April 23, 2017

Bears 21, Vikings 13: Minnesota Is The Best Medicine

What do you feed an ailing football team?

A healthy dose of purple.

The Chicago Bears snapped their three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Vikings 21-13 at Soldier Field on a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon in Chicago. The victory is Chicago’s first of the year in front of the home fans and also, at 4-6, moves the Bears past the Vikings for third place in the NFC North, which is a sunnier way of saying the Bears are no longer in last place.

After three straight ugly losses, including two that were nastier than a smoker’s x-rays, the Bears finally struck at least a passing resemblance to the team we hoped they would be by piling up a lot of offense along with just enough defense.

Twenty-one points does not sound like a lot offense but quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall combined for 225 yards receiving and three scores and Matt Forte ran for 117 yards along with 58 yards receiving.

These are the type of numbers we expected in August only with more points as a result. The reason the Bears didn’t find the endzone more against the Vikings is that, while playing much better, they were unable to completely shake their recent troubles of penalties, wasted timeouts and turnovers.

There were a lot of these gaffes early on, including three flags on the Bears’ first drive alone, forcing Marc Trestman’s little monsters to settle for a field goal. Which they missed.

Just a few plays after that the Bears were fooled by a fake punt, then the Vikings scored and suddenly the good guys trailed 10-0 and it all felt déjà-screw all over again.

What happened after that? Was there a bit of magic dust in the light but steady snow that was falling along Chicago’s lakefront? Maybe not, but those flakes did taste good when we licked a few off the curb while bending over for our nicotine gum.

No, what happened next is the Bears did not give up. This is a talented but bedeviled team that has been through football hell this season and against the Vikings, who are not good, the Bears were able to move the ball steadily and not get flustered, frustrated or flaky.

Cutler, who gets more bad reviews than a kazoo musical, guided a 27-yard TD strike to Jeffery who was double-teamed in the in endzone, for Chicago’s first score. This was the type of pass that if Cutler made against the Dolphins, Patriots or Packers would have been intercepted with extreme prejudice. But against the Vikes, who do actually have a decent defense, it worked just as it was planned.

Cutler then found Marshall for a gorgeous 44-yard TD strike late in the second quarter and the Bears went to halftime with a 14-10 lead, which was nice but almost uncomfortable. Sort of like when your friend’s mom keeps complimenting your ankles.

The Bears and Vikings’ offenses both boycotted the third quarter and Chicago’s third and final score came when Cutler hit Marshall with a four-yard how-do-ya-do in the fourth. The Vikings got a field goal from Blair Walsh a few minutes later to narrow it to 21-13 but by this time the Bears were feeling more confident than Julia Roberts at the dentist and our pals hung on to win for the first time in a month.

The Bears outgained their purple guests 468-243, dominated the time of possession 38:38-21:22, ran 28 more plays and averaged a yard more per play.

This game should have been 41-13.

But the Bears committed seven penalties for 63 yards, missed a field goal, wasted some timeouts, threw two interceptions, showed no sense of urgency late in the second quarter when they had a great chance to score before halftime, got stopped on fourth-and-goal in the third, and forgot a few times they were playing a team that probably wouldn’t qualify for the college football playoff.

But forgive us for nitpicking. The Bears scored more than the Vikings and, unless the NFL starts hanging around with the gals in my bridge club and decides to change the rules while we’re in the bathroom, then scoring more points is the only thing that matters. The Bears won and, if nothing else, at least temporarily restored some pride and enthusiasm to a season that has been as unkind as unexpected.

So, our Bears soldier on. Next up is a visit from the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game that will be weird no matter what as Tampa is helmed by former Bears coach Lovie Smith and quarterbacked by our old pal Josh McCown.

The Bucs, despite a nice win over the Redskins on Sunday, are bad. But they are also a tremendous threat because, in some regard, losing to a team led by the coach many appreciated and the quarterback many preferred could be the worst blow of all in a season overflowing with them.

Death To The Purple People

The Chicago Bears are 2-0 after their thrilling, last minute 31-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at soggy Soldier Field and sit grinning atop the NFC North like a homeless guy pissing on an unoccupied cop car.

It’s called getting away with things while you can.

Actually, the Movin’ On Ups of the Midway are winning by staying cool, showing resilience and meshing the old with the new, the Lovie and the Trestman, the past and passing.

It was a particularly beautiful 16-yard bullet pass from Jay Cutler to tight end Martellus Bennett, perfectly thrown where only Bennett could catch it, with 10 seconds left that tipped the scales in this one which had been a wet, back-and-forth tussle and at least two hornfulls of fun.

If there’s one thing different about this year’s Bears compared to the last few years – and there are many things – it’s the presence and play of Bennett, who gives the Bears something they have not had in a long time: a tight end who can catch, then run.  It seems simple but it in Bearland it’s not.  Mr. Bennett, who is in his first year with Chicago after spending four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and last year with the New York Giants, scored twice on Sunday and has ten receptions for 125 yards and three scores in just two games this season.  The Bears’ starting tight end last year, Kellen Davis, caught 19 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns the entire season.

Jay Cutler loves Martellus Bennett in a very clean, church-approved, masculine, sincere way.

Bennett and Cutler needed to save the day in the drenching final seconds because Jay spent earlier parts of the afternoon unwillingly collaborating with the visiting purple jerks.  Cutler threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble, which ended up in the greedy hands of Vikings defensive end Brian Robison who huffed and puffed 61 yards for a score.  That happened in the second quarter, allowing the Vikings to tie the affair at 14 after their first score came on a 105-yard kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson on the first play of the game.  So at that point the Bears defense had yet to allow a point but Minnesota still had double digits on the board.  That’s just bad planning.

The Bears defense eventually surrendered a TD pass from Christian Ponder to Kyle Rudolph late in the first half but only after Bears cornerback Tim Jennings revived his 2012 self and picked off Ponder for a 44-yard score.  In the second half both teams were a little tired after all that first 30-minute frolicking, and also very wet, and the Bears were able to keep the Vikes out of the end zone, holding them to three Blair Walsh field goals of, respectively, 28 yards, 28 yards, and 22 yards.  So, the Bears must be given credit for bending but not breaking.  The Vikings were knocking on the door and could have blown this thing more wide open than the gap between a Minnesota hillbilly’s teeth, but the Bears held strong.  Or perhaps the purple kids just didn’t call the right plays.

It doesn’t matter now.  What is germane is the Bears are still doing the things they did well in the Lovie Smith era – forcing turnovers and playing good special teams (Patterson’s opening return score was pretty much negated by Devin Hester taking the ensuing kickoff 76 yards setting up Cutler’s first TD pass to Bennett and Hester finished with a career-best 249 yards on kickoff returns so take that to the Mall of America and suck it!) – while also learning the Canadian ways of Marc Trestman by throwing the ball to different receivers,  recognizing the tight end’s right to a decent standard of living and recognizing Cutler’s right to life, liberty and uprightness.  Behind Chicago’s revamped line and Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s play calling, Cutler has been sacked just once this season.  Last year, Jay got buried 38 times.

It all adds up to two exhilarating wins so far against two good teams.

Now, the Bears go Pittsburgh on Sunday night to face a Steelers team that is 0-2, cannot run the ball, has scored just 19 points this year and is certain of nothing outside of Brett Kiesel’s beard.  The Steelers lost to the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend, and the Bears beat the Bengals in Week 1 so you know what that means?  You guessed it: zippo, baby!  Succeeding in the NFL is sometimes like making love to a really fat person with the lights on: it’s not easy.  You have to earn everything, every week, every play, every moment.  You have to protect your assets.  You have to find your openings.  You have to bear down and believe.

 

The Minnesota Vikings Will Win the Super Bowl

The Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl.

This season.

Deep breaths, knee bends, shadowbox, second thoughts.

Yep, that’s right, the Minnesota Vikings will win Super Bowl XLVIII and, for the first time in franchise history, hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Why?

The Vikings have the best player in football; running back Adrian Peterson, a Pro Bowl fullback; Jerome Felton, one of the NFL’s most reliable receivers; Greg Jennings, (in his first year in the purple since defecting from the Green Bay Packers) three (yes, three) good tight ends in Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Rhett Ellison; a great offensive line (ranked in the top ten by rotoworld and fantasy pros) and a gritty and improving starting quarterback in Christian Ponder.  The Vikes also have a respectable backup QB in Matt Cassel.

On defense the Vikings are led by perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen and outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who has been voted to Hawaii the last two seasons and is still very much in his prime.  Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams seems as if he played for Norm Van Brocklin and has certainly seen his better days but is only 33 and still good.

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh made the Pro Bowl last season, his rookie year.

The Vikings had one of the best drafts this year; some have said the very best.   Bucky Brooks, of NFL.com, gave the Vikes an A+ for drafting cornerback Xavier Rhodes, (Florida State) defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, (Florida) and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, (Tennessee) all in the first round.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is entering his third full season.  Last year he took a team that most experts didn’t think would do much and led them to a 10-6 mark and a playoff berth.  Frazier played for Mike Ditka and coached under Tony Dungy so he knows fire, ice, and winning football.  He was long considered one of the top assistants in the NFL and has more talent this year than he has ever had before.

The Vikings are the best team in the NFC North.  The Green Bay Packers will always be good as long as Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are alive but the Packers have lost Jennings to the Vikes, fellow receiver Donald Driver to retirement, cornerback Charles Woodson bolted for the Oakland Raiders, (why?) and running back Cedric Benson is also gone.  The Pack will be good, but losing all those guys and having to now face Jennings instead of throw to him will hurt too much.  The Chicago Bears will be an exciting team with an improved offense but have an old defense and, under first year head coach Marc Trestman, too many question marks.  The Detroit Lions refuse to ignite hope or praise.

The Vikings will win the NFC North and who will knock them off in the playoffs?  The San Francisco 49ers are loaded but the bet here is that their strength will be their weakness, meaning there is no way quarterback Colin Kaepernick will duplicate last year’s entrancing breakout season.  Plus, that Super Bowl hangover is always difficult to overcome.  It’s tough to argue against the Niners and if they have home field advantage in the postseason the smart money will be on them.  But smart money doesn’t live here right now, and the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will have to go through the Purple Kingdom, which brings us to the Atlanta Falcons.  Fifteen seasons ago the Falcons beat the Vikings in the NFC title game in Minnesota.  It’s time for revenge.  Who really thinks the Falcons will reach the Super Bowl?

What about the rock ‘em-sock ‘em Seattle Seahawks?  The thinking here is, like San Francisco’s QB, enigmatic Seattle signal-caller Russell Wilson will also take a step back after an amazing first year at the helm.  Plus, no self-respecting person ever picks Pete Carroll.

The Minnesota Vikings will win the NFC and advance to their first Super Bowl since the 1976 season, which was their fourth Super Bowl appearance under Bud Grant and their fourth loss.  This year’s Vikings, who play under a dome will, strangely, play in their natural climate, the first cold weather Super Bowl ever, when they take the field at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey on February 2, Groundhog Day, but Vikes fans will not relive their past defeats.  This time the Purple People Eaters will get outstanding running from Adrian Peterson, efficient passing from Christian Ponder, clutch catches from Jennings and Patterson, an attacking, gritty defense, and a 40-yard field goal through the snow from Blair Walsh as time expires and will top the Denver Broncos, 23-20.

Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Joey Browner, Paul Krause, Chuck Foreman, Robert Smith, Tommy Kramer, Joe Kapp, Ron Yary, Randall McDaniel, Mick Tinglehoff and Jim Marshall will smile.  Snow will fall on New Jersey and stretch under a victorious wind all the way to the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl.

Really, Christian Ponder is good enough.

Packers 24, Vikings 10

With the Minnesota Vikings defeating the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the regular season, that meant they would face off again in the first round of the playoffs.  So, on a cold night in Green Bay, the Packers and Vikings took the field and met for the third time this season.  Kicker Mason Crosby booted the ball five yards deep in the end zone and return man Marcus Sherels returned it to the Viking 32.

Starting quarterback Christian Ponder missed most of practice all week and tried to give it a go in warmups before the game.  He was unable to go and that meant Joe Webb would be the starter.  Like everyone expected, running back Adrian Peterson was a huge part of the game plan.  Two carries netted seven yards and on third and 3 from the 39, Webb took off up the right side for a 17 yard gain.  Just like that, the Vikings were in Packer territory.  Three more runs by Peterson moved the ball to the 18, but they would only get as far as the 15 and have to settle for a field goal attempt.  Kicker Blair Walsh made it from 33 yards out and the Vikings had an early 3-0 lead with nine and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

That was all the scoring there was in the first quarter until with six minutes to go, the Packers started their next drive from their 18.  Running back DuJuan Harris got things started with two runs for eight yards.  On third and two, running back Ryan Grant got the call and gained two yards.  However, the Vikings were flagged for a neutral zone infraction and that gave the Packers a first down at the 31.  A short scramble by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a 16-yard pass to Harris moved the ball to the Packer 49.  From there, Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley for ten yards and Harris for 12 more.  On second and 11 from the 25, Rodgers found Grant on a screen pass that went for 16 yards.  That made it first and goal at the nine and Harris ran up the middle for an apparent touchdown.  He was ruled down at the one, but the Packers challenged the play.  After review, it was ruled that he broke the plane and the call was reversed.  Kicker Mason Crosby made the point after and the Packers led 7-3 as the first quarter came to an end.

After the teams traded punts, the Packers got the ball at their 27 with a little under eight and a half minutes to go in the second quarter.  Passes to tight end Tom Crabtree and wide receiver James Jones moved the Packers to the Viking 39.  On fourth and five from the 34, Rodgers threw a short pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings who took it all the way down to the two-yard line.  An incomplete pass to Finley and two unsuccessful runs by fullback John Kuhn put the Packers in a fourth and goal situation from the one.  Instead of trying again, Packer head coach Mike McCarthy opted to go for the easy field goal.  The 20-yard attempt was good and the Packers increased their lead to 10-3 with 3:25 to go in the first half.

The Vikings had a quick three and out and the Packers took over at their 38 with just under two minutes to go.  Deep passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings gave the Packers a first and goal at the three-yard line.  This time, there would be no easy field goal attempt.  Kuhn ran off right guard for a Packer touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers now led 17-3 with 38 seconds to go in the first half.  The Vikings couldn’t do much with the ball with the little time that was remaining and the first half ended on an incomplete pass intended for wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.

Starting at their 20, the Packers went right to work.  Two runs by Harris and a nine-yard pass to Jones gave them a first down at the 37.  Another pass to Jones and two more to Harris quickly put them at the Viking 20.  The drive stalled at the 14 and Crosby was once again called on for a field goal attempt.  But, there would be no field goal attempt this time.  The Vikings were flagged for 12 men on the field and that gave the Packers a first down at the nine.  From the nine, Rodgers found Kuhn across the middle.  Kuhn bounced off a couple of Vikings and landed in the end zone for another Packer touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers now had a commanding 24-3 lead.

Try as they might, the Vikings just didn’t have the ability to come back from such a deficit.  What followed the touchdown by Kuhn was a whole lot of nothing.  The Packers ran the ball and took time off the clock.  However, there would be one more touchdown.  With four minutes to go in the game, wide receiver Michael Jenkins got loose and was wide open on the right sideline.  Webb spotted him and hit him in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.  Walsh made the point after and the Vikings now trailed 24-10 with a little over three minutes to go.  The Packers ran six plays and punted the ball back to the Vikings with 19 seconds to go.  Needless to say, that’s not enough time to score twice.  Final score: Packers 24 Vikings 10.

For the Vikings, Joe Webb completed 11 of 30 for 180 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble.  He also had 68 yards rushing on seven carries.  Michael Jenkins and tight end Kyle Rudolph tied for the lead in receptions with three apiece.  Jenkins had the most receiving yards with 96 and one touchdown.  Adrian Peterson ended up with 99 yards on 22 carries and the Packers did a good job of not letting him get loose.  All totaled, the Vikings had 167 yards rushing on 29 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Chad Greenway led the Vikings with ten solo tackles.

For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 33 for 274 yards and one touchdown.  He spread the ball around to ten different receivers and DuJuan Harris led the team in receptions with five.  Greg Jennings was the leader in receiving yards with 61.  Harris had the most rushing yards with 47 on 17 carries and one touchdown.  As a team, the Packers had just 76 yards on 31 carries.  Defensively, cornerback Sam Shields led the Packers with five solo tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.

With that win, the Packers head out to the Bay Area to take on the San Francisco 49ers next Saturday.  They met in week one in Green Bay and the 49ers came away with a 30-22 win.  A lot has changed since then.  In that game, the “replacement refs” threw 18 flags for 143 yards.  Something tells me that won’t happen this time and it should be a close game.

 

Brave New Bear World

Brave New Bear World

At 5-feet-10 inches tall, 192 pounds and hailing from Boca Raton, Florida via the University of Georgia, 22-year-old Blair Walsh is not a particularly imposing fellow.  He seems affable, self-assured and able of mind and leg, specifically his right leg, which allowed him to convert 92.1% of his field goal attempts in this, his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Mr. Walsh’s rookie campaign will forever be remembered in the Twin Cities, Green Bay, and Chicago, for his final kick of the regular season, the one which secured Sunday’s 37-34 victory for the Vikings over the Green Bay Packers in Minnesota, sending the Vikings to the playoffs and keeping the Chicago Bears at home and ending the tenure of Bears head coach Lovie Smith who was kicked to the curb the next morning.

The Bears were 10-6 this season finishing with a must-win 26-24 road victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday just hours before Walsh kicked the Vikes to victory and kicked Chicago in the face, guts and between our collective uprights.  Walsh’s kick finished off the Bears for 2012 and finished off Lovie for good and was also the final act in one of the strangest days in Bears history as Bear Nation, for once, was actually rooting for the Packers to win and, because life for Chicago sports enthusiasts more often than not ends up feeling like a Blair Walsh cleat up the corn hole, the Pack, as always, did what Chicagoans didn’t want them to.  They lost, Blair Walsh and the Vikings won, and now thousands of Chicago children named Lovie will only be teased more viciously.  And likely with tambourines and scotch tape.

Most Bears players and many Bears fans expressed genuine shock that Bears general manager Phil Emery canned Lovie who was adored by his team and belongs to that exclusive club of one-name celebrities like Prince, Madonna, Charo and Shemp.  But that surprise, at least from a fan’s perspective, is at least as much a jolt over the fact that the Bears actually went through with the move that many had been clamoring for.

Lovie isn’t a bad coach.  He went 81-63 since taking over the Bears in 2004 and led the team to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, a game which the Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 29-17, on the coldest, rainiest day in South Florida since Jim Kiick retired.  Lovie coached well during that 2006 season.  The Bears had just about the best defense in the league, terrific special teams and a capable offense.  And Lovie deserves credit for a bit of tactical, practical and inspirational genius in 2006.  That year, in training camp, he mapped out the Bears players’ schedule from day one of camp all the way through to Super Bowl XLI.  He literally wrote down what time practice would be for each week leading to each playoff game, what time the bus would leave, what time the plane would leave for the Super Bowl, etc.   He didn’t tell his players to believe they were going to be in the Super Bowl that year, he told them to plan on it.  To play like it.  And they did.

Yes, they lost, and Bears history, and Lovie’s current employment status, would be that much different if they had won.  And Lovie does get some blame for that loss in the rain.  All 2006 long Lovie insisted that “Rex is our quarterback” meaning he stuck with Rex Grossman who was so bad at times in ’06 he made Caleb Hanie look like Peyton Manning, the QB who ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy that day.  Everyone in Chicago and probably many gentlemen in the Bears locker room wanted Lovie to make the switch to backup signal-caller Brian Griese and, if he had, Chicago likely would have beaten the Colts that day.  But while this may have been Lovie’s biggest mistake in his nine years in Chicago it’s difficult to kill him for it.  The fact was Grossman was a former first-round pick who was healthy for a whole season for the first time that year and the Bears despite him – and sometimes (yes be honest) because of him – did just keep winning.  Until that last game.

Lovie finally pulled the plug on Grossman the next season but it was too late.  The Bears sputtered to a 7-9 record and would miss the playoffs the next two seasons as well.  This is when Lovie Smith should have been fired, after the 2009 season.  When you miss the playoffs three straight years, whether your name is Lovie, Belichick or Babaloo, you should be gone.  Lovie wasn’t.  The Bears bounced back in 2010 and had one of the luckiest seasons any team has ever had, taking advantage of an easy schedule, other teams’ injuries and lots of fortuitous bounces and playoff pairings and somehow advanced to the NFC Championship game which they lost, at home, to the Packers.

So Lovie was back for more.  Last year it seemed as if the Bears would make another playoff run as they were 7-3 until Jay Cutler and Matt Forte got hurt.  They finished 8-8 and home for January.  This year the Bears started 7-1 and then crumbled to that respectable but not respectable enough 10-6 finish.  Or did the Bears crumble?  Most honest observers would say it wasn’t so much that the Bears fell apart after that 7-1 start as they ran into the more difficult half of their schedule.  Still, 10-6 usually gets you in.  Except when it doesn’t.

The reason the Bears didn’t make the playoffs this year is the same reason they didn’t make the playoffs five other times in Lovie’s nine seasons of wearing the headsets at Soldier Field: the offense stunk.  In their Super Bowl season of 2006 the Bears had the 15th best offense in the league.  That was the best of Lovie’s tenure.  This year, despite it being Cutler’s fourth season on the team and despite the acquisition of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall who had an outstanding season, the Bears had the 28th best offense in the NFL.  The only teams worse were the Cardinals, Chargers, Jets and Jaguars.  And the teams right in front of the Bears on offense were the Dolphins, Titans, Browns and Chiefs – pigskin wretches all of them.  The Cardinals, Chargers, Browns and Chiefs also fired their head coaches on Monday.  So did a few other teams with better offenses but the point is clear: the Bears could not move the ball and could not score and thus did not win enough.

Since the Cutler era began in 2009 the Bears have never had better than the 23rd best offense in the league, a ranking they achieved in that ’09 season.  Starting in ’04, Lovie went through different offensive coordinators, different quarterbacks, a myriad of receivers, a plethora of game plans and the result was always the same for the Chicago Bears: if the defense played well they had a chance.  If the defense didn’t, start the bus, Lydia, and save me a cold one.

Brian Urlacher, the 34-year-old Bears middle linebacker whom, like a lot of guys with the  “C” on their helmets has a cloudy football future, said something quite curious on Monday when the news got out that Lovie had been sacked.  He defended Coach Smith as a strategist, motivator and – like all Bears players – as a person.  But Urlacher also told a Chicago radio station that for some reason it’s “hard to win here.”  Was Urlacher saying the Bears, as an organization, meaning the McCaskey family, doesn’t know how to run a top-notch football outfit?  Perhaps he didn’t mean it that way but Urlacher’s words do open the door for discussion of what we just touched upon a paragraph ago.  The Chicago Bears run the ball well and play good defense but can’t put together a potent passing attack.  That was true for the 2012 Bears, true for the Lovie Smith era and has pretty much been true for the entire nine decades of the Chicago Bears’ existence.

Proof?  Marshall is the first Bears receiver to go to a Pro Bowl since 2002 and only the second in the last 40 years.  The Patriots and Packers produce Pro Bowl receivers when they shake a leg in the Men’s room.

The Bears’ all-time leading receiver is Johnny Morris with 5,059 yards.  Seriously.  Johnny hasn’t played since 1967.

The Bears have not had a Pro Bowl quarterback since Jim McMahon during Chicago’s Super Bowl winning season of 1985.

Is it something in the air?  The water?  The Soldier Field grass?

It is now Phil Emery’s job to find out.

During today’s New Year’s Day news conference Emery, who has only been on the job a year, said the Bears need to get better on offense and he said the Bears would pursue a new head coach with a “sense of urgency.”  There are many names out there and a tremendous amount of speculation.  Emery said the Bears will “…look at a wide variety of candidates.  We’re going to look offensively, we’re going to look defensively, we’re going to look special teams, we’re going to look NFL, we’re going to look college, whatever combination that person possesses in terms of excellence.”

The urgency of excellence.  It’s a tough hill to climb.  The man who can do it is Andy Reid, whom the Philadelphia Eagles just fired.  He is rumored to have already been gobbled up by the Arizona Cardinals.  So, already, the Bears, perhaps, haven’t been urgent enough.  Mike McCoy, the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator, is rumored to be coming to town for a talk and former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said today he’s interested in coaching again.

Urgency.  Excellence.  Offense.

The Chicago Bears have not won a championship in nearly 30 years.  They have won only two titles in the last 50 years and only three since World War II ended.

Urgency.  Excellence.  Offense.

It’s time.

Vikings 21, Bears 14: Tough Turf, Bad Days

The Minnesota Vikings are rotten guys, the type who invite you over for a friendly game of football and then ruin everything by doing things like intercepting passes, scoring touchdowns, and telling all the girls that you and your brother were once kicked out of the Indian Guides.

Some might say the Vikings were only doing what they were paid to do in their 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, but hiding behind the truth doesn’t make it more kind nor palatable.

The Bears made a lot of mistakes in this one, beginning with their decision to show up.  Though, it could be posited that Chicago didn’t even do that, or at least not on time, as the Bears allowed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to break free on a 51-yard run on the game’s very first play from scrimmage.   It was as if the Bears never seriously considered that Minnesota might try to utilize Peterson, who leads the league in rushing.  You know, Adrian Peterson, big guy, #28, runs a lot, stomps things.

A few moments after that run, Peterson scored from one yard out and it was 7-0 Vikings and Bears fans began flipping around the dial to see if the guy at the liquor store really was telling the truth about that “Hazel” marathon.

By the time we flipped back, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had thrown an interception, Peterson had another touchdown, the Bears trailed 14-0, and it felt like the time you bumped into your uncle at the Walgreen’s neither of you usually goes to and you saw that he had pantyhose in his basket and you couldn’t hide being upset that he got the last pair.

Peterson had 100 yards rushing by the time the first quarter ended, en route to a 154-yard effort, making the Bears look like a team that didn’t have Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings because they didn’t have Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings.  That’s no excuse, though, and the Bears actually held Peterson to just 103 yards on his final 30 carries which is….ok, that’s still too many.

The Bears finally got on the board just before halftime when Cutler threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery who had missed six of the previous seven games due to injuries and Chicago trailed, 14-7, at the break but it felt far worse.  It felt like we were playing Green Bay.

Cutler threw his second interception of the day late in the third quarter and this one Vikings safety Harrison Smith returned 55 yards for a touchdown and then reminded everyone that he went to Notre Dame and then everyone reminded him that the Fighting Irish are doing better without him and, daggummitt, that shut him up!

The score remained 21-7 until the final moments when Jason Campbell hit Brandon Marshall for a 16-yard score to make it 21-14 which looks better in the box score, but box scores are for weenies.

Campbell was playing because Cutler hurt his neck and Jay really didn’t play that well, anyway, finishing 22-of-44 for 260 yards, two picks, one score and a queasy feeling that he’ll have no excuse for skipping a trip to his in-laws in January.

This was a blah game, a bad game, a dumb game and a costly game.  The Bears beat the Vikings, 28-10, just two weeks ago in Chicago but seemed to have forgotten all about that.  It was basically the usual thing for Chicago: no offensive rhythm, no commitment to the running game, shoddy blocking, stupid penalties, no boost from the return game, no threat from the tight ends, and a defense that played well but didn’t score which means it didn’t play well enough.  That’s how it is in Chicago.

Basically it came down to this: the two best players in this game were Peterson for the Vikings and Marshall for the Bears who finished with ten catches for 160 yards and the one score.  Marshall’s efforts were impressive but Peterson’s set the pace and Cutler’s two interceptions proved too costly to overcome.  Oh yeah, and Jeffrey dropped a TD pass late in the third.  It hit him on the hands.  And Devin Hester dropped a certain TD late in the fourth.  If those guys had held on, Cutler’s mistakes  (and everyone else’s) probably would have been forgiven, if not forgotten.

Now the Bears are watching the playoff train pull away from the station and know they have to chase it but not before they tie there shoes, tuck in their shirt, check their watch and kiss the puppy.  It’s December and when you’re 8-4 and in second place you have to chase that train half-naked and screaming.  It’s not called panic, it’s called urgency.  It’s called facing the worst quarterback in football, Christian Ponder, and forcing him into mistakes.  If not, you’re suddenly 8-5 with the Packers coming to town which means the next time we talk you’re almost certainly going to be 8-6.

To the Vikes’ credit they didn’t put Ponder in position to make many mistakes as he only threw 17 passes, completing 11, and his one interception was on a meaningless heave right before halftime.   So let’s get this straight: Peterson was pedestrian after the first quarter, really after his first run, Ponder was impotent for the entire 60 minutes and still the Bears looked like they were in quicksand.

What happens when you step in quicksand?  You die slowly.

The Bears are 8-5 and Aaron Rodgers and friends are on deck and it will be tough to find a human being in Cook County who really thinks the Meritocrats of the Midway will be able to do anything to stop this slide which has seen them go from a Super Bowl contender into an honorable mention in the Johnny Football sweepstakes.

December is shaping up to be cold, friendless and fart-filled.  It’s a month with missing mittens and hissing kittens.  It’s what we saw coming but couldn’t stop.  It’s a callous calendar that laughs and winks while slowly shutting the door.  –TK

Paul Krause’s Car

I think I have Paul Krause’s car.

I bought my 2008 silver Chrysler Sebring convertible at a CarMax just outside Chicago two years ago and during the final phases of the transaction I saw that the previous owner was a gentleman named Paul Krause and the car had come from a CarMax in the Twin Cities area.

Who the hell would buy a convertible in Minnesota?  Certainly it must be someone brave, iconoclastic, edgy, bold and well practiced at boat rocking.   Certainly it must be former Vikings All-Pro safety and 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Paul Krause.

I like Paul Krause’s car.

Krause was drafted by the Washington Redskins out of the University of Iowa in 1964 and led the league with 12 interceptions, setting the stage for a career that would see him accumulate 81 career picks, an NFL record that still stands.

Krause played for the ‘Skins until 1967 and then was traded to the Vikings where he continued his All-Pro thievery and helped lead the Vikes to their first Super Bowl after the 1969 season.  The Vikings lost that game, Super Bowl IV, to the Kansas City Chiefs (A Chiefs-Vikings Super Bowl?  It was the Age of Aquarius) and Krause also helped lead the Purple People Eaters to three more Super Bowls in the 1970s.  They lost all those, too, thus breaking the hearts of a generation of Vikings fans while inspiring a later generation of Buffalo Bills fans.

Paul Krause’s car doesn’t get very good gas mileage and now the driver’s side door sticks but that’s probably my fault.  Don’t blame old number 22.

Krause stood 6-3 and weighed 200 pounds and used to roam centerfield for the Redskins and Vikings plucking footballs out of the sky with a finesse and vengeance rarely seen.  Krause was part eagle, part leopard and all about the business of making quarterbacks wish they had stayed home that day.

Paul Krause frightened vegetarians and was studied by the CIA.

In addition to picking off passes, healing lepers, losing Super Bowls and buying cool Chryslers, Krause also played in what might have been the most fun NFL game ever.  It was a 1977 playoff contest in which the Vikings beat the Rams, 14-7, in Los Angeles in what became known as “The Mud Bowl.”  Have you ever seen “Monty Python’s” re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor?  It was like that.  Paul Krause intercepted Pat Haden in that game and then was offered a lead role in “Heaven Can Wait.”  He turned it down.

If there’s another person in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area named Paul Krause who used to own a 2008 silver Chrysler Sebring convertible I don’t want to know about them.  I’m convinced my car belonged to the true Paul Krause and can sometimes feel his presence as I glide through traffic, smoking a cigarette and honking at those going 55 in the pass lane.  You might not respect me, fellow driver, but for the love of Carl Eller, please pay proper homage to the former car of Paul Krause, damn it.

What did Paul Krause do in my car?  Did he talk to Matt Blair on his cellphone?  Did he sip a milkshake and say that some trucker drives like Greg Landry?  I imagine Paul Krause with the top down even in a blizzard laughing at nature’s wrath while wearing mirrored sunglasses and tossing $100 bills to children and baby gophers.

Paul Krause.

Another of my all-time favorite football games came about a month after I bought the former car of Paul Krause.  It was in December 2010 when the Chicago Bears visited the Vikings but the game could not be played in the Metrodome because the roof collapsed under the weight of snow.  So they instead played their Monday Night showdown outside at the University of Minnesota’s stadium with snow falling, breath freezing and the Bears romping, 40-14.  This was the last game Brett Favre ever played as he succumbed to a sack from Corey Wootton in the second quarter.  At halftime, legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant was honored and the 83-year-old tough guy didn’t even wear a jacket as he was hoisted onto the shoulders of former Vikings greats.  It was Vikings football outside in the cold.  It was perfect.

The Bears play the Vikings this Sunday in Minnesota with both teams fighting for a playoff spot and the game, unfortunately, will be inside.  Outside there could be cold, snow and Armageddon but inside it will be convertible weather.  I would gladly let Paul Krause borrow his old car if he wants to drive to the 50-yard line and say “This is not football.  Everybody outside.  Now.”

People would listen.  He picks off passes and drives cool cars.  He’s Paul Krause.

Chicago 28, Minnesota 10: Veni, Vidi, Vikings

The Chicago Bears looked more like the Monsters of the Midway on Sunday, and less like the Maginot Line, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 28-10, at Soldier Field to improve to 8-3 and were promptly rewarded with a return to first place and all the leftover cranberries.

Lovie Smith’s little fellas needed this one badly having come in with two straight losses including last Monday night’s 32-7 eradication in San Francisco in which the Bears looked less interested than the ghost of Paul Lynde at the Tilted Kilt.

Chicago won by returning to its core principles of forcing turnovers, running the ball and playing a team that probably isn’t very good.  The Vikings entered Sunday’s challenge with a record of 6-4 but every American over the age of 21 knows that the only people who ever succeed while wearing purple are Prince and Elton John.  True, Prince is from Minnesota but do any of you honestly profess that a man who celebrates the wearing of raspberry berets drinks from the same fountain of fortune as you?

The Vikings aren’t very good.

The Bears are good when they have Jay Cutler and the salty QB was back in the office Sunday after sitting out the San Francisco slambake with a concussion.  Cutler’s absence left more Twizzlers for everyone else on the bus but it also exposed just how bad the Bears offensive line really is as his backup, Jason Campbell, was sacked 73 times last week and then moved to Canada and changed his name to Mrs. Bloodyfeather.   No, Campbell didn’t really quit but one of his beleaguered protectors, guard Chilo Rachal, did after being demoted.  Rachal officially said he left the team for “personal reasons,” those reasons being he didn’t like his coaches telling him that he floats like a butterfly and blocks like a matador.

Chris Spencer, who had the job at the beginning of the season, replaced Rachal on the offensive line and the Bears also sent tackle Gabe Carimi to the bench and brought in Jonathan Scott.  The shuffles appeared to work as the line gave Cutler just enough time on Sunday to stave off, at least for another week, being asked to audition for a background role in a remake of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Cutler completed 23 of 31 passes for 188 yards for one touchdown and one interception.  True, those are numbers that Drew Brees can put up with one eye closed and one hand on his birthmark, but they’re perfectly acceptable for anyone with a fancy orange “C” on the side of his head, especially on the heels of a game in which the offense was about as productive as NHL labor negotiations.

The Bears had a lot of fun in this one.  Cutler was penalized for taunting.  And (tee-hee!) he deserved it.

The Bears blocked a field goal.  So did the Vikings, of course, but the Bears did it first which just proves that not only are the Vikings mediocre but also garishly unoriginal.

The Bears also, just to be funky and all about what you don’t think they’re all about, faked an extra point in the second quarter and had punter Adam Podlesh run it in for a two-point conversion on a direct snap.  Perhaps the Bears did this as an apology to Adam for recently inviting some free agent punters to practice and allowing them to ask Adam where he parks his car.  Most punters don’t have friends.

This victory may be a costly one for the Bears because while Cutler left the game walking, breathing and talking just like Rory Calhoun, several of his teammates did not.  Spencer and the Bears other starting guard, Lance Louis, both left the game with injuries and receiver/returner Devin Hester, running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs all got hurt as well.  Oh yeah, and Ditka had a stroke two weeks ago.

So, the black, orange and blue Bears who, not so long ago, looked like a conquering army steamrolling dandelions and Gabberts, now instead proceed into winter resembling a bedraggled gang of malnourished tollbooth attendants dragging a groggy Billy Gardell into the shower.

This is November football.

For Chicagoans, the only thing better than watching the Bears win is buying tripe half-price.   The next best thing after that is watching the Green Bay Packers lose and the whole football nation witnessed that Sunday night as the Packers were brutalized by the New York Giants, 38-10, in New Jersey.  That means Aaron Rodgers and his mustache are now 7-4 and the Bears are one game ahead with the Seattle Seabiscuits coming to town.  Are the Bears back on the right track, or are they still just a missed block away from a memorial service and a winless December?

8-3.  The Bears are guaranteed of being officially no worse than so-so.  So-so ain’t so bad after two weeks of oh, no.  So-so knows the way to OK.  So-so feeds the bulldog.

 

Raiders 27, Vikings 21

The Oakland Raiders took their show on the road to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on the Minnesota Vikings.  The Raiders were coming off a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers and the Vikings suffered a 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half.  The Vikings set up shop at their own 32.  On the very first play of the game, a flag was thrown on the Vikings for a false start.  We’ll be seeing a lot more of those stupid flags as this article progresses.  The penalty gave the Vikings a first and 15 at the 27.  Two carries by running back Adrian Peterson and a completion to tight end Kyle Rudolph netted the Vikings 14 yards and they were forced to punt.  Punter Chris Kluwe got off a good one and the ball went out of bounds at the Raider 16.

The Raiders were still without running back Darren McFadden and that meant Michael Bush would once again get the start.  Some short runs by Bush and Marcel Reece and two completions to tight end Kevin Boss moved the Raiders to the 35.  That was as far as they would go as quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked on third down.  Punter Shane Lechler came on and punted the ball away.

The Vikings started their next drive at their 23.  On second and 11 from the 22, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder scrambled for ten yards to set up a third and one.  On third down, Ponder found fullback Ryan D’ Empirio for a gain of six and a first down at the 38.  Peterson was stuffed for a loss of seven on first down, but Ponder found wide receiver Percy Harvin for a gain of ten on second down to set up a third and seven at the 41.  On the next play, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly beat his man and sacked Ponder.  However, Kelly was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty that gave the Vikings a first down at the 48.  Kelly didn’t have much of a choice when it came to sacking Ponder.  He was behind him and grabbed the back of his jersey and threw him to the ground.  Still, the referee threw the flag.  From there, Ponder found Rudolph for a gain of two.  After that play, another flag was thrown.  This time, it was on linebacker Aaron Curry for a helmet to helmet hit.  My thinking on this penalty was that the referee thought Rudolph was a defenseless receiver.  He caught the pass and started to head up-field.  How does that make him defenseless?  That gave the Vikings 15 more free yards and the ball was moved to the Raider 35.  Percy Harvin got the call on first down and ran up the left side for a 35-yard touchdown.  But, another flag was thrown.  This time it was holding during the run on the Vikings.  That gave them a first and two at the 27.  Harvin was stopped for a loss of six and an incomplete pass to wide receiver Greg Camarillo gave the Vikings a third and eight from the 33.  Ponder connected again with Harvin for a gain of nine down to the 24.  After this play, another flag was thrown for a facemask penalty on safety Tyvon Branch.  After further review, the replay showed that Branch grabbed Harvin by the shoulder and threw him out of bounds.  That moved the ball down to the 12 and Peterson finished the drive with a 12-yard run right up the middle.  Kicker Ryan Longwell made the point after and the Vikings led 7-0 with a little over five minutes to go in the first quarter.

A 46-yard return by return man Taiwan Jones gave the Raiders the ball at their own 45.  A short run by Bush and an incomplete pass set up a third and eight.  On third down, Palmer found Bush for a gain of ten and a first down.  Next, Bush ran up the middle for nine more yards and Reece added 20 more.  That put the ball at the Viking 14.  But the Viking defense stiffened and the Raiders had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from kicker Sebastian Janikowski.  That made the score 7-3 with just under a minute to go in the first quarter.

The Vikings started their next drive at their own 20 and on first down, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant sacked Ponder and forced a fumble.  The ball would roll out of bounds for a loss of ten on the play.  On second down, Peterson ran up the middle for a gain of 12.  On this play, Peterson would injure his ankle and would not return to the game.  He was replaced by running back Toby Gerhart.  With Peterson out and facing a third and eight, Ponder decided to show his mobility and he ripped off a 28-yard run up the right side for a first down at the 50.  Ponder then found Harvin again for a gain of 24.  Short runs by Harvin and Gerhart gave the Vikings a third and five at the 23.  On third down, Ponder threw to the right side looking again for Harvin.  Instead, he found safety Matt Giordano at the five-yard line.  Giordano returned the ball to the Raider 47.

On first down, Palmer finally hooked up with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey for a nice 31-yard completion.  However, this play would not stand as left tackle Jarred Veldheer was flagged for holding.  But, on second and 21, Palmer found tight end Brandon Myers for a gain of 21.  Myers made a nice diving catch and that gave the Raiders a first down.  A gain of six by Bush and a defensive holding penalty gave the Raiders another first down at the 27.  Palmer then hooked up with wide receiver Denarius Moore for a gain of 14.  An incomplete pass and a short gain by Myers set up a third and eight at the 11.  Palmer looked to his right on third down and fired a pass in between two Viking defenders that was caught by wide receiver Chaz Schilens for an 11-yard touchdown.  Janikowski sent a knuckle ball through the uprights and the Raiders led 10-7 with nine minutes to go in the first half.

Viking return man Marcus Sherels returned the kick 35 yards to give the Vikings a first down at their 45.  A short run by Gerhart, a completion to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and a false start gave the Vikings a third and eight at the 47.  Ponder once again took off running and this time he ran for 17 yards up the right side to give the Vikings a first down at the Raider 36.  The Vikings got as far as the 31 and were forced to try a field goal.  On the field goal attempt, holder Chris Kluwe had the ball down, but Longwell did not attempt to kick it.  Tyvon Branch threw Kluwe backwards for a loss of 12.  That gave the Raiders the ball at their own 43.  On second and seven, Bush rumbled up the left side for a gain of 28 to move the ball to the Viking 26.  On third and eight from the 24, Palmer found Heyward-Bey for nine yards and a first down.  On second and nine, Reece caught a pass for a gain of 12 down to the two.  Bush finished the job from there with a two-yard touchdown run.  Janikowski made the point after and that gave the Raiders a 17-7 lead with a little over a minute to go in the half.

On the ensuing kickoff, return man Lorenzo Booker was hit hard by Brandon Myers and fumbled.  The ball was recovered by rookie cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.  That gave the Raiders excellent field position at the Viking 16.  A short run by Bush and an 11-yard catch by Boss set up a first and goal at the one with time ticking away.  Palmer tried to sneak it over the top on first down and was stopped for no gain.  Raider head coach Hue Jackson called the third timeout and with 12 seconds to go, Palmer once again went over the top.  This time, the ball crossed the goal line for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 24-7 at the end of the first half.

In the third quarter, both teams could do nothing with the ball.  It was a punt-fest until four minutes remained in the quarter.  On first down from his own 20, Ponder threw a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Jenkins.  The ball was tipped by cornerback Lito Sheppard and came down into the arms of  big Tommy Kelly.  He was brought down immediately, but the Raiders now had a chance to go up 31-7 and put the game away.  A completion to Boss and two more runs by Bush put the ball at the Viking 12 for a first down.  Bush got eight more, but a false start on offensive tackle Khalif Barnes moved the ball back five yards.  Bush was stuffed on the next play and Palmer couldn’t connect with Boss in the end zone on third down.  Janikowski was called on to make a 26-yard field and the kick was good.  It was now 27-7 with 51 seconds to go in the third quarter.

The Vikings took over at their own 32.  On third and six from the 36, Ponder hit wide receiver Devin Aromashodu for a gain of 42 down to the Raider 26.  On the very next play, Ponder found Harvin again and this time it was for a 26-yard touchdown.  Longwell made the point after and the score was now 27-14 with an entire quarter to play.

The Raiders started out at their own 36 and two more completions to Heyward-Bey moved the ball to the Viking 33.  A gain of three by Bush and a sack made it third and 12 from the 35.  Palmer found Heyward-Bey across the middle for a gain of four.  Heyward-Bey went down and did not get up.  As he was going down, Linebacker E.J. Henderson hit him in the back of his helmet and Heyward-Bey was taken off the field on a stretcher.  (After the game, it was reported that he was in a neck brace, but made the trip home with the team.)  That led to another field goal attempt by Janikowski.  This one was blocked and the Vikings had good field position at their own 40.

Three plays by the Vikings gained eight yards and they decided to go for it on fourth and two.  A pass intended for Jenkins was incomplete.  But, illegal contact was called on Lito Sheppard to give the Vikings a first down.  Again, Ponder showed his mobility and on first down, he ran up the left side for 17 yards down to the Raider 33.  Linebacker Rolando McClain was called for illegal contact on the play and that gave the Vikings five more yards.  On second and ten from the 28, Gerhart ran up the left side and was promptly met by three Raiders.  He was stopped for a loss, but a fourth Raider decided to get in on the act as Desmond Bryant dove on top of Gerhart when he was already down.  Guess what happened next?  A flag was thrown.  Who do you think the penalty was on?  You guessed it.  The penalty was on the Raiders for unnecessary roughness.  If you’re scoring at home, that was the fourth personal foul on the Raiders in this game.  That gave the Vikings a first down at the 15.  On the next play, Ponder was sacked for no gain.  However, another flag was thrown.  This time it was on safety Michael Mitchell for defensive holding.  Hue Jackson looked like he wanted to kill someone.  I’m sure I did too.  A gain of four by Gerhart and a one-yard pass to Harvin gave the Vikings a third and five at the five.  Ponder threw to his right looking for Aromashodu.  But, he found cornerback Stanford Routt instead.  Routt picked off the ball in the end zone, got two feet down and went out of bounds.

That was just what the Raiders needed and with eight minutes to go, they could turn the ball over to Michael Bush and run some time off the clock.  Starting from their own 20, Bush ran the ball three straight times for 24 yards.  But, on his fourth carry, Bush fumbled the ball away and it was recovered by defensive end Brian Robison.

Ponder and the offense took over at the Raider 38 and he wasted no time as he fired a strike between two defenders across the middle to Shiancoe for a gain of 37.  From the one, he found Rudolph for a one-yard touchdown.  Longwell made the point after and it was now 27-21 with five minutes to go.

So, with five minutes to go and their 20 point lead now cut to six, the Raiders still had some work to do.  They would have to start from their own nine after a holding call on the kickoff return.  A run by Reece for 13 and two penalties on the Vikings put the ball at the Raider 33.  On third down from the 39, Palmer had time, but couldn’t find an open receiver.  He was sacked for a loss of nine by E.J. Henderson.  Lechler punted the ball away and the Vikings had the ball at their own 29 with three minutes to go and one timeout remaining.

Ponder took to the air right away and on second down, he hooked up with Jenkins for a gain of 15.  From the 44, Ponder found Jenkins again for a short gain.  On second down, a pass intended for Aromashodu fell incomplete.  On third down, Tommy Kelly sacked Ponder for no gain.  So, with two minutes to go and with a fourth and eight, Ponder went looking for Harvin.  The pass was knocked away by Tyvon Branch and the Raiders took over with 1:52 to go.  Bush ran for four yards on first down and the Vikings called their final timeout.  Bush was stopped for minimal gains on second and third down and that led to another punt by Lechler with 13 seconds remaining. Two things on this play confused me.  The first thing was why wasn’t the ball punted out of bounds or through the end zone?  The Raiders have allowed two punt returns for touchdowns this season.    The second thing that confused me was when Marcus Sherels fielded the punt, why did he run all the way across the field on the return?  He should have called a fair catch.  Granted, he got 12 yards, but he let some precious seconds tick off the clock during the return.

That gave the Vikings one last chance to score with two seconds on the clock.  From his own 23,  Ponder found Jenkins at the 35.  Jenkins tried to lateral it to Gerhart, but the ball popped loose and was recovered by Aaron Curry to give the Raiders a 27-21 win.  The win gave the Raiders a six and four record and they remained in first place in the AFC West.  The loss dropped the Vikings to two and eight.

Carson Palmer had an efficient game and completed 17 of 23 for 164 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a one-yard touchdown run.  He was sacked four times, but he looked comfortable out there and didn’t force any bad throws.  Darrius Heyward-Bey led the team with four catches for 43 yards.  Michael Bush had 30 carries again this week and he rushed for 109 yards, one touchdown and had one costly fumble.  He also had 20 yards receiving.  Another valuable member of this team is fullback Marcel Reece.  Reece had six carries for 45 yards and 16 yards receiving.  Altogether, the Raiders had 162 yards rushing.

For the Vikings, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder completed 19 of 33 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and he was picked off three times.  He also added 71 yards rushing on five carries.  With Adrian Peterson leaving due to an injury, Ponder was the leading rusher for the Vikings.  Before leaving the game, Peterson had six carries for 26 yards and a touchdown.  Altogether the Vikings rushed for 124 yards.  Percy Harvin was the leading receiver with six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.  He also had 21 yards rushing.

After the game, Raider head coach Hue Jackson was glad his team won, but he was very unhappy with the officiating and thought that the calls were very one sided.  The Raiders were flagged 12 times for 117 yards and the Vikings were flagged nine times for 50 yards.  Jackson says he is going to bring this to the attention of the league and wants the referees to call the games fairly.  Hue, I wish you all the luck in the world.  Previous head coaches have tried to do the same thing and it has fallen on deaf ears.  When Jon Gruden was the head coach, he was documenting all the penalties called against the Raiders.  He made a tape of them and brought it to the league office.  Nothing was done about it.  Those silver and black uniforms are magnets for yellow flags and they always have been.  It’s just something that Jackson is going to have to deal with.  For his sake and the sake of the team and the fans, I hope things improve, but I have my doubts.  Still, he’ll probably be fined for his comments too.

I like the fact that the Raiders came away with a win despite all those penalties.  What I didn’t like was they let the Vikings back in the game.  The normally loud crowd at the Metrodome was totally out of it by halftime.  But, a win is a win and I’ll take it.  The next game on the schedule for the Raiders is a home game against the Chicago Bears.  The Bears will be without quarterback Jay Cutler, but they are still a very dangerous team.  Running back Matt Forte is the leader of a solid offense and not only is he a good rusher, he is a very dangerous receiver.  Add return man Devin Hester and speedy wide receiver Johnny Knox and the Raider defense and special teams will have their hands full.  The Bear defense also does a great job at forcing turnovers and they’ll be looking to get to Palmer.  Maybe we’ll finally see Darren McFadden active again and hopefully wide receiver Jacoby Ford will be back too.  Time will tell.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

 

Goodbye Vikings, Hello London

Life for an NFL player is pretty good.  Take the members of the Chicago Bears – they beat the purple off the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football and what do they get for groin-kicking one of the league’s worst teams?  An all-expense paid trip to London!

We ordinary mortals get rewarded for doing what we’re supposed to do by simply being allowed to keep our jobs –most of the time – but NFL players are rewarded with foreign trips, contract extensions and even the occasional giggle from Suzy Kolber.  Remind me to be reincarnated with 4.4 speed.

The Bears, like most teams, were good against the Vikes compiling a 39-10 triumph over the nit-wit Norsemen at Soldier Field to improve to 3-3 and stay within a snowball’s throw of the 6-0 Green Bay Packers and 5-1 Detroit Jim Schwartzes in the NFC North.  It was a nice outing for Jay Cutler who threw for 267 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, was only sacked once and didn’t need any help finding his teeth or testicles before the postgame press conference.  The 1-5 Vikings are not good, not good, not good but they do have a talented pass rush and the Bears, with Lance Louis inserted at right tackle and Chris Spencer at right guard, did a good job of protecting Jay and opening holes for Matt Forte who put together 123 total yards and 35 more requests for a new contract.

And then there’s the man who deserves his own bubble gum card, rock opera, red Cadillac and small moon: Devin Hester.  Mister Hester, if you haven’t heard – and that probably means you play or coach for the Vikings – is quite adroit when it comes to catching the football on kickoffs and punts and took one such offering from the purple turf eaters 98 yards for a score.  Hester now has 16 career returns for touchdowns and will certainly receive at least as many votes in the next Republican straw poll.  Memo to the world: unless you’re a Rockette, don’t kick at Devin Hester.

The Bears also had a new look at safety with rookie Chris Conte – whose grandfather is the actor Richard Conte who got gunned down in “The Godfather” and that means don’t mess with this kid – getting the start alongside second-year fella Major Wright.  Messrs. Conte and Wright weren’t tested all too much by Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb who, by this time next year, will be selling McNabb Burgers instead of throwing passes – but give the young men credit for flying to the ball and helping hold Adrian Peterson to just 39 yards rushing.  Is this the time to mention that Peterson is making $14.3 million per season and Forte is making $600,000?

So now the Bears are off to England for a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hopefully a kiss from Pippa Middleton.  This will be Chicago’s first game on foreign turf since last season when they took their troubles to Toronto and squeezed out a 22-19 decision over the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills were bad way back then but this is 2011 and the Bucs are good.  Tampa returns to the motherland with a 4-2 mark and fresh off a 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints.  Of course, just the week before the Buccaneers got throat-punched by the suddenly sassy 49ers, 48-3 in San Francisco, so it’s unclear which Tampa team will be eating crumpets and avoiding dentists next Sunday.

And we also have no idea how the Bears will play.  Or do we?  Chicago is basically in a pattern this year of beating poor or so-so teams – Falcons, Panthers, Vikings  – and losing to good ones – Saints, Packers, Lions.  So that would mean the Muggles of the Midway will likely get their passports punched with a loss.  But the Bears have only given up one sack in two of the past three games and are facing a Tampa team that is just 25th in defense, 15th in offense and will likely be without running back LeGarrette Blount.  The Bucs do have Earnest “I’m very old” Graham who ran for 109 yards against the Saints but otherwise don’t seem to have much of an offensive threat.  So it’s not crazy to think the Bears can beat the Bucs, improve to 4-3, rest up on their bye week, and then go to Philadelphia to pluck the flightless Eagles and enter the halfway point 5-3.

Could it be?

The Bears know that it pretty much has to be.  There are ten games left in the season but it’s already looking next to impossible to catch the Packers, and the Detroit Jim Harbaugh Haters won’t be easy to tackle either.  And having already lost to the Saints, the Bears cannot afford another NFC defeat.  So this game Sunday could be a win and really they’re all starting to feel like a must-win.  Hopefully they put on a jolly good show across the water but Bears fans will simply settle for a plain old points advantage.

And, win or lose, I suggest Lovie Smith take his Bears to visit the gravesite of Benny Hill.  Because football, you see, is just a game.  And sometimes you have to laugh even if you lose.