The Minnesota Vikings could never get it started against a resurgent Chicago Bears team, and the 28-10 loss was even further apart than the score indicated. The Vikings' postseason hopes are alive with losses to the Buccaneers and Seahawks letting the Wild Card race stay close, but they did not play like a playoff team.
Let's take a look at the Vikings' final postgame grades and evaluations.
Christian Ponder — B-
Christian Ponder wasn't a paragon of good decisionmaking or powerful throwing, but a receiving corps that can't hold on to the ball or get consistent separation is even more to blame for the pitiful passing performance that Ponder put up. He didn't get his mind right and had some poor mechanics, but played better than worse in this game.
His statline—22/43, 159 yards, and a 58.2 passer rating—undersells the poor play of his supporting cast, where six drops (two in the endzone) could have been game changers.
Adrian Peterson — A-
Another performance where his second half overshadowed a struggling first half, Adrian Peterson had another 100+ yard game, despite only 18 carries. It's hard to earn a full grade here, largely because he was underutilized and made big plays after the game was out of reach, but you'd be remiss not to commend his performance in an increasingly lost game. Add six catches for 30 yards, and it's clear that Peterson is in charge of this offense, at least while Harvin's out.
Jerome Felton — B-
Felton looks like he's getting fewer and fewer snaps in favor of fourth-round draft pick Rhett Ellison, but is still performing well as a fullback. While no Vonta Leach, his blocking is an oft-overlooked reason that Peterson is averaging over 5.8 yards a carry this season. In this game he rarely missed an assignment, but could have done better when trying to move a pile or holding on to blocks. His insticts are always commendable, however.
Jarius Wright — B+
The only reliable receiver in Ponder's corps, Jarius Wright finished with seven catches for 49 yards. Unfortunately, a difficult drop in the end zone and a few issues avoiding tacklers prevent him from getting top marks, but he clearly is proving that he was a smart pick in the fourth round. Look for him to get even more involvement in the offense as the season goes on, even with the return of Percy Harvin.
Jerome Simpson — F
Three drops, five targets, one yard.
Michael Jenkins — D
Jenkins, ever the reliable target, still doesn't have the speed, explosion or nose for space to get the type of separation that makes him a difference maker in the National Football League. Against a stifling Bears defense he proved it, by only getting open on four or so plays and only reeling in two catches for 17 yards.
Devin Aromashodu — D
Aromashodu might have to face questions about his effort after not extending on an interception thrown by Ponder. While it would have been difficult to pull in, even changing the course of the ball is important. He was targeted three times, but had no catches.
Stephen Burton — F
A receiver that is better known for his blocking that his ability to advance the ball, Burton's drop was nearly the dagger as Tim Jennings looked to have intercepted it for a score. It was called back, but that doesn't justify Burton's poor form on that play.
Kyle Rudolph — A-
With play shortened by a concussion that had him leaving the game early in the fourth quarter, Rudolph was the primary driver of the Vikings' passing game, finishing with 55 yards and a touchdown. A difficult jump ball in the end zone could have swung the game the other way, so Rudolph doesn't quite deserve top marks. Still, he did well for himself.
John Carlson — D
Carlson once more had one catch, this time for seven yards. He doesn't look to be the stellar signing that some predicted he be. His blocking was not spectacular, and his contribution in the passing game has been weak at best.
Matt Kalil — A
Kalil performed well against Julius Peppers, as he has regularly against the nation's top pass rushers. It didn't look like Kalil even gave up a pressure, and he also did alright in his limited opportunities as a run blocker.
Charlie Johnson — C-
The better of the starting guards in this game, Johnson still didn't have the best of days preventing pressure coming up the middle. Neither a dominant run blocker or pass blocker in this game, Johnson could have been a real liability.
John Sullivan — C
One of his worse performances on the year, Sullivan had difficulty managing the line and protections in response to the Bears' twisting line. He was as still a powerful run blocker as ever.
Brandon Fusco — D
Embarrassed early by a sack, Fusco never really recovered and was responsible for the plurality of the pressure that Ponder fell under. Without getting a lot of push in the run game, Fusco may have recorded his worst performance all year.
Geoff Schwartz — B
While Schwartz won't be getting the best grades for playing part of a game, he was markedly better than Fusco, shoring up a hole that the Bears were willing to exploit all day if need be. While he can't power through linemen in the run game quite like Fusco, he was more than serviceable.
Phil Loadholt — B
Playing on his heels all day, Loadholt actually didn't do too poorly against the potent edge rush of the Bears. Giving up perhaps one pressure and making some good plays as a run blocker, Loadholt always looked on the edge of a bad play, but never really gave in to it.
Jared Allen — C-
While Allen deserves to receive credit for some pass disruptions in the passing lane of Jay Cutler, he still was missing a big impact in the game, not even getting many quarterback hurries. His four tackles might be giving him too much credit as he looked to have bad form on some of his tackles and in pursuit, as well.
Kevin Williams — C+
More disruptive than Allen, Williams recorded a few pressures and a QB hit. While he didn't record any tackles, his performance on the special teams unit—getting his hand on two field goals and preventing one of them—bumps up his grade.
Letroy Guion — D+
Without the ability to reroute runners, Guion's main job of effectively taking on two offensive linemen was largely moot. In his return from injury he was moved around and was a nonentity in the passing game.
Brian Robison — D+
Robison was slightly more successful at putting pressure on Jay Cutler, but with even fewer tackles than Allen and some problems on contain duty, Robison didn't quite live up to the powerful performance he had at the beginning of the year.
Fred Evans — B
Evans did well in relief of Guion, getting more involved as both a pass rusher and run defender. His five tackles are impressive for a backup nose tackle. He's still inconsistent, but deserves to be recognized.
Chad Greenway — B
Greenway was the worst performer of the best performing unit on the team, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. With seven tackles, he was an important defender in the run game. Without being exposed in pass coverage, Greenway's game was OK.
Erin Henderson — A
Marked as a sleeper by some going into this year, Henderson's year hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Nevertheless, a team-leading nine tackles is something to be proud of. Doing well in pass coverage and flowing to the runner, Henderson was perhaps the best player the Vikings fielded against the Bears.
Jasper Brinkley — A-
Brinkley was definitely the best run defender of the day on either side of the ball, taking good angles and rarely getting embarrassed. He wrapped up well and may have made up for his poor performance from the week before. While he wasn't a demon in pass coverage, neither was he exposed.
Antoine Winfield — B+
Shockingly the only player who was effective against Brandon Marshall, Winfield wasn't exposed too often. While his signature is his ability to tackle—and he finished with seven—more important was that Cutler chose not to test Winfield's coverage. Finishing with an interception and a pass deflection, Winfield's only big blemish was a missed tackle on Marshall.
A.J. Jefferson — F
Right after a pretty OK game against the league's most prolific passing offense, Jefferson looked to have proved himself. While still probably worth the conditional pick the Vikings, Jefferson replaced Robinson as the defensive goat. With missed tackles, poor leverage and the tendency to drift out of zones, Jefferson was the biggest weakness the Vikings had on defense.
Josh Robinson — C+
Neither terrible nor extraordinary, Robinson wasn't targeted too often and therefore wasn't really consequential. While Earl Bennett was able to do some damage against the Vikings, it's clear that Robinson learned a lesson from his game against Calvin Johnson.
Harrison Smith — B
Smith flew across the field, finishing with six tackles. His coverage skills were generally good, but he does benefit from a drop in the end zone. The Bears only targeted deep all day, a testament to his coverage, but Smith mostly benefits from the fact that his intuition allowed him to make plays across the field.
Mistral Raymond — C+
Raymond still doesn't look to be a better safety than Sanford, but seems more sure of himself than he was a week ago. Despite his heavy rotation, he only recorded on tackle—and a critical one—but wasn't really a factor otherwise. His near fumble recovery for a touchdown was a heads up play, and he deserves some credit for it.
Jamarca Sanford — B-
Sanford was the quintessential strong safety, rushing the passer, cheating into the box and taking on man coverage assignments. With 4 tackles, he did have an impact on the game, but his coverage was better than his (normally phenomenal) run support. A quarterback hit was a nice cherry to add on top of a solid performance.
Blair Walsh — C
Walsh had a very poor outing, with a blocked field goal and some shaky looking kickoffs. While the blocked kick wasn't entirely his fault, he hurt his Pro Bowl chances with today's performance.
Chris Kluwe — C
It would be easy to knock Kluwe for his shanked 20 yard punt, but there's more to consider here. The gust of wind at the drop is impossible to overcome for any punter (including greats like Ray Guy), so a shank is an OK outcome. More than that, his other (many) punts were kicked for distance and with hang time, allowing the coverage units to prevent big returns by a good Bears special teams unit.
Leslie Frazier — C
It's on the head coach to be responsible for a loss, gametime decisionmaking and gameplanning. That said, it's not reasonable to hold Frazier completely responsible for Musgrave's playcalling. The team lost and he bears the lion's share of the blame here, but mostly because he couldn't properly get his staff to effectively plan the game in the two weeks the Vikings had during the bye.
Bill Musgrave — D-
Before getting caught up in the abysmal playcalling on third and fourth down—a theme of Musgrave's—it's also important to recognize that Musgrave is an innovate play designer. The play action rollouts and the blocking schemes were all effectively designed plays that didn't look like what they would be in presnap configuration. Musgrave does a fine job of self-scouting and breaking tendencies, but cannot make contextual decisions in game.
This was perhaps some of the worst playcalling in a long time, but the decisions on third and short (and fourth and short) were particularly mind-boggling, given Minnesota's dominance running the ball. Musgrave seemed scared off of running those plays after a fumble, but shouldn't be. Passing in that situation is more of a losing strategy. Beyond that, the runs on short distance downs need to be more creatively designed.
Alan Williams — B-
The defense, for the most part, executed assignments and didn't often find themselves out of position. The errors on defense were largely due to individual ability and not because of confusion with the calls or with blown plays against bad formations. Williams might get unfairly boosted by the excellent audibles that the linebackers called, but those are systems he designed.
Unfortunately, Williams' largest weakness was an inability to take away passes in the seams, something the Bears were prepared to exploit all day. The defensive coordinator need to adapt more to the changing situation, and that helped lose the game.