CHICAGO – Mike Zimmer’s disappointment in the Vikings’ 16-6 loss on Sunday in Chicago must have been multiplied because of what he said in front of his players Saturday night before the pivotal NFC North matchup.
“Said we got to protect the football in the pocket,” the Vikings coach recalled. “They’re big stripping the balls in the pocket. We got to do a better job there and we got to make sure we do that. We didn’t do that.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins had two of the Vikings’ three fumbles against the Bears, losing one on a strip sack at the top of the third quarter that led to a Bears field goal and 13-0 deficit. Receiver Stefon Diggs also lost a second-quarter fumble when Bears corner Prince Amukamara jarred the ball loose on a 10-yard catch.
Zimmer, Cousins and Vikings coaches have continually talked about curbing Cousins’ fumbling problem, but he’s now up to 15 fumbles (nine lost) in 20 games since signing with the Vikings. Only Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16 fumbles) has dropped the ball more since last season.
The Bears’ pressure — Cousins was sacked six times — was a constant deterrent throughout the loss.
“We got to secure the ball when he starts getting heat around him,” Zimmer said. “That’s part of it. I think the one he was trying to throw, and the other one it got away from him around the midsection, it looked like.”
Cousins’ fumbles varied in circumstances. The first was Bears All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack quickly beating left tackle Riley Reiff, leading to the strip sack on the first play of the third quarter. Cousins had time on the second fumble, but he left the pocket and lost his grip when hit by Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill recovered, but the Vikings were forced to punt two plays later.
“I don’t think there’s anything I can do” on the strip sack by Mack, Cousins said.
“You play fast, and if you play kind of looking at [Mack] and worrying about him,” Cousins said, “then you’re going to miss [plays]. You have to trust in it and letting it go. That one was just really unfortunate. I think he got a good jump. I’m putting my hands apart to throw it to Irv [Smith Jr.] and he got there.”
Part of Zimmer’s pregame message to Vikings players included this record — 10-19-1 — which is the team’s wins and losses when losing the turnover battle during his tenure in Minnesota.
Another loss makes them 10-20-1 after the Vikings had two turnovers to the Bears’ zero.
“If you look at the numbers, we’re pretty good when we win that,” O’Neill said. “We came into this knowing it’d be a close game.”