Sam Ekstrom gives his first reaction to Minnesota’s 21-19 loss to the Chicago Bears.
There was very little energy in U.S. Bank Stadium from the get-go leading up to Sunday’s meaningless game. The crowd was late to fill in, no individual starters were announced — nothing like the previous Monday’s game versus Green Bay. But hey, it can’t be easy to get fired up with virtually every star player sitting out. Danielle Hunter and Kyle Rudolph made brief starts simply to check the box (and possibly qualify for contract incentives). Virtually every significant contributor sat out the game except for nickel corner Mackensie Alexander, rotational corner Mike Hughes, base linebacker Eric Wilson and the interior offensive line.
For three quarters it looked like more of the uninspiring football from Monday night. Both teams settled for field goals and struggled to make explosive plays in the passing game, but Chicago moved the ball better while playing all its starters. David Montgomery powered across for a 14-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give Chicago a two-possession lead at 18-6.
But the Vikings battled back to give their fans one final quarter of excitement to end the regular season, scoring 13 unanswered points to take a brief lead. Ifeadi Odenigbo’s strip sack gave the Vikings the ball in Bears territory to set up the go-ahead field goal, but Chicago drove the field against Minnesota’s reserves and kicked a game-winning field goal with 10 seconds left.
While the Vikings and Bears battled on the field, the more relevant football game was going in at Ford Field in Detroit, where the Detroit Lions took an early 14-0 lead on the Green Bay Packers. With the Saints win over Carolina, a Packers loss would send the Vikings to Lambeau Field for a Wild Card matchup with the NFC North champs. At the time of publication, Green Bay was tied at 20 with the Lions late in the fourth quarter.
The tight game in Detroit stings for Vikings fans, considering that Minnesota could have been in the running for the division title had they beaten Green Bay last Monday.
UPS AND DOWNS FOR BOONE
Mike Boone was given a huge opportunity against the Packers on Monday to fill in for the injured Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, but he missed several cutback lanes and was eventually benched in the second half after totaling just 28 yards on the ground. It took him just one play to double that against the Bears with a 59-yard jolt on the game’s first play, but he promptly fumbled the ensuing pitch from backup quarterback Sean Mannion.
That characterized the day for Boone, who also dropped a pass that led to an interception and added a 41-yard run. It was a feast or famine kind of day for the third-string back, who’s looking to prove himself against better competition. The splash plays have never been a problem for Boone, but he’ll have to clean up the fundamentals going into Year 3, like reading blocks, handling pitches and being reliable in the passing game.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 29, 2019
Boone finished with 17 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown.
FEW CHANCES FOR MANNION
Sean Mannion was looking forward to getting his second career start on Sunday, but the Vikings didn’t give him much chance to showcase his arm against the Bears secondary. Perhaps recognizing that a starting Bears defense might overpower a patchwork Vikings offensive line, Mannion was only asked to drop back 21 times, completing 12. Without Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs at his disposable, Mannion leaned on Bisi Johnson and Alexander Hollins for five combined catches and 80 yards. He largely played mistake-free football despite being charged with a fumble and an interception, both of which were Boone’s fault. He was also picked on the game’s final Hail Mary heave.
Down by 12 in the third quarter, Mannion led a touchdown drive to pull the Vikings within five. That was their only touchdown, though, as Minnesota went 1 for 5 in the red zone and settled for four Dan Bailey field goals.
Mannion will certainly be on backup-quarterback market once again this offseason. Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins have spoken highly of Mannion’s work ethic and helpfulness for Cousins’ preparation, so a reunion could be possible.
The Vikings got a long look at their defensive backups Sunday, including a handful with expiring contracts.
-Alexander played through a minor knee injury to chew up cornerback snaps with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes getting the day off. Alexander has put together his most consistent season and faces free agency this offseason.
-Wilson was active once again at the linebacker position, recording a sack and a tackle for loss. His presence eased the loss of starter Ben Gedeon (concussion) and might have even offered an improvement in coverage. Wilson is a restricted free agent this offseason and should be affordably retained provided the Vikings tender him an offer.
-Stephen Weatherly recorded half a sack in the first half, giving him 2.5 this season. He will be a free agent this offseason and may have an uncertain future with the team after Odenigbo’s remarkable emergence could have elevated him past Weatherly on the depth chart. The Vikings won’t know what their defensive end group looks like until Everson Griffen makes a decision on his player option for next year.
-What about Andrew Sendejo? The longtime Vikings starter was relegated to a backup role this season upon his return from a stint in Philadelphia, but if the 32-year-old is at the point in his career where he’s content being a role player, the Vikings may want the veteran back, especially if Jayron Kearse moves on.
-Kearse has impressed numerous times when called upon this season. He almost single-handedly won the Broncos game in Week 11 with several pass breakups. But an October DUI means he’s due for a likely suspension, which could affect contract negotiations in the offseason. Kearse has insinuated on Twitter he won’t be back in Minnesota.