Coach Mike Zimmer simply said “yes” when asked if the Vikings special teams are aging him during a three-game winning streak that continued Monday night with a 19-13 victory in Chicago.
Rocky play on coverage and return groups, as well as a poor performance by long snapper Austin Cutting, persisted against the Bears while returner Cordarrelle Patterson tied an NFL record against his former team.
Patterson’s 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the eighth such score of his career, tying Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for most in NFL history. The touchdown highlighted a busy night for the former Vikings first-round pick as Patterson stepped in as Chicago’s primary running back because of injuries. The Vikings held Patterson to 30 rushing yards on 12 carries, including a snap as a wildcat quarterback, while Bears coordinator and new play caller Bill Lazor tried to kick-start a league-worst running game without top back David Montgomery (concussion).
Patterson found the biggest lanes on special teams, where only Vikings rookie special teamer Dan Chisena got a hand on him during the 104-yard return. The Vikings also allowed a 32-yard punt return by receiver Anthony Miller with five minutes remaining.
Cutting was unable to practice while quarantined as part of contact tracing on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and he was off target on a handful of snaps including one that skipped across the grass during an extra-point attempt. The issues came a week after two punts were blocked during a 34-20 victory over the Lions.
“Sometimes he’s pretty good, and sometimes he hasn’t been good lately,” Zimmer said. “So we’ll keep working at him.”
Third-down defense excels
The Vikings’ patchwork defense kept rolling against an inept Bears offense, forcing four consecutive three-and-out drives from Bears quarterback Nick Foles out of halftime. Zimmer peppered Foles with blitzes in critical moments, including a third-down sack by linebacker Eric Wilson in the second quarter.
The return of center Cody Whitehair, who missed the previous two starts, from the reserve/COVID-19 list did little to spark the Bears offense. Vikings rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum had two key third-down pressures, including a sack. The Bears converted only two of 11 third downs.
“Third downs, we played great,” Zimmer said. “The one third down they hit was kind of a scramble, and he kind of threw it back across the grain a little bit, but for the most part I thought we did a good job disguising coverages.”
Samia on COVID list
Guard Dru Samia was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Samia did not travel with the team to Chicago after testing positive Sunday morning. Assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher also did not travel, presumably because he was required to quarantine as a high-risk close contact with Samia.
With the Samia move, the Vikings’ elevation of practice squad tight end Brandon Dillon changed from a standard gameday promotion to a COVID exemption. Dillon was activated when tight end Irv Smith Jr. (groin) was held out. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler missed his second consecutive game while in the concussion protocol.
• The Bears lost a handful of players because of injury in the second half, including quarterback Nick Foles, who was carted off the field in the final minute after defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo threw him down. Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (hamstring) and cornerback Jaylon Johnson (ankle) also left the game.
• Former Vikings guard Pat Elflein is headed to New York after the Jets claimed him off waivers. The Vikings waived Elflein, a 2017 third-round pick, on Saturday after 43 starts in three-plus seasons.
• Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Monday that quarterback Andy Dalton, expected to be activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, is “off to a good start” in his bid to return Sunday against the Vikings.
Andrew Krammer did not travel to Chicago. He wrote after watching the television broadcast and participating in interviews via videoconference.