Jordan Howard, Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears defense combined to give the Minnesota Vikings an unexpected Halloween fright during a 20-10 upset victory at Soldier Field on Monday night.
Minnesota was thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball and dropped its second straight game after winning its first five. Chicago moved to 2-6 after the NFC North showdown but still sits in last place in the division.
In his first game since suffering a thumb injury Sept. 19, Cutler finished with 252 passing yards and a touchdown throw to Alshon Jeffery. Howard added 153 rushing yards, 49 receiving yards and a touchdown.
ESPN Stats & Info noted Howard joined historic company with his performance:
Most Rush Yards on Monday Night Football – Bears History
1978 Walter Payton 157
2016 Jordan Howard 153
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 1, 2016
The defense helped set the tone for the victorious Bears, sacking Vikings signal-caller Sam Bradford five times. Akiem Hicks led the way with two sacks, and Chicago held Minnesota to 57 rushing yards on 18 carries (3.2 yards per attempt) and didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
The Bears got on the scoreboard first thanks to strong running by Howard. The rookie busted loose for a 69-yard gain on Chicago’s first possession, helping set up Connor Barth’s 30-yard field goal.
NFL Research noted the Vikings defense was not accustomed to giving up explosive plays:
Jordan Howard’s 69-yard run accounts for more rushing yards in one play than any player had against the Vikings in a game this season
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) November 1, 2016
The Bears caught a break when Bradford overthrew a wide-open Stefon Diggs on a potential go-ahead touchdown. NFL on ESPN captured how close the tandem was to connecting for a score:
So. Close. pic.twitter.com/RP8kB1fF4p
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 1, 2016
Chicago added to its lead with another field goal early in the second quarter. Cutler put his team in scoring position by escaping the pocket and shoveling the ball to Howard for a 34-yard gain on 3rd-and-8. Xavier Rhodes broke up a would-be touchdown pass to Jeffery one play before Barth kicked a 28-yarder, but the Bears still had all of the momentum.
Howard kept it rolling with a two-yard touchdown run on Chicago’s next possession after keeping the drive alive with an 11-yard reception on 3rd-and-9.
The NFL called it the Howard show as it documented the score:
The @JHowardx24 show continues…
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2016
Before halftime, the Vikings cut their deficit to 13-3 with Blair Walsh’s 30-yard field goal. The Bears’ Cornelius Washington helped Minnesota move the sticks by picking up a 15-yard penalty for entering the field during play when he didn’t realize there was a fumble after the Chicago defense recorded a sack on 3rd-and-6 near midfield.
“And that whole sequence is why the Bears are 1-6,” Adam Hoge of WGN Radio tweeted.
But Cutler marched the offense 75 yards on the opening possession of the second half, hitting Jeffery for an 11-yard score to help Chicago open a commanding 20-3 advantage.
It was Jeffery’s first touchdown of the season, which surprised former NFL player Jarrett Payton, who is the son of Bears legend Walter Payton:
— Jarrett Payton (@paytonsun) November 1, 2016
On the other side of the ball, Chicago continued to maul the Minnesota offensive line and put pressure on Bradford.
NFL on ESPN underscored why the Vikings and their quarterback were in trouble in the third quarter:
Sam Bradford is 0-24 in his career when trailing by 17+ points. pic.twitter.com/gpviSe2pER
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 1, 2016
The Bears forced another punt early in the fourth quarter when Hicks notched his second sack of the game on 3rd-and-5 at the Chicago 43-yard line.
“At this point you could replace the Vikings O-Line with the horns section from Earth Wind & Fire and get same result,” Maximiliano Bretos of ESPN tweeted.
The offensive line held up on Minnesota’s next possession, allowing Bradford to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike to Diggs for a 25-yard score.
The extra point trimmed the Bears’ lead to 20-10 with less than six minutes remaining. The Vikings elected to kick deep, however, and it proved costly when Howard ran for three first downs and Cutler found Zach Miller for another to milk the clock.
Minnesota didn’t get its hands on the ball again until there were just four seconds left, and Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times reacted to the Bears’ showing after the four-minute drill that clinched the win:
Most impressive thing of the night: Cutler? No. The defense? No. … It’s the #Bears‘ O-line beating up the Vikings minus Long and Sitton.
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) November 1, 2016
The Vikings will return home to face the 4-4 Detroit Lions in another division game, which could play into tiebreakers down the road. Minnesota needs to bounce back from its two-game losing streak if it wants to remain atop the NFC North and in the thick of the playoff race.
After a bye week, Chicago will begin a two-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants. Despite their impressive outing Monday, the Bears are still not playoff contenders and in theory would probably be better off losing to obtain a higher pick in the draft.
Still, they have Cutler back and could build some momentum against two teams that are a combined 7-7.
Vikings offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings discussed his team’s struggles, per Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press: “People can say what they want, but once we fix it, we’re going to be fine. Once we do our jobs better, we’re going to be fine.”
Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway talked about the issues the Vikings had stopping Howard and the Chicago rushing attack, per Murphy: “That’s inexcusable. That’s what we pride ourselves on, run defense, and have a long time.”
Cutler praised Howard’s effort, per the Bears: “You can see how much he’s grown. He’s like a four- or five-year vet back there.”
Cutler also pointed to the offensive line, per Mike Berman of NBC 5 Chicago: “Our offensive line played their tails off. … Guys made plays all over the field. … It was fun to be a part of.”
Chicago head coach John Fox talked about the outing as a whole, per Berman: “Best team effort so far. It was evident these guys played very hard for each other. We’ve got a good group in that locker room.”
It may be shaping up as a lost season, but it seems like the Bears enter their bye week with some confidence.