CHICAGO - Jay Cutler scrambled left and found no one open so he reversed course. The busted play stayed alive so long that Cutler had enough time to make himself a ham sandwich in the pocket. Maybe even take a few bites.
Finally, he spotted Brandon Marshall shielding Antoine Winfield in the end zone and let 'er fly.
"It was a tough situation, me being 5-9 and Brandon about 6-5," Winfield said. "I was just trying to get close to him and put my body on his. He was holding me off and at the last second the ref said he saw me grab his arm when the ball got there."
Pass interference. Winfield disputed the bang-bang call, but that play late in the first half summed up the Vikings' defensive performance Sunday in a dispirited 28-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Cutler had all kinds of time behind a makeshift offensive line, he locked in on his favorite target, and the Vikings failed to make a play to change momentum.
The pass interference penalty set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Bush, and the 14-play scoring drive gave the Bears some breathing room and sucked the life out of the Vikings sideline.
The outcome was never in doubt thereafter.
The mess the Vikings made Sunday at Soldier Field was particularly alarming because they looked sloppy and lethargic coming off their bye on the road against a division opponent. This was a collective failure, too. Offense, defense, special teams and coaching. Just a real dud, which is now seemingly an annual occurrence in the Windy City.
"I tell you what, this is becoming déjà vu up here," Jared Allen said. "It's the same script. Just another year. We've got to fix something."
How about the defense, for starters? Wasn't this supposed to be another blood bath for the beleaguered Bears offensive line? You know, the unit that gave up six sacks and a zillion quarterback pressures in a feeding frenzy by the San Francisco 49ers last week.
The Bears benched two starting offensive linemen in the aftermath and then lost two linemen to injuries Sunday, forcing Cutler to operate behind a patchwork unit in his first game back from a concussion. The result? Cutler was sacked one time, and that "sack" came on the Bears' second play when he tripped over his center's shoe.
Cutler had complete control over the game and game plan, and the Vikings offered little resistance when it mattered most. The Bears converted 10 of 14 third-down opportunities through three quarters. They also pieced together three drives that lasted at least 10 plays and lapped the Vikings in time of possession by exactly 15 minutes -- or an entire quarter.
"That's ugly," Winfield said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance."
Give Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice some credit, too. Tice adjusted his game plan and provided his linemen more help from tight ends after exposing his tackles unnecessarily against the 49ers. It also helps having Cutler and his quick trigger and improvisational skills. The Vikings saw a full menu of quick passes, rollouts and max-protection schemes after the Bears linemen looked like human turnstiles against the 49ers.
"They weren't going to come in here and let their line get massacred again like last week," defensive tackler Kevin Williams said.
Or like last season when Allen massacred Chicago left tackle J'Marcus Webb to the tune of 3 1/2 sacks in the 2011 finale. Allen was credited with only one quarterback hit Sunday and lamented his lack of 1-on-1 opportunities, although it's not as if he had none.
"You're not going to sit back there in five-man protection and let people rush, especially with Jay coming off a head injury," Allen said.
Even so, the Vikings didn't come close to dominating the line of scrimmage. They didn't dictate anything. They couldn't get off the field on third down.
Bush and Matt Forte managed enough productivity on the ground (102 yards combined) to keep them honest. And Marshall carved up the Vikings pass defense with 12 catches for 92 yards. Cutler targeted Marshall 17 times -- more than the rest of his receiving corps combined.
"We know No. 15 is going to get the ball every time we play," Winfield said. "Every time you turn on the film the ball is going to him."
And yet they still couldn't stop it. That pretty much says it all.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org