November 25, 2014

2001: Surging Bears Shut Down Vikings

The Chicago Bears were 7-2 as they took on the Minnesota Vikings on November 25, 2001 but had benefited from some good fortune in close games along the way. The Bears, who had not had a winning season in six years, were coached by Dick Jauron for the third season. Workmanlike QB Jim Miller directed a conservative offense that benefited from the presence of rookie RB Anthony Thomas. The tough defense was buttressed by the arrival of veteran newcomers on the line in DTs Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, plus the continued development of second-year MLB Brian Urlacher. However, they were without Thomas due to a hamstring injury and RB James Allen (pictured above) was starting in his place against the Vikings.

Minnesota reached the playoffs in each of the five previous seasons, but was stumbling along at 4-5 thus far in ’01 (including an earlier loss at Chicago), although the Vikings were coming off of an impressive win over the Giants the previous Monday night. Head Coach Dennis Green produced consistently strong offensive teams, and there was plenty of talent with QB Daunte Culpepper and wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. But the retirement of RB Robert Smith hurt and so did the tragic training camp death of OT Korey Stringer. Defense was a chronic problem.  

There were 64,214 fans in attendance for the Sunday night game at the Metrodome. The Vikings had the game’s first possession and moved into Chicago territory but were forced to punt, and that set the stage for the rest of the first quarter. Neither offense was able to move effectively. A 23-yard punt return by WR Nate Jacquet gave the Vikings good starting field position at the Chicago 44 at one point, but they came up empty when LB Rosevelt Colvin intercepted a Daunte Culpepper pass.

Finally, in the second quarter the Bears put together an 80-yard drive in seven plays. Jim Miller completed a pass to WR Dez White for 17 yards and RB Leon Johnson gained 34 yards on a carry to the Minnesota four. Two plays later, Johnson ran for a two-yard touchdown and, with Paul Edinger adding the extra point, Chicago was in front by 7-0.

Following more exchanges of punts, the Bears got favorable field position at the Minnesota 34 and, starting with a 15-yard run by James Allen, came away with a 30-yard Edinger field goal to lead by 10-0 at the half.

The Vikings finally got on the board on their first possession of the third quarter. Culpepper completed six passes to get from his 31 to the Chicago 26 and Gary Anderson booted a 44-yard field goal to narrow the Bears’ margin to 10-3.

That was it until, in a series that extended into the fourth quarter, the Bears moved 55 yards in eight plays. Miller completed passes to WR David Terrell that picked up 26 and 25 yards to reach the Minnesota 26 and, while the drive stalled, Edinger kicked a 43-yard field goal to again make it a ten-point contest.

After another exchange of punts, the Vikings put together a long series, the key play being a pass from Culpepper to TE Byron Chamberlain in a third-and-five situation that gained 23 yards to the Chicago 12. However, after getting another first down at the one, Minnesota couldn’t punch the ball in and had to settle for a 21-yard Anderson field goal.

That was effectively the last gasp for the Vikings. Taking over on offense with 3:10 on the clock, the Bears managed to maintain possession until the final seconds before having to punt, and pinned back in their own territory, time ran out on the Vikings. Chicago won the low-scoring affair by the final score of 13-6.

Minnesota failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 98 games but led in total yards (316 to 235), first downs (15 to 11), and time of possession (34:13 to 25:47). However, the Vikings also were called for 11 penalties, at a cost of 75 yards, to just two flags thrown on Chicago. Each team turned the ball over once and punted eight times apiece.

Jim Miller (pictured at left) completed just 10 of 21 passes for 97 yards, but gave up no interceptions. James Allen rushed for 107 yards on 27 carries while Leon Johnson ran the ball twice for 35 yards that included a TD and did well returning kicks, averaging 10.8 yards on four punt returns and running back one kickoff for 33 yards. Dez White had four catches for 32 yards and David Terrell gained 51 yards on his two receptions.

For the Vikings, Daunte Culpepper was successful on 26 of 46 throws for 209 yards, but failed to throw a TD pass for the first time all season and gave up one interception. He also rushed for 43 yards on seven carries. Rookie RB Michael Bennett gained 75 yards on 12 rushing attempts. Byron Chamberlain caught 7 passes for 56 yards and Cris Carter contributed 45 yards on five receptions, while Randy Moss was a negligible presence with four receptions for 25 yards and some dropped passes.

The Bears lost only one more game the rest of the way, finishing the regular season with a 13-3 record that put them on top of the NFC Cental. They lost to the Eagles in the Divisional playoff round. Minnesota collapsed, winning only one more time and ending up at 5-11 and fourth in the division. Coach Green was replaced by Mike Tice before the end, and Tice continued on as head coach for the next four seasons.

The defensive performance by the Bears was typical as they led the NFL in fewest points allowed (203). Ted Washington and Brian Urlacher were both consensus first-team All-NFL selections in addition to being named to the Pro Bowl.