The Vikings knew what it would take to score a pivotal upset Sunday in Chicago, laying out a set of straightforward prerequisites.
Objective 1: Take care of the football. Result: Failed, with the Vikings losing the turnover battle 3-1 and dropping to 0-5 this season when doing so.
Objective 2: Capitalize in the red zone. Result: Failed. In three trips inside the Chicago 20-yard line, the Vikings scored only one touchdown and now have 18 TDs in 36 red zone trips, a .500 percentage that ranks 19th in the NFL.
Objective 3: Create pressure and flourish on third downs defensively. Result: Failed. The Bears converted 10 of their first 13 third downs and steadied an otherwise ordinary offensive day by delivering in the clutch.
On the whole, the Vikings defensive effort was not as rotten as it might have seemed.
Yeah, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall totaled 92 receiving yards. But he needed 17 passes thrown his way and 12 catches to do so. And yes, running backs Michael Bush and Matt Forte combined to rush for more than 100 yards. But they averaged 2.9 yards per carry with only two runs longer than 6 yards.
Instead, the Vikings defense had its spirit crushed by the offense's carelessness and its own inability to deliver big plays.
Two of Chicago's three touchdown drives came on short fields, possessions that covered 34 and 13 yards after costly Viking turnovers.
The other Bears TD march was a 14-play, 80-yarder that seemed to slowly deflate the defense.
"Man, especially in a game like that, it was incredibly frustrating," safety Mistral Raymond said. "It's on us. Coaches put us in position to make plays. And we have to make those plays. I wouldn't say anything was totally out of sync. We just have to make a few plays."
Four times the Vikings had a chance to get off the field during that lengthy second-quarter Chicago drive. But here's how those sequences unfolded:
• Third-and-5 from the Chicago 25: The Bears called a shotgun handoff to Forte, and Jared Allen got pinned inside on a block by tight end Kellen Davis. Behind pulling right guard Lance Louis, Forte got outside to left and picked up the first down by a matter of 5 or 6 inches before Harrison Smith and Jasper Brinkley made the stop.
• Third-and-3 from the Chicago 38: Following a terrific second-down stop of Forte by Brian Robison, the Bears used a play fake and Jay Cutler delivered a well-designed flat pass to fullback Evan Rodriguez. It's the first time Rodriguez touched the ball in the NFL, and he gained 11 yards before Chad Greenway brought him down.
• Third-and-2 from the Vikings 43: The Vikings finally had success on third down with Robison and Mistral Raymond stopping Michael Bush for 1 yard. But because of where Chicago was on the field, they opted to go for it on fourth down and converted with an all-too-easy 5-yard inside run to Bush.
• Third-and-4 from the Vikings 31: Out of the shotgun with three receivers and a tight end wide, Cutler got pressured by Robison but scrambled two steps to his right and drilled a 6-yard bullet to Brandon Marshall, his favorite target. Marshall was bumped and released off the line by rookie cornerback Josh Robinson. Yet both Robinson and Greenway zeroed in on Forte in coverage, an obvious miscommunication that left Marshall wide open with no defender within 4 yards of him.
Two plays later, the Bears finished a scoring drive with a 1-yard Bush TD run and a two-point conversion for an 18-3 lead.
Said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier: "You hate for a team to be able to possess the ball as long as they did on that drive."
It was just that kind of day for the Vikings defense, which didn't surrender many big plays yet didn't produce any either.
For the entire game, Chicago averaged only 4.2 yards per play, just 0.2 yards more than the sputtering Vikings offense did. Yet the Bears won easily with Cutler drilling passes into tight windows and Bush picking up tough yardage when it counted.
In all, the Bears were 11-for-19 on third downs and 6-for-8 facing third-and-4 or less.
In the chase for a wild-card playoff berth, those mini-failures have major consequences.
"You have to find a way to make a play along the way to get off the field," Frazier said. "We didn't, and it hurt us."