Eleven years ago, the Vikings were out of the playoff race when Bears coach Lovie Smith rested his playoff-bound starters in a meaningless game at the Metrodome.
The Vikings won 34-10 and Mike Tice got to say he left a winner at 9-7 when he was fired in the locker room after the game.
Five years ago, Lovie’s Bears were 8-7 and out of the playoff race when they closed the season at the Metrodome against Leslie Frazier’s 3-12 Vikings team. Jared Allen won — 3 1/2 sacks to set the franchise mark of 22 — but the Vikings lost 17-13 and Frazier will forever be lumped next to another Les — Steckel — and the infamous mark of 3-13 in 1984.
Sunday, the Bears and Vikings will play Game 3 of their meaningless season-ending series at U.S. Bank Stadium. Of course, it’s not meaningless to everyone.
If, for example, you’re a defensive-minded head coach whose team has just given up 72 points in back-to-back losses at home to the AFC South’s third-best team and on the road at your hated rival, well, this game has a lot more meaning. The momentum of Mike Zimmer’s program, and his control of it, would look a lot better at 8-8 and coming off a dominant performance than 7-9 and three giant stinkers to end the year.
Overview: The Bears have been bad, but remarkably consistent without a four-game losing streak in a 12-loss season. They lost three games, beat Detrot, lost three games, beat the Vikings, lost three games, beat San Francisco, lost three games and now have one left. Uh-oh. But the Bears are 0-7 on the road.
To the tape: …
Top three thoughts while watching tape of the Bears’ 41-21 loss to the Redskins at Soldier Field on Saturday:
—It’s hard to evaluate Matt Barkley’s five-game stretch as a starter when the Bears’ season is in such shambles. He can make all the throws, but is inconsistent and has also has thrown eight interceptions the past two weeks. His third-quarter possessions the past two weeks ended this way: fumble, interception, interception, interception, interception, interception. He threw five picks against Washington. But he and the Bears’ coaching staff appear to be just throwing the ball up for grabs and living with the risk-reward considering the season is a bust. Barkley’s first interception on Saturday was thrown deep to the goal line in the first quarter. There were three defenders around one receiver. Two of the defenders ended up fighting for the ball. In the third quarter, Barkley’s second interception came with him in a defenders grasp in the pocket. He just flung a floater to the middle of the field, hoping that Alshon Jeffrey would beat Josh Norman to the wobbler. Then again, right before the half, Barkley threw back-to-back deeper balls that were spot on for 37 yards to Jeffrey and a 21-yard TD to Cameron Meredith.
—There doesn’t appear to be much fight left in this battered Bears defense. When Kirk Cousins can run the option, get to the edge and tiptoe down the line for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 24-7 in the first half, well, let’s just say some guys have checked out. DeSean Jackson appreciated the lack of effort on plays such as his 57-yard catch. He averaged 22.8 yards on five catches, but still couldn’t top Pierre Garcon’s 23.5 average on four catches.
—There is plenty of fight left in rookie running back Jordan Howard. Perhaps you remember this guy? His season-long rush of 69 yards on the third snap of the first Vikings meeting set the tone for a long night and a 20-10 Vikings loss. He had 202 yards from scrimmage, including 153 rushing, on that Halloween night. Against Washington, he ran for 119 yards on just 18 carries (6.6). He ran hard with power, patience and burst. If not for Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas, we’d all be talking about this guy. He looks young, fresh and determined to set the Bears’ rookie rushing record. He has 1,178 yards and six touchdowns on 229 carries (5.1). He needs just 61 yards to pass Matt Forte’s mark of 1,238. And Forte did that with 316 carries and only a 3.9-yard average.
Key stat: Minus-14
The combined turnover ratio for the Vikings and Bears the past two weeks. The Bears are minus-9. The Vikings are minus-5. And neither team has a takeaway.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 19
Why?: The home team playing on New Year’s Day will try harder to reach 8-8 than the road team on New Year’s Day will try to reach 4-12.