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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings’ swagger is long gone after embarrassing performance against Bears

By Judd Zulgad

Three weeks ago, the Vikings cruised to an 18-point victory over the Houston Texans to enter their bye week sitting atop the NFC North with a 5-0 record and carrying the swagger of a team that appeared to be perhaps the best in its conference.

As the Vikings departed Soldier Field late Monday night, following an embarrassing 20-10 loss to the lowly Chicago Bears, coach Mike Zimmer and his team had to be wondering what has gone so wrong.

A 21-10 loss at Philadelphia a week ago Sunday was ugly, but the assumption was the Vikings would get back on track in Chicago. That did not come close to happening as the Vikings dropped their second in a row and put on a performance that was every bit as shocking and poor as their 20-3 loss to San Francisco on a Monday night in their 2015 opener.

In a postgame press conference that lasted about three minutes, Zimmer had little interest in attempting to explain what has gone wrong.

The scary thing is that there is one area where Zimmer really has no answer and that has become clear. In the victory over Houston, the offensive line, and especially left tackle T.J. Clemmings, struggled but Bradford was able to make quick throws and avoid taking too many hits.

That changed in the loss to the Eagles as Bradford held the ball longer and took substantial punishment (19 hits, six sacks) from a quality defensive line.

Chicago wasn’t supposed to have that same type of success against a Vikings offensive line that went with Jake Long at left tackle and Clemmings on the right side to open. The Bears, however, basically replicated what the Eagles had done and finished with five sacks and nine hits against a clearly skittish Bradford.

Not only is it clear Zimmer doesn’t know how to fix a line that has been beset by injuries – left guard Alex Boone departed in the second half because of a possible concussion — but he also has to realize there might be no way to fix it if the salary-cap strapped Vikings can’t swing some type of deal for a Joe Thomas or Joe Staley before the 3 p.m. trading deadline Tuesday.

With the current offensive line starting in front of Bradford, it’s only a matter of time before the veteran quarterback gets injured. And we haven’t even mentioned how pathetic the running game continues to look or question why when trailing by 17 points in the fourth quarter the Vikings moved down the field with zero sense of urgency.

At least when the Vikings lost to the Eagles, Zimmer could take solace in the fact that his defense had played well. Defense is his pride and joy and the last group that you would expect to let the head coach down.

Only that’s exactly what they did on Monday.

Chicago had 403 yards of total offense and converted 50 percent of its third-down opportunities (7-of-14). The Vikings were 2-for-13 on third down. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Bears’ yardage total was the most the Vikings have given up since Seattle had 433 yards in a 38-7 victory last December at TCF Bank Stadium.

Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard had a 69-yard run in the opening quarter that set up a Connor Barth field goal. Howard had 153 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 carries and caught four passes for 49 yards.

Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana, had 145 yards from scrimmage at halftime, the most by a Bears rookie in an opening half since 1981.

The Bears finished with 158 yards rushing on 29 carries, and Cutler was 20 of 31 for 252 yards with a touchdown and had a 100.5 passer rating. He also was sacked only once, giving the Vikings one sack in the past two games.

So what has happened in the past three weeks and two games that has caused the Vikings to lose their mojo?

“They were not confident,” Zimmer said of his team after Monday’s loss. “They got beat. Sometimes you get beat. The other team beat us tonight. We didn’t play good enough. They played better than we did. Simple as that.”

Only it’s not simple at all.

Zimmer needs to begin finding answers, and solutions, and he needs to do it on a short week. The Vikings will play host to the Lions on Sunday and another loss would pull Detroit (4-4) within a half-game of Minnesota in the NFC North. The Packers (4-3) also are in the thick of this race.

Zimmer also has to realize there’s no way the Vikings should have been handled that easily by a Bears team that had only one win in its first seven games. Losses like the one the Vikings suffered in Philadelphia might not be pretty but they happen. Losses like the one the Vikings suffered on Monday night are embarrassing.

In his first go-around as an NFL head coach, Zimmer has prided himself on how his team responds during periods of adversity and given what transpired at Soldier Field this certainly qualifies.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ swagger is long gone after embarrassing performance against Bears appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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