CHICAGO – Latavius Murray followed a gaping hole for an 8-yard gain, setting up what looked like a strong start to the Vikings rushing attack without the explosive Dalvin Cook.
But Murray’s first carry as the Vikings’ starter against the Bears would be his longest of the game Monday night. Still, the Vikings managed to control the game on the ground thanks to Jerick McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown run and the Vikings defense’s stout play to limit Bears backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
The Vikings outgained the Bears 159-115 in rushing yards. McKinnon, who led the way with 95 rushing yards, was a big factor on the ground and as a receiver.
“It was nice to see the run game keep going,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Vikings offense plodded with starting quarterback Sam Bradford, finding a spark only when a clearly hobbled Bradford was pulled for backup quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum led a 13-play touchdown drive out of halftime before McKinnon’s burst led to another touchdown in the third quarter.
Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky didn’t get much help from his 1-2 punch in the backfield. The Vikings focused on stopping the run, led by Howard, who racked up 288 rushing yards in two games last season against Minnesota.
“When you play Chicago, you’ve got to stop the run,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “A big key for us this week was stopping the run, putting them in passing situations.”
They succeeded as Howard was limited to just 28 yards at halftime (finished with 76 rushing yards). The Vikings also stymied Cohen, the Bears’ shifty receiving back who totaled 12 yards on seven touches.
Linebacker Anthony Barr made one of the defense’s most impressive plays with a shoestring tackle on Cohen in the backfield to force a third-and-12 and eventual Bears punt.
Duck, Duck, Gray Duck
A struggling Vikings offense found some levity after Keenum led the 75-yard scoring drive in the third quarter, ending in a touchdown catch from tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings offense then sat in a circle around Rudolph in the end zone. Rudolph proceeded to play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (or Duck, Duck, Goose if you’re not from Minnesota) as a group celebration.
The NFL is allowing group celebrations again after an offseason rule change.
Trubisky steers clear
In his first start, Trubisky continually looked away from Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was not targeted in the first half Monday night.
Rhodes, the Vikings’ top cornerback, stayed on his right side of the field after he had previously shadowed an opponent’s receiver each of the first four games.
So whichever Bears receiver Rhodes faced was essentially taken out of the play by Trubisky’s unwillingness to target him.
The Bears converted one third down through the air when receiver Kendall Wright beat cornerback Terence Newman for an 8-yard grab.
The Vikings felt the absence of safety Jayron Kearse, a reserve defensive player who has grown into a strong special teams contributor. Cornerback Tramaine Brock jumped into the punt teams and overran Bears returner Cohen, who picked up 14 yards on his first return.
Brock was then flagged for holding while blocking on a punt return, setting the Vikings offense back to its own 10-yard line. Bradford was sacked three plays later for a safety.
Kearse was inactive because of a groin injury suffered in practice last week.
Special teams woes
Special teams errors continued for the Vikings when Bears punter Pat O’Donnell found a wide-open Benny Cunningham for a 38-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Cunningham dodged tackle attempts from cornerback Marcus Sherels and defensive end Everson Griffen on the scoring play.
Running back Stevan Ridley’s stay with the Vikings lasted five days. The veteran was released Monday to make room for receiver Michael Floyd on the 53-man roster.
The Vikings had signed Ridley, a former Patriots running back, for depth last week after Cook was placed on injured reserve.