It’s too early to reach for the old “must-win” cliché, but the Vikings will head to Chicago on Monday night for a “should-win” division game that will lift them toward the Packers and Lions or sink them alongside the Bears.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they typically don’t do well even in “should-win” games at Soldier Field. In fact, their last “should-win” Monday nighter at Chicago was last year’s Halloween nightmare.
Bears 20, Vikings 10. That dropped the Vikings to 1-8 at Soldier Field since 2008.
“Just not playing well there, that’s the most common theme we’ve had in the six games I’ve played there,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Even the game we won [23-20 in 2015], you go back and look and essentially until the last drive of the game, we didn’t play that well.”
Monday’s game might see the return of quarterback Sam Bradford, who has missed the past three games because of a left knee injury. He returned to action Thursday, but he was limited in his first practice since Sept. 21.
“If he’s ready [by Monday] to play,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “he’ll play.”
The Vikings want to get Bradford back to full strength and avoid a recurring issue, as Zimmer alluded to Thursday when asked if the quarterback’s return is a matter of pain tolerance.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is,” Zimmer said. “But I’m hoping it’s not [an issue] throughout the season.”
Meanwhile, Case Keenum handled the usual midweek news conference set aside for the starting quarterback. So, Case, is this whole uncertainty thing at quarterback a distraction?
“If you guys keep asking, it’s kind of a distraction,” Keenum said. “No, it’s not a distraction. That’s part of the job.”
Either way, the Vikings will need to run the ball against a Bears defense that ranks sixth against the run. Latavius Murray will start for injured Dalvin Cook, but backup arrived Thursday when the team signed 28-year-old running back Stevan Ridley, whose six-year résumé includes a 1,263-yard season for the Patriots in 2012.
In Chicago, the Bears are facing big changes on both sides of the ball. Defensively, linebacker and leading tackler Danny Trevathan is serving a one-game suspension for his vicious hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams. Offensively, No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky will make his NFL debut as the starting quarterback.
Trubisky started only 13 games at North Carolina, but he completed 67.9 percent of his preseason passes with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106.2 passer rating.
Bears coach John Fox said Trubisky has “exceeded expectations” when it comes to work ethic and understanding of the game.
“I think he’s ready,” Fox said. “We’ll find out Monday night.”
With Mike Glennon at quarterback, the Bears fell to last in the league in turnover ratio (minus-7). They have only three takeaways, but that’s nothing new in Chicago.
The Bears set the franchise mark for fewest takeaways in 2015 (14) and last year (11). Last year’s total tied the NFL mark.
“I don’t think we look at [Chicago’s takeaways] because we’re trying to protect the ball no matter what,” Keenum said. “I think it’s pretty much the same every week.”
Defensively, the Vikings will try to contain running backs Jordan Howard, who ran for 153 yards against them last Halloween, along with rookie phenom Tarik Cohen … and an offense that Zimmer believes gets away with holding.
“The receivers do a good job on the perimeter blocking, holding, grabbing,” Zimmer said. “The offensive line does the same thing. So we can’t allow them to hold us and grab us the way they’ve been doing. Tackling us.”
The Vikings entered Week 5 as one of 13 2-2 teams in the NFL. They are one of six teams that have alternated wins and losses each week.
Zimmer said he admires the teams that approach each week the same “whether they win 50-0 or lose 50-0.” He tries to set that tone, but admits he needs captains Bradford, Everson Griffen, Terence Newman, Riley Reiff, Brian Robison and Kyle Rudolph to help him adhere to it.
“I’m probably as moody as anybody, so they help me sometimes,” Zimmer said. “[Being] around the guys … it rejuvenates you. It lifts your spirits and you just go on to the next game.”