Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Vikings (11.29.09)

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I know the Minnesota Vikings are one of, if not the best football team in the NFL, but the Bears’ performance Sunday against their division rival was even worse than the final score indicated.

From a bird’s eye view, the Bears had their best first quarter of the season — at least defensively — by holding the vaunted Vikings offense to zero points. Then they collapsed and allowed nemesis Brett Favre to shred them for nearly a career day.

The Bears also seemed to have things going offensively in the first half as Jay Cutler completed 14 of his first 16 passes, including a perfectly thrown 24-yard touchdown strike to Johnny Knox to tie the game at 7 in the second quarter. Then the Bears’ offense collapsed in the second half and recorded just two yards — yes, two yards — on 12 plays. I don’t care who you’re playing against, that’s inexcusable.

The keyword for the offense and defense is collapse, the same word that can be used to describe the Bears’ season.

Due to the Bears’ collapse, they allowed 537 yards to the Vikings, the highest single-game total they’ve given up since 1982.

I could nitpick and point out that Anthony Adams failed to report as an eligible player when lining up on offense as a fullback in a short-yardage situation early in the game. Never mind the fact that it was a brilliant idea to insert him in the first place because he’s a big, athletic body and using him to lead block on a run play right up the middle into the Williams Wall might have helped jumpstart a poor run game against a good run defense. If they can’t follow the rules, though, it doesn’t matter what the result of the play is — and the Bears came up short anyway.

Johnny Knox once again prematurely let go of the ball on a kickoff return. Only this time, it wasn’t just before he crossed the end zone for a touchdown, as he did against Detroit — back when the Bears were winning games earlier this season. It was after he was tackled but his body rolled on top of Vikings player and he gave up on the play assuming he was down. The result was a fumble and a change of possession.

Cutler underthrew Knox in the end zone and was intercepted for the first time to kill a drive in the second quarter. He was later picked off again when he forced a ball to Earl Bennett that was deflected into the air and caught by defensive end Jared Allen. In fairness to Cutler, Bennett appeared to be hit from behind before the ball got to him, but it wasn’t ruled pass interference, it was ruled an interception, Cutler’s league-leading 20th of the season.

The Bears’ defense held one of the NFL’s best running backs, Adrian Peterson, to just 85 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries — a 3.4 average. That would have been admirable if they didn’t neglect the future Hall of Fame quarterback and allow him to throw 392 yards and 3 touchdowns on 32 of 48 passing. Favre finished 10 yards short of his career high total for passing yards in a game.

Not only did the Bears get beat on the scoreboard, they got beaten physically. Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, and Orlando Pace all suffered injuries. It brought back shades of the Dallas game in 2007 when the Cowboys came into Soldier Field and were much tougher than the Bears, knocking several players out of the game.

The Bears have played soft defensively for more weeks than I can or care to remember. They’re too much a finesse team with not enough toughness.

The playoff talk has finally ended — mercifully — and we can now focus seeing which players on this roster are salvageable and which are dead weight. Listening to postgame Sunday night, I heard a reporter ask Lovie Smith if the “evaluation process” would begin and if younger players on the roster would see more opportunities to play. Lovie, as most coaches do, downplayed the question and said the Bears evaluate their roster every week and determine which players give them the best chance to win. It’s coach speak, but it holds a hidden message. If you recall, after the Bears were officially eliminated from playoff contention in 2007, they started Kyle Orton and he helped them defeat the Packers and Saints to close out the season.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see more of rookies Jarron Gilbert and D.J. Moore, and maybe we’ll see Juaquin Iglesias, but I’m sure the Bears would like to see more of Devin Aromashodu, who made a great diving catch against the Vikings. Although I doubt the Bears will make major changes on the offensive line, I would plan for the future and see what Chris Williams had at left tackle while inserting Kevin Shaffer or Frank Omiyale at right tackle. Omiyale figures to be in the Bears’ long term plans after signing a 4-year deal this off-season and he’s better suited to play tackle than guard.

The Bears have a chance to end their four-game losing streak this week when the 1-10 St. Louis Rams visit Soldier Field. The Rams have the third-fewest points scored with 130, just over 11 points per game. If the Bears can’t beat the lowly Rams this week, major changes can, should — and will — be made. The roster deserves an overhaul regardless of what happens during the remaining five games.

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