Plenty of Blame to Spread around Starting with Joshua Dobbs in Damaging Loss to Bears

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It was shades of the 0-3 start on Monday night as the Vikings’ roller coaster season continued in the 12-10 loss to the Bears. Turnover issues with Josh Dobbs’ four interceptions, a late critical defensive breakdown, special teams problems (this time involving punter Ryan Wright), and coaching errors sealed the Vikings’ fate in their second straight defeat after the five wins in a row.

Plenty of Blame to Spread around Starting with Joshua Dobbs in Damaging Loss to Bears

It was an ugly game in prime time for both teams, but the Bears left town with their first NFC North win in Matt Eberflus” two years as head coach.

And it’s back to .500 for the Vikings heading into their bye week as they await the much-needed return of Justin Jefferson for a sputtering offense when they face the Raiders in Las Vegas on December 10.  

The coaches bear part of the blame for the loss on Monday as Kevin O’Connell went bold when he should’ve played it safe by going for it on 4th-and-7 from the Minnesota 49 in an early third-quarter tie game (Dobbs threw it behind T.J. Hockenson who was tackled shy of the first down and the Bears drove to a field goal). The Bears’ offense had been lackluster at that point, and giving them a short field defied logic.

Plenty of Blame
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Then, after Josh Metellus forced a second Justin Fields fumble to give the Vikings the ball on the Chicago 43 with 3:28 remaining, O’Connell put his jumbo package in with three tight ends and called two run plays that gained one yard against Chicago’s No. 1 ranked run defense before Dobbs threw a short pass to Brandon Powell that lost one yard.

This was the time to be creative and throw safe passes when the Bears were expecting running plays to pick up a couple of first downs and at least set up a Greg Joseph field goal so the Bears would have to score a touchdown to win (which they hadn’t done). Counting on the defense to hold a one-point lead late in a game is always a dangerous strategy, but it’s apparent O’Connell didn’t trust Dobbs not to turn it over.

When they were forced to punt, Wright needed to pin the Bears inside their 10-yard line, but his punt went only 26 yards, out of bounds at the Chicago 22, which made it easier for Fields on the final drive. After a strong game with abundant blitzing by the defense as they held the Bears to three points off the four Vikings turnovers, DC Brian Flores went conservative on that last drive and rushed four on 3rd-and-10. He should’ve’ had double coverage (with Byron Murphy and a safety) on D.J. Moore, who already had 10 catches, and Fields obviously would be looking for him as the primary receiver.

But Moore was wide open in the middle of the field as the Vikings blew the zone coverage, and the 36-yard completion from Fields set up the winning field goal.

Player mistakes and coaching miscues cost the Vikings in this damaging loss that dropped them to 6-6 on the season and only ½ game ahead of the Packers, Rams, and Saints for the last NFC playoff spot, but at least the Vikings have head-to-head wins over Green Bay and New Orleans and a better record in NFC games than the other three teams. And the 6-5 Seahawks at the No. 6 seed have a killer next three weeks — at Dallas this Thursday, at San Francisco and home vs. Philly.

falcons tilt
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So if the Vikings can make a run to the No. 6 seed, they would likely have a first-round playoff game at Detroit, which is better than going to San Francisco or Philadelphia in that wild card round.

But the Vikings blew a chance to move within 1 ½ games of the now struggling Lions, who are 8-3 after losing at home to the Packers on Thanksgiving (and the Bears should’ve beat the Lions the previous Sunday when they had a 12-point lead with four minutes left). Detroit has four of their next five games on the road, including the December 24 game at the Vikings and a tough Week 17 matchup at Dallas (they are at 5-6 New Orleans this Sunday).

So the Vikings may have a chance to make it a race in the NFC North if they get all phases of the team rolling on another winning streak.     

Here are my other reactions to the Vikings” 12-10 loss to the Bears:

Dobbs now has eight turnovers (five interceptions and three lost fumbles) in his four games played with the Vikings (2-2 in those games), including six in the last two losses (tied with the Lions’ Jared Goff for most in the league over those two weeks). I’ve rarely seen a Vikings QB play as carelessly as Dobbs did against the Bears, where he threw so many times into coverage or just heaved the ball toward Bears defenders as he was being tackled.

Jaylon Johnson had one interception and dropped what should’ve been a Pick 6 in the second quarter when Dobbs forced it to a covered Hockenson.

O’Connell obviously was very unhappy with Dobbs’ play, as the coach said post-game that he considered putting Nick Mullens in and benching Dobbs. O’Connell also did not commit to his starting QB in Las Vegas, as he made the point that both Mullens and Jaren Hall are healthy now. It’s a sad turn of events for the likable Dobbs, who was the NFL’s best story in his first two weeks in Minnesota when he led the wins over the Falcons and Saints.

But it’s a “what have you done for me lately” league, as Dobbs knows well from his many stops on his NFL journey. If he remains the starter, he must do a much better job protecting the ball and take a sack or throw it away if necessary.

2. The Vikings’ offensive line and overall pass protection were poor against the Bears and in the previous game in Denver. Dobbs was pressured 16 times or 44% of his dropbacks. The Vikings’ excellent right tackle Brian O’Neill had his hands full with Bears defensive end Montez Sweat, who had 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, and one tackle-for-loss. Sweat is turning into an excellent acquisition by the Bears at the trade deadline for a second-round pick.

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Garrett Bradbury and Dalton Risner had some good moments in the game but were beaten on the two poorly blocked running plays on the Vikings’ final drive. The O-line, tight ends, and backs must be better in pass protection and run blocking in the games ahead.

3. Third down efficiency must improve on offense: 2 of 9 (22%) vs. the Bears, including 0 for 4 in the dismal first half. This after going 2 of 12 (17%) in Denver…not good enough.   

4. It’s obvious the offense needs the spark that Jefferson can provide on his return. Jordan Addison has had a terrific rookie season, but he had a couple of drops and lost his bearings along the sideline on the play when he was open deep, and Dobbs made a bad throw too close to the sideline (the Vikings still scored a TD on that drive with Dobbs’ good throw to a leaping Hockenson). Addison, K.J. Osborn, and Hockenson should have more room to operate, with J.J. commanding double teams.

5. Danielle Hunter was the best player on the field for either team on Monday night. He seemed to be in on almost every tackle and finished with 1.5 sacks, nine tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and three QB hits. He’s a must-sign for the Vikings this coming offseason if he stays healthy the rest of the season.

Metellus also had a big game with the two forced fumbles on Fields (that should’ve been enough to help win the game since the first one led to a TD, and the second should’ve’ resulted in points). He also had nine tackles and a half-sack.

Until the final drive, the defense held up well, as the four interceptions by Dobbs led to only three points due to stops by the Vikings. The Bears were the first NFL team to win this season without scoring a TD.  

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6. Wright is not punting as well as he did last year as a rookie, and it cost the team on his final punt of 26 yards. His net average is 41.4 yards per punt, 22nd ranked after he was 11th best last season at 42.5 yards per punt, and worse yet, he ranks 30th in punts downed inside the 20 with only nine after he was sixth best last year with 32 inside the 20. He’s’ fortunate that he does a good job as holder for Joseph, but it still wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings bring in some punters to audition during the bye week and light a fire under Wright.

7. The Vikings are now a disappointing 2-4 in front of their boisterous home crowds this season and 4-2 on the road. The Bears game is the third highly winnable home game against teams with losing records that have been lost this season (after losing the opener to Tampa Bay and in Week 3 to the Chargers, with both teams now 4-7 and the Bears stand 4-8). If they had won those games, the Vikings would be 9-3 and ½ game ahead of the Lions. But as everyone knows, “ifs” don’t cut it in sports or life.  

Around the NFL observations:

1. The best game of Week 12 was Philadelphia’s rally to beat reeling Buffalo (lost three of the last four) 37-34 in OT. Jalen Hurts was great late in the game and OT as he ran for the winning score after Josh Allen had a fine game but couldn’t connect with the open Gabe Davis on the first drive in OT that resulted in a field goal. Eagles kicker Jake Elliott made a terrific 59-yard field goal on a rainy night with 25 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

The Eagles (10-1) hold the NFC’s top seed and have a tough two-week stretch at home vs. San Francisco and then at Dallas, with both teams 8-3.

2. Baltimore (9-3) is the AFC’s’ No. 1 team through 12 weeks after winning 20-10 in L.A. against the falling Chargers. Kansas City, Miami, and Jacksonville are other AFC division leaders at 8-3 and just a half-game behind the Ravens for the top seed.

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And, by the way, another big comeback for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who spotted the Vikings next opponent — the Raiders — a 14-0 lead before outscoring them 31-3 in a 31-17 victory. Mahomes is now 15-11 in his career when down 10 or more points, and no other QB is above .500 in that stat.

Jacksonville and Trevor Lawrence won the battle of AFC South top QBs and for the division lead over Houston and C.J. Stroud in a 24-21 thriller that was not decided until Texans’ kicker Matt Ammendola hit the crossbar (with the ball bouncing out) on a 58-yard field goal attempt on the final play.

3. Denver followed up their win over the Vikings by beating Cleveland 29-12 for their fifth straight win, which moves them into a tie for the final AFC playoff spot. The Broncos’ defense forced three turnovers and are plus 13 in turnover ratio during the winning streak, while QB Russell Wilson has 8 TDs and no interceptions over the past five games as he continues his bounce-back season.  

I’m back next week with my preview of the Vikings’ return after their bye week in Las Vegas against the 5-7 Raiders, which will feature Jefferson back in the lineup to give the offense a spark with their best playmaker (that’s the Vikings’ hope for the stretch run ahead).  

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings” 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl