Nothing like a matchup against a last-place team to regroup from a loss.
So consider this good timing for the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFC North leaders will try to get back to winning when they meet the returning Jay Cutler and last-place Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Minnesota (5-1) had played well enough to overcome its flaws until a post-bye trip to Philadelphia last week.
Sam Bradford was sacked six times against his former team playing behind a struggling offensive line, and the Vikings became the last team in the NFL to lose a game this season, falling 21-10 .
”I’m anxious to see the determination this team has going forward,” coach Mike Zimmer said. ”You never know, every team is different, but I think I have a pretty good feeling with these players, and typically, with this football team.”
If the Vikings need a lift, Chicago (1-6) could be the team to provide it.
After all, the Bears are off to their worst start since they dropped seven of their first eight in 2000.
Chicago is one of four teams with one or zero wins and comes into this game averaging a league-low 15.9 points. The Bears at least will have Cutler after he missed five games because of a sprained right thumb.
But his future in Chicago appears up in the air after coach John Fox publicly wavered in his commitment to him as the starting quarterback.
The Bears had no choice but to go with Cutler after he got medical clearance over the weekend, since Brian Hoyer broke his left arm in Thursday’s 26-10 loss at Green Bay . He faces a tough assignment in his first game back going against the league’s No. 1 defense.
It will be the lone game for Chicago in a 23-day span, with a bye next week.
”Obviously you have to have success in your division to be successful and that’s our goal,” coach John Fox said. ”At some point we’ll get there, hopefully sooner rather later.”
Here are some things to look for as the Vikings try to bounce back against the Bears:
COVERAGE VS. CUTLER: Cutler is 8-5 with 26 touchdown passes in 13 starts against the Vikings, the most victories he has against any team, but he has also thrown 14 interceptions. He’ll face a defense that has been one of the toughest to pass against in the NFL, holding opponents to a league-low 63.7 passer rating. The Vikings are also the best in the NFL against the deep ball, limiting foes to 5-for-22 passing on throws traveling 20-plus yards with four interceptions and a paltry 14.6 rating.
”We see one guy get one, we all want to get one,” cornerback Trae Waynes said.
Strong safety Andrew Sendejo, who has four takeaways, sprained his ankle last week at Philadelphia, putting his availability in question.
HOLDING THE LINE: The Vikings have been patching together their offensive line, with both starting tackles on injured reserve. The group struggled badly with pass protection against the Eagles.
The Bears could be short-handed on the offensive line, after left guard Josh Sitton (ankle) sat out last week’s game and right guard Kyle Long left because of a pectoral muscle strain.
CATCHING ON: Cutler’s return could mean bigger numbers for Alshon Jeffery – and maybe even a touchdown.
Jeffery averaged 100.5 yards receiving with Cutler starting the first two games. In the five with Hoyer, who is less likely to look downfield, he averaged 63.8 yards.
As for scoring a touchdown, Jeffery still doesn’t have one this season. He finished with four in nine games last season and has never gone this long without a TD.
”We’ve just got to find ways to get him the ball and capitalize on some of these big plays that we’ve had, and we will,” Cutler said. ”It’s a matter of time.”
RUNNING ROOM: The run blocking wasn’t bad at Philadelphia, and the Vikings have been getting by without All-Pro Adrian Peterson with a group, including Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. Ronnie Hillman, a member of Denver’s Super Bowl-winning team last season, saw his first action against the Eagles. McKinnon scored his first career touchdown last December in Minnesota’s victory at home over Chicago. Quarterback Sam Bradford wants an improved running game:
PROMISING PERFORMANCE: While it’s been hard to find positives for the Bears, rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was a bright spot last week. The No. 9 overall draft pick had two sacks, including a fumble recovery in the end zone.
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