The Vikings are playing close games again. The Bears have lots of lessons to learn from theirs

Fri, Nov 24, 2023
NFL News (AP)

The Vikings are playing close games again. The Bears have lots of lessons to learn from theirs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Minnesota Vikings made a habit last season of going down to the wire, setting an NFL record in the process by winning all 11 contests that were decided by eight points or fewer.

Those close games, predictably, haven't broken their way in 2023 nearly as often.

They'll find no sympathy from the Chicago Bears.

"I understand what it feels like to lose a game that you feel like you should've won, but at the end of the day, the only thing you can do in this league is grow," said Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards, reflecting on his team's 31-26 loss at Detroit last week. "As soon as you start to feel sorry for yourself and start to point fingers and things like that, that's when stuff gets really bad. We don't have the guys in here that are doing that. We don't have the coaches that are doing that. We've got the right guys in here to build this thing and keep growing."

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The Bears (3-8) blew a 12-point lead with about three minutes left to the NFC North-leading Lions to fall to 1-4 in one-score games. They play at Minnesota on Monday night.

"It's a massive game," said Edwards, who's in his first year with Chicago after coming from reigning NFC champion Philadelphia. "We're going to find out who we are this week."

That applies to the Vikings (6-5) as well, on the heels of their 21-20 defeat at Denver. They led for the majority of the game despite three turnovers and were still ahead by five points until the Broncos scored a touchdown with 2:14 remaining. They are 5-5 this season in games decided by one score.

"We're not going to be negative Nancys and act like we didn't move the ball up and down the field throughout the game," Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs said. "But we are going to acknowledge the opportunity for growth and the opportunities that we left out there that set us behind the sticks or put our defense in a bad situation."

Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell has had one-score decisions in 22 of 29 games on the job, including the playoffs. He has steered the club out of a September skid - caused primarily by those pesky turnovers costing them dearly in close games - to gain control of a wild card spot. He has kept the offense running with superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson out for the last six games with a hamstring injury and Dobbs taking over three weeks ago after a season-ending Achilles tendon tear for Kirk Cousins.

This game in prime time against the subtly improving Bears will be another important test for the second-year coach, with the Vikings eager for rest afterward entering their bye week.

"They understand the week-in, week-out urgency," O'Connell said. "Preparation has been something we like to hang our hat on around here - make sure we understand that every moment matters."

AUDITION CONTINUES

Bears quarterback Justin Fields had a sharp return last week, completing 16 of 23 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown and a 105.2 rating after missing four games because of a dislocated right thumb. He also rushed 18 times for a season-high 104 yards.

Fields was hurt on a sack by Danielle Hunter in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings at home on Oct. 15.

"Not just Justin. It's us as a group. That's where I think we take the next step to finishing games," coach Matt Eberflus said.

LOOSE BALL

Alexander Mattison lost a fumble for Minnesota last week, a costly giveaway deep in Denver territory that the Broncos converted into a field goal. Mattison was otherwise productive with 81 yards on 18 carries, but second-year player Ty Chandler has been showing more burst through the line and eating into Mattison's workload. Chandler had 114 total yards on 14 touches against the Broncos.

"He's grown tremendously since he was a rookie," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said.

SPREADING IT AROUND

Cousins and Dobbs have combined for 22 touchdown passes to seven receivers. The Vikings are the only team league with four players with at least three receiving touchdowns each: Jordan Addison (seven), T.J. Hockenson (four), Jefferson (three) and Mattison (three).

DIVISION FUTILITY

The Bears have a 12-game losing streak against the NFC North, with a 16-14 decision at Detroit on Nov. 25, 2021, their last such such victory. They're 0-9 in the division in two seasons under Eberflus, who is 6-22 overall.

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