Houston, the Vikings Have A Problem

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings wrote the latest chapter in their storied history of kicking Skoldiers squarely in the teeth, falling to the previously 3-8 Chicago Bears 12-10 inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday Night Football. We’ve seen this movie seemingly every fall over the past 40-plus years. The Vikings have an uncanny ability to lure its diehard fanbase into diving headfirst into the warm pool of belief. Juuuuuuuust when we think this team has all the makings of something special, a reminder that we’re holding out for the Minnesota Vikings freezes our hearts like a plunge into Lake Superior in February.

After becoming arguably the biggest story in sports less than two weeks ago, The Passtronaut saga has officially reached the Houston, We Have a Problem phase. Despite throwing a touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson that put the Vikings up 10-9 late in the fourth quarter, Josh Dobbs looked downright unplayable en route to throwing four interceptions. It’s worth mentioning that the Bears dropped additional opportunities for interceptions from Dobbs, including a potential pick-six in the first half by Chicago cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Entering Week 12, the Bears ranked 26th in the NFL in pass defense this season. Make no mistake about it, Chicago’s defense can be had through the air. But for the second time this season, head coach Matt Eberflus and his Bears defense had all the answers for Minnesota’s short-handed offense. Kevin O’Connell‘s Vikings offense averaged 11 points and 231 yards in two games against the Bears in 2023. Minnesota entered Monday night averaging 26 points and 379 yards of offense in the three games since Kirk Cousins went down. Divisional games in the NFL have a propensity to get weird. Still, this sort of production (or lack thereof) against a downtrodden Bears team is difficult to rationalize, regardless of the absence of Cousins and Justin Jefferson.

Despite sleepwalking their way through three and a half quarters, the Vikings had the victory in hand. Clinging to a 10-9 lead, Josh Metellus forced a Justin Fields fumble that Anthony Barr recovered with just over three minutes remaining on the clock. Facing a first-and-10 from Chicago’s 43-yard line, all the offense had to do was pick up a first down, and the Vikings would survive this nationally televised eyesore. Let’s not forget a coach who constantly preaches Be at your best when your best is required runs this a ball club.

Suffice it to say, this situation required everyone’s collective best. However, all three phases of the Vikings ultimately responded to these critical three minutes and change by failing to seize the moment.

Even though the offense had just punched it in for the first time all game on the previous drive, it’s mighty tough to bang the aggressive drum when your quarterback is playing that poorly for the vast majority of the game. O’Connell’s play-calling on Minnesota’s ensuing offensive drive reflected that lack of faith in a quarterback who simply didn’t perform at a professional level on this particular night. The Bears used their final two timeouts and forced the Vikings to punt after going three-and-out.

Instead of pinning the struggling Chicago offense deep into their own territory with a little more than two minutes remaining and without any timeouts, Ryan Wright‘s shanked punt of 26 yards went out of bounds at the Bears’ 22-yard line. That gave Fields and his offense ample space and time to get into field goal range.

It’s nearly impossible to be critical of Brian Flores’ defense. For the second-straight week, the offense forced them to overcome recurring turnover woes from their offensive counterparts. And they answered the call repeatedly on Monday night by generating stops, forcing multiple turnovers of their own, and holding Chicago to field goals. But for the second consecutive week, when their absolute best was required most, this defense gave up a lead in the final minute of a game that was seemingly in hand.

Should Flo’s defense have even been tasked with forcing another stop after generating the Fields turnover with three minutes and change remaining? Absolutely not. Would a halfway decently executed coffin corner punt from Wright have helped Minnesota’s defense in this particular situation? You can bet your bottom dollar.

Only a fool would attempt to pin the Vikings’ second-straight loss on the defense. But the defense wasn’t there to save the day when the offense and special teams let the team down in critical spots over the final minutes on Monday night.

So where does this team go following the Week 13 bye? When asked about whether he’d consider making a change at quarterback in the postgame press conference, O’Connell didn’t shoot it down.

Sure, Dobbs Mania was a blast and had locals (along with the rest of the league) in a frenzy over the past few weeks. But a stinker of that magnitude against one of the worst teams in the NFL almost assuredly leaves the door open for O’Connell to make the call to his bullpen of quarterbacks and tell QBs coach Chris O’Hara to have Nick Mullens and/or Jaren Hall start warming up for Week 14 at Las Vegas. Because even though the extending of plays and seldom-seen-around-here scrambles are a hoot, this offense ultimately can’t function without a quarterback who can consistently stand in the pocket and make the necessary throws to Jefferson, Hockenson, and Jordan Addison.

Was Monday night’s stinker just a nationally televised outlier for Dobbs? Let’s face it, every quarterback in the NFL is prone to the occasional dud. Or has The Passtronaut reached his ceiling with this offense? Regardless of where the answer lies, there will be no shortage of soul-searching and self-scouting from O’Connell and his staff at TCO Performance Center over the bye.

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