CHICAGO – The Vikings were trailing 2-0 and had 29 yards in 28 minutes when a star on the other side of the ball appeared to have had enough of this boring slogfest at Soldier Field.
With one of the quickest jumps you’ll ever see at the snap of a ball, right end Everson Griffen rocketed toward Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr.
“I do that all the time,” Griffen said Monday after the Vikings escaped with a 20-17 win. “I watch the ball and I’m really quick when I see it move.”
Poor Chuck. He looked more like Jay Leno after he’s had a few. Griffen blew past the teetering, off-balance four-year veteran for his sixth sack of the season.
And poor rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Making his NFL starting debut, Trubisky also had no chance. His first career sack separated him from the ball, allowing nose tackle Linval Joseph to fall on it at the Chicago 13-yard line with 2:28 left in the first half.
Four snaps later, Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 3-2 halftime lead.
“We came up big when we needed to,” Griffen said. “That got us going. Then, at the end of the game, Harrison Smith gets the interception to set up the winning field goal.”
Smith’s interception came with 2:32 left in the game. Seven plays later, another Forbath 26-yard field goal gave the Vikings the victory.
“The difference in the game,” said Bears coach John Fox, “was the two turnovers.”
Smith’s essentially won the game. But it was Griffen’s strip sack that woke this team from its lengthy slumber to start the game.
With starting quarterback Sam Bradford clearly not ready to return from his left knee injury, the Vikings’ first five possessions went like this: three-and-out; three-and-out; a safety when Bradford held the ball too long in the end zone; punt; punt.
Before the Vikings’ fourth punt, Bradford suffered the third of his four sacks. The Bears had the momentum and the ball.
But Griffen changed that on the first snap of the ensuing possession.
“Everson has such great reaction time at the snap of the ball,” said left end Brian Robison, who was on the field when Griffen got around Leno, reached out his right hand and stripped the ball.
“A lot of times, the officials think he’s offsides when he’s not. That’s how quick and fast he is.”
Plays like this are why reporters encircled Griffen in Mankato back on July 26. That was the day the Vikings made Griffen the league’s fourth-highest-paid defensive end and the Vikings’ third-highest paid player behind Bradford and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. His contract extension was worth $58 million with an average yearly salary of $14.5 million.
Griffen’s great jump almost worked against the Vikings early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-2 from the Vikings 36-yard line, Griffen jumped quick again.
Only this time, the officials threw a flag for offsides. First down, Bears.
“I wasn’t offsides on that one,” Griffen insisted. “I watch the ball, man. When that ball moves, I’m gone. So I know I wasn’t offsides.”
Not long after Griffen’s first-half strip sack, it became obvious that Bradford shouldn’t have been on the field. Two snaps after Griffen got the ball back for the offense, Bradford was sacked again when he simply couldn’t move in the pocket.
Bradford lasted only one more snap before being replaced by Case Keenum for the rest of the game. But the stat book will say that Bradford put up three points.
Of course, his critical scoring “drive” went only 5 yards in four plays. But all that matters is Griffen put the offense in a spot where even Bradford’s lame leg couldn’t prevent scoring three points.
“That was one of the plays of the game,” Robison said. “That’s what Everson does. When the defense needed to make a play, it made some plays.”