62F Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
If the Minnesota Vikings are to end their struggles in Chicago, they'll likely need to take care of the football against an opportunistic Bears defense that seems to have picked up where it left off last season.
Hoping to cut down on the mistakes made in their season-opening defeat, the Vikings look to avoid a sixth straight road loss to the Bears on Sunday.
Chicago has won 11 of 12 at home over Minnesota, averaged 35.6 points during this five-game winning streak and won the last three by an average margin of 20.3. The Bears have forced 31 turnovers in those 12 meetings, including 14 in the last five.
After leading the NFL with 44 takeaways in 2012, Chicago got a pair of Charles Tillman interceptions and recovered a fumble during last Sunday's 24-21 home win over Cincinnati.
That doesn't seem to bode well for the Vikings, who turned the ball over four times courtesy of quarterback Christian Ponder in their 34-24 loss at Detroit last Sunday.
"You have to be exceptional to win those games when you finish minus in the turnover ratio," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. "We haven't shown that we are exceptional to be able to do that.
"We will get better."
If so, it must start with Ponder.
The third-year quarterback helped guide Minnesota to the playoffs in 2012, but he threw three interceptions and fumbled a handoff to Adrian Peterson in the fourth quarter that led to a Lions touchdown.
"Turnovers on the road - at home as well, but on the road in particular - are tough sometimes to overcome," Frazier said.
Ponder, who passed for 236 yards and a TD, has thrown 28 interceptions in 28 regular-season games.
"It's always frustrating, but you've just got to forget about it and move on to next week, the Chicago game," said Jerome Simpson , who had seven receptions for 140 yards. "I believe in the guy, and he's going to come back even stronger and more confident this next week."
Ponder has thrown a touchdown and three picks in four games against the Bears but did help Minnesota snap a six-game slide in the series with a 21-14 win Dec. 9.
He could use a more sustainable effort from Peterson, who ran 78 yards for a touchdown on his first carry last Sunday, then was held to 15 on 17 attempts the rest of the game. Peterson did add another rushing score and a 4-yard TD reception.
The NFL's reigning MVP ran for 154 yards and two scores at home against the Bears last season and quietly gained 108 on 18 carries in a 28-10 loss at Soldier Field on Nov. 25.
Chicago held the Bengals to 63 rushing yards, but the play of its offense in first-year coach Marc Trestman's West Coast system has the team cautiously optimistic moving forward.
The Bears totaled 226 of their 323 yards during a second half in which they erased an 11-point deficit. Jay Cutler completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 242 yards with two TDs, an interception and connected with five receivers. Brandon Marshall had eight receptions for 104 yards and a score and Matt Forte recorded 91 total yards and a rushing TD.
After Cutler was sacked 38 times last season, Chicago's revamped offensive line held Cincinnati's vaunted defense without one.
"I thought no one got frustrated early on with us and the way we were playing," Cutler said. "We stuck to the game plan. The fourth quarter - that's when you've got to win ballgames in this league."
Trestman hopes to see improvement in the running game after Forte was held to 50 yards on 19 carries.
"We've got to do a better job for Matt of running the football and we think we can," he said.
Forte has averaged 4.1 yards per carry and never rushed for more than 96 in any of his nine games against the Vikings.
Marshall was targeted 37 times and caught 22 balls for 252 yards and a TD versus Minnesota in 2012.