The Minnesota Vikings escaped with a 20-17 win at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears on Monday night, thanks to the late-game heroics of Harrison Smith and a strong second-half performance by Case Keenum.
Sam Bradford began the game at quarterback for the Vikings. The report from the team was that the bone bruise in his left knee was feeling much better and more comfortable, so he suited up.
Somebody was lying.
It could have been Sam Bradford, knowing that Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery is on the horizon. Entering Monday night, Bradford knew he only had a few games to reclaim his starting job before Bridgewater could potentially step in and take it ahead of him.
It could have been the coaching staff. For what reason? I’m not sure. Maybe the coaching staff didn’t yet trust Case Keenum. Maybe the coaching staff needed to know sooner rather than later about Bradford’s health moving forward.
It could have been the training staff. Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman has stressed that the training staff correctly navigated the process of Bradford’s recovery, and I believe him. He’s one of the best.
Out of those three departments — Bradford, coaching staff and training staff — at least one stretched the truth about Bradford’s condition. He maneuvered the pocket like a teenager getting home past curfew with the parents still asleep. Like a three-year-old kid sitting on Santa’s lap for the first time. He proceeded with ultimate caution, which isn’t exactly ideal in the sport of football.
The decision resulted in a set back for Bradford. Nobody really knows how long that set back will be, but it doesn’t look promising. For now and likely the next several weeks, Case Keenum is the Vikings’ starting quarterback.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
Keenum’s appearance into the game sparked a Vikings offense that desperately needed it. After only scoring three points in the first half — thanks to an Everson Griffen strip-sack deep in Chicago territory — Keenum led two touchdown drives in the second half and helped set up Kai Forbath for the game-winning kick.
Keenum has proven himself as a quality backup quarterback who can win some games with a solid supporting cast, such as Minnesota’s. Over the next three weeks — vs. Green Bay, vs. Baltimore and vs. Cleveland in London — Vikings fans can expect to get two wins with Keenum at the helm.
The schedule after the bye week gets tricky. Five of eight games are on the road, including a brutal three-game stretch all on the road against Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina. Can Keenum sustain this level of play? Can he sustain it on the road? Those questions will have to be answered. If he can’t maintain this level of play, it will be time to bring Teddy Bridgewater back into the fold, assuming he’s indeed healthy.
Oh, and one more thing: It’s Duck-Duck-Goose, you bafoons.
Here’s a look at this week’s Skol Scale.
Zim Reapers: This is the easiest way to list all of the key defensive contributors in the good section. The entire unit brought it on Monday night, albeit against a rookie quarterback with a JV receiving corps. Aside from a fake punt and a flukey touchdown off a tipped pass, the Vikings didn’t really allow anything.
Xavier Rhodes wasn’t targeted. Trae Waynes only allowed 39 yards on seven targets and continued his terrific play in run support. Harrison Smith literally allowed fewer receiving yards than all of you reading this, and he was targeted four times. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter brought the heat from the edge when the opportunity presented itself. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were phenomenal in containing the dynamic duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Overall, a truly outstanding performance from this defense.
Case Keenum: It doesn’t really feel like Keenum made many spectacular plays — he just always made the right play. He took what the defense gave him — which was a lot of underneath throws — and executed them. He remains a key reason the Vikings are the only team in the NFL that has not thrown an interception. He’ll need to step it up a bit to keep up with Aaron Rodgers this week, but he did what he had to do to get an ugly win against the Bears.
Jerick McKinnon: After what was probably his worst game as a pro against the Lions in Week 4, Jet followed it up with maybe his best against the Bears. He tallied nearly 100 rushing yards on 16 carries (including a 58-yard touchdown) to go with a six-catch, 51-yard receiving performance. He and Latavius Murray will lead a running back committee from here on out to replace Dalvin Cook. So far, so good.
Bradford’s Knee: Yeah, this is sort of bad. For all intents and purposes, this is an injury that won’t heal. It could feel better from time to time, but there isn’t really a solution. It puts a dark cloud over the remainder of not just this season, but his career.
Run blocking: Outside of McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown run, the Vikings averaged less than three yards per carry on the ground. The interior appeared overmatched by Eddie Goldman and the talents on the Chicago Bears defensive front, and Murray and McKinnon both struggled early before finally hitting a bit of a groove later in the game.
Skol Scale Figure: 5.5
Minnesota now sits at 3-2, one game out of the NFC North lead. The Vikings overcame the Soldier Field curse to win a road division game, which is never easy in this division. The defense continues to look elite, while the offense looks like it’s good enough to keep the Vikings in games until the end.
The scale increases only by one point this week largely due to the Bradford injury. If Keenum plays the entire game, earns the win, and Bradford doesn’t suffer a setback, the Skol Scale is likely in the 6.5 range. Instead, Bradford aggravated the injury and the Vikings will now have to roll with Keenum against the best quarterback in football.
Green Bay’s offense is as potent as it gets, almost the complete opposite of what Chicago presented on Monday night. Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and Kendall Wright turn into Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb real quick. Oh, and did I mention it’s a short week?
This isn’t to say the Vikings can’t beat the Packers, but it does put an extra level of pressure on Mike Zimmer’s defense to contain Aaron Rodgers.
Now, the Vikings can pull off this win and move to 4-2 with the Ravens on deck and the Browns in the hole? The Skol Scale will see a dramatic jump.
More Skol Scale Figures
A win is a win, even by 3 against the Bears.
PLUS the Bradford injury can't be that bad right? (screams internally) pic.twitter.com/NPdc7V46HC
— Seth Toupal (@sethtoups) October 10, 2017
7 team looks solid overall, just need some consistent QB play
— Sean Borman (@SeanBoarMan) October 10, 2017
8-TEAM played 2gether 4 the Win. Case is a real good QB, everyone is stepping up. They really are #SQUAD
— Cynthia Vance (@cindyluvsvikes) October 10, 2017
— Luke Braun (@spokenflow22) October 10, 2017
7. Case is da boy, Teddy will play again, rushing game not so bad. Barr playing really well. If we beat the Packers playoffs are real.
— Luke Rietjens (@SilVikes) October 10, 2017