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The Morning After: Five Observations From The Vikings 31-30 Loss In Chicago


Photo – Getty Images

By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
@AjKFAN

Minneapolis, MN – The bitter taste of defeat. It’s an all too familiar taste here in Minnesota, especially when the Vikings play against the Bears at Soldier Field. Sunday afternoon saw the Vikings drop their 11th of their last 12 games in Chicago. Still, this one on Sunday is going to sting for a while.

Smiles littered the Vikings sidelines as Blair Walsh kicked the Vikings to a 30-24 lead with 3:17 second left in the game. Despite not finding the endzone in the second-half, Christian Ponder and the offense bounced back in the third and fourth quarters and the defense had held the Bears scoreless through the first 27 minutes of the final half. But 3:17 proved to be too much time to give Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears who marched down the field and into the endzone for the win (CLICK HERE for the full game recap).

At the end of the day, it was an improved but still flawed Minnesota Vikings group that fell 31-30 on Sunday. Here are five things that stuck out on Sunday afternoon.

Christian Ponder doing just enough to keep his job…
For the second straight week, it was a rough first half for Christian Ponder. Through two weeks, Ponder’s first half statistics through two games pin him at 12-for-23 (52%) passing for 184 yards, 1TD and 3INT (65.7 passer rating at half in week one and a 56.0 rating in week two). But there was a difference in week two. Ponder bounced back and came to play a little bit in the second-half.

Although they couldn’t crack the goal line in the second half, the Vikings offense was rolling a little bit in the second half. The second-half saw Ponder throw 10-for-16 for 146 yards, still not great but by standards here, it looked like he belonged.

The leash on Ponder remains taught as the Vikings head into week three against the Cleveland Browns. Common thought remains that Ponder will be under the helm through Minnesota’s week four match up with the Steelers in London. If he continues to post these type of mediocre starts (63.1 rating in week one, 75.3 in week two) it may only be a matter of time before we see a Bye Week switch with Matt Cassel taking over at quarterback.

Rookie punter Jeff Locke figures it out in his second NFL start…
Given their track record with the Blair Walsh situation a year ago, there was no reason not to believe Mike Priefer, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman’s decision during the offseason when they drafted Locke in the fifth round and released veteran punter Chris Kluwe. With Kluwe still available (free agent who was cut by Oakland), Locke went out for his first NFL game in Detroit last week and completely laid and egg.

With five punts with an average distance of 42.2 yards in week one, Locke and the Vikings saw a net distance of 34.8 and lost the field position game all day long against Detroit. Sunday was different.

Watching Locke on Sunday, you never would have guessed that it was only his second NFL start, that he was coming off one of the worst games in his punting career, or that he was punting the ball to one of the most dangerous return men in the history of the game. He was a completely different player Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

The Viking found a little more offensive success Sunday so Locke only had to punt three times, all of which came in the first-half. Those punts sailed for 54, 51 and 65 yards (56.7 yard average) and netted an average distance of 50 yards per kick. Of Locke’s three punts, two officially pinned the Bears within their own 20 yard line and the third would have if an odd rule hadn’t bumped it back out to the 20 yard line.

It was comforting to see the rookie punter bounce back after a rough performance in week one.

Matt Kalil says he’s healthy, bounces back against Julius Peppers…
The level of concern after Matt Kalil was dominated through the preseason and into week one against Detroit was certainly high. In total knee jerk reaction mode, questions began to surface surrounding Kalil’s health, a possible sophomore slump or his new weight distribution. All those questions were laid to rest Sunday afternoon as Matt Kalil dominated one of the best defensive ends in the league.

“Julius Peppers is still the best player I’ve ever played against,” Kalil told KFAN after the game on Sunday. “I thought I had a great game against him. I felt a lot healthier than I have the past few weeks. Mentally I feel a lot better. That was my first solid game of the season and I’ve just got to pick it up from there.”

Interesting note there from Kalil who inferred that he wasn’t 100% healthy the past few weeks even though he didn’t register the slightest blip on the Vikings injury report.

Whatever was hampering Kalil through the preseason and into week one appears to be gone. Kalil returned to the form that led him to the Pro Bowl and to being named an All-Pro in his rookie season a year ago.

Frazier blames himself for heartbreak loss…
It’s not exactly clear what Leslie Frazier did wrong during the Bears final touchdown drive Sunday afternoon but it is clear where he pinned the blame for the loss.

“This ball game comes back to me,” Frazier told KFAN after the game. “There were some things that I didn’t do right in those last two minutes that I should have handled a little bit differently and they should not hold their heads down at all.”

During his post game press conference Frazier seemed to be particularly keying in on the Bears’ final scoring play that saw Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett in the corner of the field and into the endzone for the win.

“That’s one where, hindsight being 20-20, I’d do something differently,” Frazier said. “We just have to do some things differently when we get in that situation.”

Week Two blunders are nothing new for the Vikings…
If Sunday’s week two heartbreak loss seemed familiar, that’s because it was.

Since 2007, Minnesota has lost six of seven Week 2 contests. In those defeats, they’ve lost by an average of three points (CLICK HERE for full blog).

The last time the Vikings started the season 0-2 including a heartbreaker in week two was 2011 when the Vikings started the season with back-to-back-to-back heartbreak losses and started the season 0-4. That year saw the Vikings suffer through a rough season on their way to a 3-13 record and the fourth overall selection in the 2012 draft (Matt Kalil).

Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN

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