Minnesota Vikings defense leads the way in win over Chicago Bears
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tension was palpable in the Minnesota Vikings' locker room before Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, playoff destiny in the same hands trying to wring out anxiety borne of a two-game losing streak and the magnitude of the moment.
MINNEAPOLIS - Tension was palpable in the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, playoff destiny in the same hands trying to wring out anxiety borne of a two-game losing streak and the magnitude of the moment.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn could sense his teammates tightening. The team’s court jester was having none of that.
“Put a smile on your face!” Munnerlyn ordered. “Let’s fly around and have fun. It’s just football.”
He sanded off the edge by reminding anyone within earshot this was exactly where they want to be in late December, circling the wagons, playing for postseason stakes and embracing their opportunity.
“Yeah, they smiled,” Munnerlyn reported.
There was plenty to enjoy about Minnesota’s 38-17 takedown of the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium, from Teddy Bridgewater’s ascension in a maturing passing game to Adrian Peterson limping back to the top of the NFL’s rushing mountain.
Bridgewater and Peterson are the bona-fide stars of the 2015 Vikings, but their casting-call defense has revealed the team’s true character.
Down three starters again, the patchwork unit rose to the occasion, sacking Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler five times, forcing a pair of turnovers and limiting the Bears to 293 total yards.
The balanced attack spread accolades around like stocking stuffers.
Rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter had 1-1/2 sacks, whacked Cutler twice and added a tackle for a loss.
His five sacks are the most among NFL rookies.
There was career drifter Tom Johnson, whose journey to Minnesota wound through the Canadian Football League, NFL Europa and the Arena Football League.
Johnson and fellow defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd have fortified the interior defense so well the Vikings have hardly missed Pro Bowl candidate Linval Joseph, sidelined three games with a toe injury.
The duo combined for 1-1/2 sacks and helped keep Chicago to less than 100 yards rushing.
“It’s great. I love this team, this coaching staff,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s hungry. We don’t have anyone on this team that is just ‘me, me, me.’ It’s all about the next person, and it makes you want to fight for them.”
Nobody embodies selflessness more than Brian Robison and Chad Greenway, marginalized veterans who still are thriving in less-prolific roles.
Greenway’s narrative is the most familiar. He has taken pay cuts the past two seasons, lost his starting job as Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks emerged, and faces an uncertain future as a 2016 free agent.
With Barr sidelined, Greenway is freelancing without complaint, confident his experience will let plays come to him and keep him relevant.
His third-down sack of Cutler punctuated the Bears’ second straight three-and-out defensive series to start the game.
“I can’t point to one guy and say he’s a selfish guy,” Greenway said. “I can say across the board we have guys that are selfless and are more interested in helping our team move forward even if they are a free agent. It’s important for us to continue to have that.”
Robison earned a big contract two years ago waiting for Jared Allen to jive his way out of town, but he lost the featured edge rusher role he coveted to promising Everson Griffen.
Injuries have forced the Vikings to mix their interior front. Robison has been kicked inside to tackle as the pass rush flows through Griffen and Hunter, literally stepping aside to create mismatches for others to flourish.
“It’s about winning, man,” Robison said. “If you’re asking me would I rather be on the edge rushing, absolutely. But at the end of the day we need our best four pass rushers out there at all times.”
Robison’s two sacks in a blowout loss to Seattle were lost in the fog of such a meager showing, but he has stepped up his game in December.
His strip-sack of Cutler and fumble recovery at midfield was pivotal. It regained momentum for Minnesota after the Bears boldly recovered an onside kick to start the second half.
“It almost just laid there for me, like, ‘Here I am,’ so I just got on it,” Robison said in his mesquite-Texas drawl.
And then there was Trattou, the ultimate castoff.
Removed from the active roster before the Arizona game to make room for safety depth, Trattou was re-signed the following week.
He has been inactive for 10 games and slowed by an ankle injury. And yet the undrafted free agent became a headliner again when he intercepted Cutler early in the fourth quarter to set up another touchdown.
It was the second interception this season for Trattou, who picked up Detroit’s Matthew Stafford in Week 2 and now has more career picks than second-year starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
“I read the quarterback’s eyes and saw where he was throwing,” Trattou said of Cutler. “He threw it up, and I got it.”
Aggressive, unselfish and anonymous - got a nickname for that?
“The Forsaken” does not excite the senses like “Purple People Eaters,” “Doomsday” or “The Steel Curtain”, but this is your 2015 Vikings defense.
Smile, fly around and have fun.
It’s just football.