Bears vs. Vikings: Full Report Card Grades for Chicago
In a must-win game, the Chicago Bears fell 23-20 in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings. The NFC North battle featured 976 yards of total offense, including 249 from Alshon Jeffery and 151 from Matt Forte.
The game’s biggest moment, however, came in overtime when Robbie Gould missed a game-winning field goal.
See how I graded Gould and the coaching staff, especially Marc Trestman’s decision to kick from 47 yards on second down. And check out the other positional units as well in the following slideshow.
The magic didn’t run out against the Vikings. Backup quarterback Josh McCown continued his supernatural play, racking up 355 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, all while contending with a pretty consistent Vikings pass rush.
It wasn’t a perfect game—he was off on a few throws, and he looked more rattled behind his blockers than in previous weeks—but his 9.9 yards per attempt was highest among all quarterbacks in the early games of Week 13.
If you’re not giving him an A+, you’re forgetting that he’s a backup quarterback who, coming into this week, led the NFL in Total QBR. He will likely retain that top spot after today's strong showing.
The Minnesota fans may have had flashbacks to their own star running back from the 1990s, Robert Smith, as they watched Matt Forte run for 120 yards on 23 carries and reel in two catches for 31 yards. Both ran with a smooth style characterized by an upright gait and agile strides in the open field.
Forte was better than his offensive line on this day. He found much of his yardage by making tacklers miss and simply outrunning defenders in open space. He gave the Bears big runs in overtime, driving them down the field to set up Robbie Gould’s winning field-goal attempt.
(See the final slide for the grade Marc Trestman earned for opting to attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down. Spoiler alert: It’s not good for the coach.)
At the start of this season, who would have thought Alshon Jeffery would eclipse 1,000 yards? Maybe a few.
But who would have thought he’d reach the mark before his superstar counterpart Brandon Marshall?
That’s exactly what Jeffery did in Week 13. His staggering totals, 12 catches for 249 yards, took him over 1,000 yards on the season, and those catches were the main reason the Bears led by 10 going into the fourth quarter.
Marshall had much less of an impact, catching four passes for 45 yards. Five passes to him fell incomplete. Of those, three were uncatchable. One was a bad drop by Marshall, and the last, a 1st-and-15 pass in overtime, fell to the turf partly because of tough coverage, but you’d like your No. 1 receiver to make that catch.
Targeted five times, Martellus Bennett caught just two passes for 14 yards against the Vikings.
McCown seems to look for Bennett less than Jay Cutler did, but that doesn’t excuse Bennett’s lack of production entirely. Bennett still needs to be more of a factor, especially when going up against a defense that is no juggernaut at stopping tight ends.
Bears fans are used to seeing Cutler fake a handoff and find a tight end down the seam. Bennett didn’t provide that vertical passing game Sunday.
Against the Bears’ offensive line, the Minnesota defense tallied four sacks, five tackles for losses and seven QB hits. Too often McCown faced pressure within the first 2.5 seconds of dropping back (about the time it takes quarterbacks to drop back, set their feet and make their first read). Too often Forte faced a purple wall of defenders.
For a while now, McCown has made the O-line look better than it actually is. Coming into this week, McCown’s throwing accuracy when pressured was better than any other quarterback in the league, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
After giving up four sacks to the Vikings, it’s time to grade the offensive line based on the pressure they allow, and not on how McCown handles that pressure.
As a side note, the line’s headiest play—Kyle Long snagging a batted pass out of the air—turned out to be its worst play; Long fumbled the ball as he was tackled.
With eight tackles, 2.5 sacks, three QB hits, two tackles for losses and a pass deflection, Julius Peppers filled his stat line. For his part, he helped slow down Adrian Peterson, and he made it tough on Vikings quarterbacks.
Corey Wootton added a half-sack, a tackle for loss and two pass deflections. Stephen Paea added a half-sack. Shea McClellin finished with two tackles and a QB hit.
Overall, they didn’t let Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder get comfortable in the pocket.
It was in the running game, predictably, that this unit had problems. They weren’t disruptive at the point of attack. Too often they yielded a clear path to the second level.
Jon Bostic made his presence felt, compiling nine tackles and a sack, but it was much of the same story for the trio of Bostic, James Anderson and Khaseem Greene. They didn’t make a big enough impact in stopping the run.
Anderson (three solo tackles) rarely did more than occupy a blocker; Adrian Peterson found 211 yards on the ground. Greene provided this unit’s biggest play, a huge fourth-quarter interception at Chicago’s 6-yard line, which he returned all the way to midfield.
Collectively, Ponder and Cassel threw for 250 yards on 41 attempts against the Bears secondary. Minnesota’s top two receivers, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson, reeled in 10 catches for 154 yards.
It wasn’t the best day for Tim Jennings, Zachary Bowman and Isaiah Frey, but considering they were playing with less safety help than a normal cornerback receives, they held up OK.
Bowman, normally a factor in stopping the run, was pushed around on the outside more than in previous games. Frey, normally a lockdown slot cornerback, was beaten pretty badly on Cassel’s TD pass to Jennings in the fourth quarter. Even Jennings had his letdowns, though he was lucky to benefit from some dropped passes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this game was the presence of Craig Steltz, in for the injured Major Wright. Steltz tallied 12 tackles, and he seemed to be around the ball on nearly every play.
Next to him, Chris Conte tacked on nine tackles.
In coverage, Steltz erred on a 22-yard gain to tight end John Carlson, but other than that, both were pretty good at shadowing receivers down the field.
The biggest downfall of this unit, just like the linebackers and D-line, is what they did in the running game. On all of Peterson’s sizeable gains, one or both of these guys made a bad break on the ball or missed a tackle.
Devin Hester’s 57-yard return near the end of the fourth quarter at the time looked like the key play that would win the game for the Bears. That game-changing return earns him an A.
Adam Podlesh punted seven times, averaging 35.6 yards, with four dropping inside the 20. In overtime he produced his worst kick; from close to midfield, he punted out of bounds at Minnesota’s 22-yard line—you’d like it within the 10-yard line in those circumstances.
Robbie Gould uncharacteristically missed in crunch time on a tough 47-yarder in overtime. He’s not the reason the Bears lost, but it is a kick he makes more often than not.
Let’s start with why this grade is not an F.
Marc Trestman again did an exceptional job calling plays for the Bears. The offense racked up 480 total yards, a number that last year would have been unheard-of. And he did this with a backup quarterback at the helm. The job he’s done with this offense cannot be overstated.
Now for the not-so-good part.
For the second time in three weeks, Trestman made a poor decision near the end of the game. Against Baltimore, he did this. This time around, he decided to kick a 47-yard field goal to try to win the game.
On second down.
On a drive during which Forte had just run five times for 24 yards.
In a game in which his offense had accumulated 480 total yards and one of his receivers had tallied 249 yards.
Trestman, via Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, had this to say of the decision:
We were definitely in range and I didn't want to risk a possible penalty that would set us back, similar to what happened on the other side, or a fumble of some kind ... something 'unique.' I felt we were clearly within range and could get the game over with at that time.
We've got one of the best field-goal kickers in the league and unfortunately we didn't get it done. Robbie didn't lose the game for us; there's a lot of different ways to lose the game. ... I just feel bad for him that we didn't get it done.
I love the confidence in Gould. But confidence shouldn't preclude good judgment.
Hopefully at some point someone probes the decision further, citing the most basic of kicking statistics: In his career, Robbie Gould hits 90.5 percent of the time from 30-39 yards and 72.7 percent of the time from 40-49 yards.
If I'm the coach, I'm getting my clutch kicker just a little bit closer. Especially in a game when you 100 percent need to win.