CHICAGO - Go ahead. Pick the image from Sunday night that best symbolizes the Vikings' continued 2011 woes.
Maybe it was quarterback Donovan McNabb lying face down in his own end zone late in the first quarter, sacked by Chicago rookie Stephen Paea for a safety.
Or perhaps it was punter Chris Kluwe jogging to the sideline midway through the second quarter, miffed by a botched punt that traveled all of 18 yards and set up an effortless 33-yard Bears touchdown drive.
Then again, there was star running back Adrian Peterson stomping his foot in frustration and ripping off his helmet shortly before halftime. That outburst was triggered by a false-start penalty by receiver Michael Jenkins, an error that prevented the Vikings from attempting a fourth-and-3 play from the Chicago 15.
And, by the way, on the next snap Ryan Longwell yanked a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Yep, that's how a potentially promising road trip resulted in a startling 39-10 loss at Soldier Field, with the Vikings' persistent vows that they're close to turning a corner now seeming more hollow than ever.
A turnaround sure doesn't seem likely. Not for a group that was outhustled, outcoached and outplayed on a prime-time stage Sunday.
"It's humiliating," defensive end Brian Robison said. "It's the only word I can think of right now. It's simply humiliating."
"Embarrassing," cornerback Asher Allen said. "After the way we played last week and to have the progress we thought we were making, this came out of nowhere."
On the bright side for the most disgruntled Vikings fans, things got so lopsided that rookie quarterback Christian Ponder saw his first NFL action in the fourth quarter. Ponder (9-for-17, 99 yards) was predictably energetic and erratic against a bored Bears defense and in front of a stadium that was two-thirds empty.
But whether he will now become the starter remains to be seen.
McNabb said he "absolutely" expects to start next week against Green Bay.
Head coach Leslie Frazier was less definitive.
"We'll sit down Monday and talk about a lot of things," he said. "Find out what direction we're going to go."
If the Vikings enjoyed a dream first quarter in their Week 5 win over Arizona, scoring 28 points in a 7-minute barrage, Sunday's start was nightmarish. With 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first quarter, the Bears had seven first downs and 16 points. The Vikings had 3 total yards.
The Vikings didn't pick up a first down until 2:49 remained in the opening quarter. By that point the game already seemed to be a Bears runaway.
So much talk throughout last week centered around the Bears' shaky offensive line and the potential for the Vikings' fierce defensive line to batter Jay Cutler. Yet Cutler (21-for-31, 267 yards, two touchdowns) spent most of the night upright, sacked just once while McNabb was taken down five times.
On Chicago's opening series, Cutler used play action to hit Devin Hester for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The tone was set.
Later in the quarter, the Paea safety and a 3-yard scoring run by Marion Barber helped the Bears pad their lead.
Even when the Vikings had success, it proved frustrating. Their longest play of the first half was a 30-yard play-action completion from McNabb to Bernard Berrian. But Berrian had gained eye-opening separation, and had McNabb thrown the ball earlier or led Berrian more, it could have been a touchdown.
McNabb completed five consecutive passes on that drive, taking the Vikings down to the Chicago 16. But then came a head-scratching sequence -- a Toby Gerhart run for 3 yards, followed by a screen to Gerhart for 3 more, followed by a gimmicky 1-yard run by backup quarterback Joe Webb.
Then came the Jenkins false start, and the Longwell shank.
Just like that, Chicago enjoyed a comfortable 26-3 halftime advantage. At home. Against a Vikings squad that doesn't have the firepower to generate much momentum.
Even when the Vikings finally reached the end zone, with Peterson scoring on a 4-yard run early in the third, that score was quickly offset as Hester took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to the end zone.
Bears 33, Vikings 10. Game over.
"You feel like we're getting ready to come," Frazier said.
Added McNabb: "The energy felt like it was on our sideline. We had been in that situation on the other side for two or three weeks where teams came back on us in the second half. So we felt like this could work for us."
It didn't. The frustration continues.
Dan Wiederer • firstname.lastname@example.org