CHICAGO – A performance so putrid and so thoroughly inept deserves a theme song. May we suggest circus music. Or a sad trombone.
A miserable day in their personal house of horrors reconfirmed obvious fundamental flaws that submarine the Vikings whenever the opponent offers a credible challenge.
Yes, they have a quarterback problem, but their list of issues extends beyond Kirk Cousins’ inability to function as even an average quarterback in big moments.
The Vikings were outplayed, outcoached, out-everythinged Sunday against a Chicago Bears team that entered the game without two of its best defensive players and then lost its starting quarterback on the sixth play.
Didn’t matter, because the Vikings lived up to their normal standards when visiting Soldier Field. They laid a big fat egg in a 16-6 loss that was a doozy even by their wretched recent history here.
Cousins played panicky, again. The offensive line got overpowered. The defense allowed a backup quarterback to pick them apart in the first half. And Mike Zimmer made a weird decision that cost his team three points in a low-scoring game.
“Not good enough today,” Zimmer said.
That’s putting it kindly.
The focal point, of course, will be Cousins, who now owns a 5-27 career record against teams with a winning record. That’s not a small sample size. He is who he is at this point.
He looks overwhelmed in big games and skittish when being pressured. The organization made sweeping changes designed to create ideal conditions for Cousins after his alarming debut season. They changed schemes. Changed personnel. Hired smart, veteran coaches with a championship pedigree. The results remain unchanged when the temperature gets turned up.
The ferocious Bears defense stuffed Dalvin Cook and the running game, and the Vikings didn’t have a Plan B.
On the first possession, Cousins overshot Adam Thielen on a deep ball on third-and-10. Thielen was open, and Cousins had a clean pocket. He simply misfired on a throw that has to be completed in a game that figured to present limited scoring chances.
“That’s a throw I want back,” he said.
He said the same thing after his interception in the end zone at Green Bay. When does anything change? He’s not a rookie.
Cousins’ offensive line offered him little support. For all that talk about GM Rick Spielman upgrading that position this offseason, the line looks just as vulnerable when facing a legitimate pass rush.
On the first play of the second half, Bears bogeyman Khalil Mack ran past left tackle Riley Reiff as if shot from a cannon. Mack caused a fumble on the sack.
Another time, when the Vikings put two linemen on Mack, Reiff got called for holding and Mack still got credited with a half-sack, largely because Cousins held the ball like a statue.
That’s a bad combination: slow developing pass routes, leaky protection and a quarterback who looks unsure.
“He didn’t look too comfortable,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings sideline looked confused during an important sequence at the end of the first half. After their defense forced a fourth-and-3 at the Minnesota 34, the Bears sent out their field-goal unit, but punter/holder Pat O’Donnell waved kicker Eddy Pineiro off the field.
The Vikings frantically scurried to get their punt return team on the field. There was a two-second difference between the play clock and the two-minute warning.
The Bears appeared content to take a delay-of-game penalty. But Zimmer called a timeout at the last second with 2:02 on the clock, as it appeared the Vikings had 12 men on the field, which presumably wouldn’t have been called if the Bears didn’t snap the ball.
Given a timeout to reassess, the Bears sent their offense back onto the field and converted on a 5-yard completion to Anthony Miller. They turned that second chance into a field goal as time expired for a 10-0 halftime lead.
“That was a bad mistake. My fault,” Zimmer said.
Asked if he called timeout because his team had 12 men on the field, Zimmer declined to give specifics.
“I’ll take the blame for it,” he said.
There was plenty of blame to pass around after that debacle.