MINNEAPOLIS (AP)The first game for the Minnesota Vikings without Justin Jefferson was a slog, a glaring reminder of how vital the superstar wide receiver is for their ability to score.
The Vikings also suggested in Chicago that acumen, grit and pride might be just enough to keep the season alive while Jefferson is sidelined with a hamstring injury – even if it’s going to be ugly at times.
“We’re not going to be picky about finding a way to get a win,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
The Vikings had 220 yards, their fifth-lowest total in 56 regular season games since Jefferson arrived in 2020. Their 15.4% third-down conversion rate was their fourth-worst in that span, and even after the game the Bears defense still ranks last in the league on third down (50.6%).
“It was kind of a revolving door of missed assignments here from some of our more reliable players,” coach Kevin O’Connell said after the 19-13 victory Sunday. “Our offense will be hungry to go back to work and make sure we rectify some of those things, because honestly the way Kirk was throwing it today, I feel like it could have been a much, much bigger day.”
The Bears frequently employed a single high safety rather than the two-deep alignment most common for opponents trying to control Jefferson, daring Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn and the rest of Minnesota’s receivers to beat man-to-man coverage.
Addison did just that midway through the second quarter with the Vikings ahead 6-3, when Cousins zipped a perfectly placed pass up the sideline on the first down, but he slightly mistimed his dive and didn’t secure the ball as he landed on the grass.
The rookie contributed the only offensive touchdown of the afternoon for the Vikings (2-4) two possessions later, his fourth in six games, but the drop was a snapshot of how Jefferson’s absence places a greater burden on the rest of the group to outperform their baseline production with the 2022 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year out for at least another three games.
“I just need to be more aggressive from the start,” Addison said. “What I need to improve on is just attacking the ball, coming back to the ball and just showing people that they can’t guard me.”
The pass rush directed by defensive coordinator Brian Flores – who blitzed on 22 of 29 dropbacks, per Sportradar – produced five sacks and eight quarterback hits. Danielle Hunter had two sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with eight. Safety Josh Metellus, playing frequently out of the slot as the nickel back, had a sack, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Alexander Mattison netted just 44 yards on 18 carries in a regression for the rushing attack after a couple of productive games. The lanes often weren’t there between the tackles.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks had an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown to go with a team-leading 10 tackles. He has helped stabilize the defense this season following the departure of mainstay Eric Kendricks.
“He was not going to be denied a chance to be the guy to go out there and respond,” O’Connell said.
Fullback C.J. Ham is one of the most respected players on the team, but his presence as a blocker hasn’t done much for the lagging ground game. He also contributed to an intentional grounding call on Cousins in the fourth quarter when he stayed with the rusher instead of turning to try to catch a screen pass.
OLB Marcus Davenport, who missed most or all of three games with an injury to his right ankle, hurt the other one in the second quarter against the Bears and didn’t return. O’Connell indicated his absence might be longer term. … LG Ezra Cleveland hurt his foot and was replaced by Dalton Risner. His status is day to day, O’Connell said on Monday.
26:15 – The average time of possession per game for the Vikings this season. That’s the lowest in the league and also the lowest for the team since at least 1991, according to available data from Sportradar.
The Vikings host San Francisco on Monday night, with the 49ers coming off their first loss of the season in a concerning game at Cleveland during which three vital offensive players – running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and left tackle Trent Williams – suffered injuries that make their availability this week unclear.
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