1. Third-down mastery includes B-Rob’s 60th career sack
Sunday’s game was 45 minutes old when the Bears got their third first down. Yet they were lingering at 16-7 when Mitchell Trubisky dropped back on third-and-7. At the last second, linebacker Anthony Barr blitzed, giving the Vikings a five-man rush. His disruption helped Brian Robison notch the 60th sack of his career. The Vikings went up 23-7 on their next possession en route to a 23-10 win at U.S. Bank Stadium. “I just kind of played off the call we had,” Robison said. “There’s no magic trick to it.” The Bears converted one of 12 third downs as the Vikings set the NFL season record for third-down percentage (25.2) since the stat became official in 1991. Said coach Mike Zimmer said: “We got good players. I don’t think we do anything fancy.”
2. Run defense key to it all again
The only way I saw the Vikings losing this home game was if they got sloppy vs. the run and the offense turned the ball over. The offense had no turnovers for the second consecutive game. As for the second-ranked run defense? “We certainly made them one-dimensional,” safety Harrison Smith said after the Bears gained 30 yards on 15 carries. “That’s impressive because [Jordan] Howard is the total package.” He finished with 9 yards on nine carries. The Vikings were so stingy, they didn’t even budge on third-and-1 in the first quarter. Fullback Michael Burton blasted into the line but was dropped for no gain by Anthony Barr and Andrew Sendejo. “Just the guys up front playing great and other guys reading their keys,” Smith said of the play. “Third-and-1. Just go after them.”
3. Keenum sets team victory mark for undrafted QBs
Is Case Keenum an MVP candidate? While I admire his grit and big, um, guts, I don’t see him winning MVP. MVPs are guys who carry their teams. Keenum isn’t carrying this team. But he’s more than pulling his weight by not being a drag for the league’s best defense. Keenum played smart and turnover-free again. He threw a couple of third-down balls so far out of bounds, he almost reached the stands. With his 11th win this year, Keenum moved past Gary Cuozzo for most wins in a season by a Vikings quarterback who wasn’t drafted. Cuozzo became the starter in 1970 when Joe Kapp held out and was traded after leading the Vikings to Super Bowl IV. Cuozzo went 10-2. Beware, Case. Cuozzo lost his playoff opener at home that year.
4. Could Bears turn to Shurmur?
There’s a reason Chicago reporters spent Sunday’s postgame interviewing Vikings players about offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Bears coach John Fox isn’t expected to survive the NFL’s Black Monday purge. And Shurmur is expected get interview requests with teams during the Vikings’ bye week. Chicago certainly is a possibility. As for Fox, well, other than a punt return for a touchdown, the Bears played the kind of sloppy game typical of Fox’s teams. While dropping their coach to 14-34, the Bears committed 10 penalties for 116 yards and gained only 201 yards on offense. Three times in the first 20 minutes, the Vikings were stopped on third down only to have a Bears penalty extend the drive. The killer was a 24-yard pass interference to the 1-yard line.
5. Murray ‘Most Improved Viking’
I had serious doubts that running back Latavius Murray would amount to much this season. With his ankle injury lingering through training camp and into the regular season, I didn’t envision 842 yards and eight touchdowns when dynamic rookie Dalvin Cook went down in Week 4. Early this season, when a giant hole was opened by a much improved line, I saw a guy who was slow through the hole. Today, I’d say no one on the team has improved more than Murray has over 16 games. Murray had 111 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries (5.6) Sunday. Both touchdowns were from the 1-yard line. “You get in there and there are a lot of bodies,” Zimmer said. “You get a bigger guy in there and he can lower his pads and bring his big rear end and legs with him and drive it in there.”