Work in Sports
The Bears kept the Vikings out of the end zone until the final seconds in a surprising 24-22 victory that again should put Minnesota offensive coordinator Ray Sherman on the defensive.
Sherman has replaced Brian Billick, who left to become coach of the Baltimore Ravens. With Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss and all of the weapons from last year's record-setting offense still in place, the Vikings have averaged a paltry 19.4 points per game.
Fired as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator after last season, Sherman has taken the heat for tinkering with an offense that scored a league-record 556 points last season. A fan made his way over to the open auxiliary press box in the Metrodome and began screaming at writers to blame Sherman, who did not speak to the media following the game.
"There's no point in pointing fingers at this person or that person," Vikings running back Robert Smith said. "Either you did your job or you didn't do your job."
The Vikings got 100-yard games from the disgruntled Moss and Smith and amassed 446 total yards. But most of those came between the 20-yard lines as drives bogged down or ended in turnovers.
"I don't really have an explanation for that," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "I think our guys are trying to get in the end zone but they played red-zone defense a little better than we played red-zone offense."
Cunningham completed 25-of-42 passes for 309 yards but also threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. He drove the Vikings inside the Bears 10-yard line five times, with the first four resulting in field goals by Gary Anderson.
"I really don't know what is wrong, to be honest with you," Moss said. "We keep struggling week in and week out. Some things look good out there and some things look bad. We can't put the puzzle together to make things work."
"I think it's very difficult to win if you can't score more touchdowns," Green added. "They won the battle of more pressure on the QB, they won the battle of turnovers and they won the battle of time of possession. I think those things make a big difference."
Shane Matthews threw two touchdown passes and linebacker Sean Harris recovered a fumble in the end zone for Chicago (3-2), which turned three turnovers into scores and moved past Minnesota (2-3) in the tight NFC Central Division. The Bears did not commit a turnover.
"We took them out of their big plays," Harris said. "They moved the ball but what we did in the red zone was very important. We made them settle for five field goals instead of touchdowns."
"The turnovers finally came out the way they're supposed to come out," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "We gave away five a week ago and won and we took away five today and didn't give any away."
Matthews was 19-of-28 for 184 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury. For the fifth straight game, the Bears also played rookie quarterback Cade McNown, who was 9-of-14 for 97 yards.
"It looks like he pulled his hamstring pretty good," Jauron said. "He had trouble even coming off the field. (McNown) was good. It's the thing we've been preparing for to a degree. We were hoping we'd avoid any sort of injury to our first but it just doesn't normally happen that way."
Chicago had lost its last four meetings with Minnesota. In two losses last year, the Bears surrendered 624 passing yards and 79 points.
An interception and 36-yard return by Tom Carter on the first possession of the second half set up the Bears at their 37.
Matthews used five receivers on the ensuing drive and found Marcus Robinson with a three-yard TD toss for a 21-12 advantage midway through the third quarter. Robinson caught eight passes for 90 yards.
For the fourth time, the Vikings drove inside the 10. However, Cunningham took a delay penalty and a sack before settling for a 34-yard field goal by Anderson with 2:31 left in the period.
Minnesota was within a touchdown but didn't get into the end zone until it was too late. Jaeger finally made a field goal, connecting from 41 yards and providing a 24-15 lead with 12:21 to go.
For the second time, Vikings rookie tight end Jim Kleinsasser fumbled after a catch. This one came at the Bears 23 and was recovered by Khari Samuel after a hit by fellow linebacker Barry Minter.
The Bears went to McNown, who melted all but 43 seconds with a pair of first downs.
Cunningham threw a meaninless 18-yard TD pass to Chris Walsh with two seconds left, Minnesota's first touchdown in more than seven quarters.
The first TD of Harris' five-year career came when Kleinsasser was hit by linebacker Ricardo McDonald and fumbled a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage. The ball was knocked toward the end zone and Harris fell on it.
"Rico got a nice solid hit," Harris said. "I think his helmet hit the ball and it just came squirting out. I think it was a big play. It took momentum from them and started to swing things in our favor."
"(Kleinsasser's) a rough-and-tumble type of player and he plays hard," Green said. "One play we kind of got caught by surprise.
The other play he didn't get the ball put away and he got hit straight on."
The Vikings responded with field goals on three of their next four possessions. Anderson drilled kicks of 26 and 23 yards after drives by Minnesota stalled inside the 10.
After Jaeger's second missed field goal, Terry Cousin picked off Cunningham at the Bears 42. Five plays later, Matthews hooked up with Curtis Conway, who juked his way 30 yards for a score, giving Chicago the lead for good at 14-9 with 1:13 left in the first half.
"Our offense moved the ball effectively and maybe took the crowd out of it a little by going up 7-0," Jauron said. "I think that was a factor."
The Vikings again drove inside the 10 but Cunningham threw an incompletion and Anderson kicked a 26-yard field goal on the last play of the half.