1. Vikings are NFL's most undisciplined team, but Bears were worse Monday
The Vikings went into their 17-9 victory at Chicago with the NFL's worst differential in penalty yards at minus-224. They had committed 106 penalties (sixth worst) for 899 yards (third worst). Monday, they drew referee Scott Novak's crew, which came in having flagged road teams 92 times in 12 games. But the Vikings were flagged seven times for 54 yards, including an ejection for Eric Kendricks. The Bears were flagged nine times for 91 yards. Even coach Matt Nagy got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Two of the Vikings' scoring drives included two Bears penalties for 30 yards. Three of them came on third down. The Vikings' three most penalized players — lineman Oli Udoh (15, benched), Everson Griffen (seven, on leave) and Bashaud Breeland (six, released) — weren't on the field Monday.
2. Blocked from leaving, keeping assistant Ficken paying off
Coach Mike Zimmer blocked Ryan Ficken from joining Mike Priefer in Cleveland two years ago. Then he didn't promote Ficken to special teams coordinator, choosing instead to hire Dolphins assistant Marwan Maalouf. Zimmer and Maalouf's rocky relationship, which bottomed out with a sideline dustup after a Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return for a touchdown at Chicago last year, ended after two years. Zim did what he probably should have done two years earlier — promote Ficken, who has turned the special teams into a strength. They struggled in the third quarter when K.J. Osborn got turned around and couldn't handle a 72-yard punt that pinned the Vikings at their 4-yard line. That led to the Bears deflecting a punt that traveled only 17 yards. Coverage-wise, the test of the night Monday was facing punt returner Jakeem Grant, who came in with a 16.3-yard average on 15 returns with only two fair catches and a franchise-record 97-yarder for a touchdown. The Vikings were allowing only 6.6 yards per return, seventh best. Monday, Grant had returns of 6 and minus-1 yards before leaving because of a concussion. His replacement, Damiere Byrd, muffed a punt that the Vikings recovered.
3. Rudolph the red-faced blocker would be jealous of Conklin's deep targets
Tyler Conklin has the pass-catching role that former Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph thought he should have had before refusing to take a pay cut and getting released after last season. Rudolph went on to the Giants and now has only 22 receptions on 31 targets for 240 yards in 13 games this year. Conklin went into Monday night's game with 49 catches on 66 targets for 639 yards in the same number of games. "Tyler's a target we want to get the football to at all times, whether [receiver] Adam [Thielen] is healthy or not," Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. Quarterback Kirk Cousins went to Conklin early with two deep balls and a red-zone shot into the end zone. None was completed, but Conklin did draw an unnecessary roughness penalty that set up a field goal. Conklin was targeted three times Monday, catching one for 7 yards.
4. Quinn gives young Darrisaw a welcome-to-the-league game
Sometimes, coaches just outsmart themselves. The Bears tried to do too much with Robert Quinn, their big-name free-agent acquisition, a year ago. The dominant pass rusher flopped with two sacks heading toward his 31st birthday. This year, new defensive coordinator Sean Desai, brought back key parts of Vic Fangio's old defense and turned Quinn back into the pass rusher he is. Quinn went into Monday's game with 14 sacks, tied for third with San Francisco's Nick Bosa behind Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt (17½) and Cleveland's Myles Garrett (15). Quinn, the NFC's Defensive Player of the Month for November, went into Monday night's game with 8½ sacks in his last five games. He added two more against rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw in the second quarter Monday — a third-down bull rush in the red zone and a strip sack off a speed rush.
5. Could Dennison have made a difference with struggling Udoh?
The Bears were without two coordinators on Monday night. We tend to forget the Vikings have been without a key assistant for the entire season. Rick Dennison, one of the league's more well-respected offensive line coaches, refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine and was kicked into a consultant's position. He doesn't have much if any contact with the players. One has to wonder if he could have made a difference in preventing Oli Udoh's fall. This came to mind when Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks destroyed new right guard Mason Cole on a first-half sack and then a fourth-quarter sack. With a small center in Garrett Bradbury, the Vikings need two large "bumpers," if you will on either side of him. Former tackle Ezra Cleveland has given them that at left guard. Udoh, another tackle-sized player, had a chance at right guard, but no one was able to correct his holding issues.