensive line]. I’ve got to get rid of the ball.
“It doesn’t matter who we played today,” Cutler said. “We weren’t going to win with our offensive football.”
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Cutler capped the Bears’ first touchdown drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to Alshon Jeffery. An injury to cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who rendered Jeffery ineffective much of the first half, provided an opportunity.
Two plays after Rhodes limped off the field, Cutler zipped career touchdown pass No. 200 into Jeffery’s hands.
The play cut Minnesota’s lead to 10-7 with 5:40 to play in the second quarter. Jeffery left the game with a tight hamstring in the third quarter but did return.
Injury seemed to favor the Bears again on the Vikings’ next drive. Running back Adrian Peterson, who entered the game as the NFL’s leading rusher this season, went off with an ankle injury.
But the Bears’ defense surrendered receptions of 34 and 17 yards, the latter good for Jerick McKinnon’s first NFL touchdown.
The Bears trailed 17-7 at halftime. They were outgained by the Vikings 207-96.
“We just need to finish,” Bears’ linebacker John Timu said. “Finish tackles, finish rushes, bat the ball down and get after the other team. We are capable of doing it all; we just need to go out there and finish it now.”
A strip sack of Cutler gave Minnesota the ball at its 45-yard line early in the third quarter. The drive ended with a touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Stefon Diggs for a 24-7 lead. Diggs most recent scoring reception came Nov. 1 at Chicago.
[VIEW FROM THE MOON: Bears stumble to new lows in loss to Vikings]
Cutler and Bridgewater capped their contrasting afternoons with telling fourth-quarter plays. Cutler threw a short interception to defensive lineman Justin Trattou and Bridgewater ended the ensuing Vikings’ drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Each added a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, with Cutler finding Matt Forte for a score and Bridgewater throwing a touchdown pass to Zach Line in the game's final minutes.
“It does a little bit to thwart your confidence,” Bears’ coach John Fox said. “But again, we are all professionals. We will get this out of our system and get ready for Tampa Bay."