MINNEAPOLIS — The season had been a downer for both teams, filled with injuries and disappointment. So maybe chasing history was all that mattered in a game with no playoff implications.
Enter Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
In a game between Chicago and Minnesota that otherwise meant little, it was Jared Allen’s sudden and frenzied attempt to break the NFL’s single-season sack record that kept the crowd at Mall of America Field interested.
Both he and the Vikings came up just a little short. The game? The Bears fell behind 10-0, but used strong defense and just enough offense to eke out a 17-13 victory that broke a five-game losing streak. For Chicago (8-8), which was in the NFC title game last season, it meant avoiding a losing season. The Vikings? They finished 3-13, matching the 1984 Vikings for the worst regular season record in franchise history and ensured themselves of the third overall pick in the upcoming draft.
But that’s not the history we should be talking about. Allen entered the game with 18.5 sacks. A wonderful number, but a far cry from the NFL record of 22.5 set by Michael Strahan with the New York Giants in 2001, right?
Maybe not. Allen got 3.5 of Minnesota’s seven sacks. He gained momentum as the game went on, pulling within.5 sack of Strahan when he got to Josh McCown late in the third quarter. But he couldn’t get closer. The Bears went to max protection to ensure Allen wouldn’t make his own history.
“I kept hoping for one more one-on-one, one more third-and-nine,” he said.
As it was Allen became the eighth player in NFL history to reach the 20-sack plateau. He tied, then passed Chris Doleman (21 in 1989) for the Vikings franchise record and he ended up tied with Mark Gastineau (1984) with 22 sacks, the second-most ever. Disappointed?
“Yeah, yeah,” Allen said. “You know what? It’s like being runner-up at the prom. The crown just doesn’t weigh as much.”
That said, Allen did make some history. He set the franchise record with Doleman standing on the sidelines rooting him on. He is at the top of the list for a franchise with a history of dominant defensive linemen.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to have the Vikings single-season record,” Allen said. “To be mentioned in the same breath as Alan Page and those guys? An honor.”
Still, Allen will be thinking, what if?
“To be so close and to have to start back at zero again next year? It was a fun chase,” Allen said. “It was a fun game, it was amazing to be a part of it.”
The game was a bit less dramatic. The Vikings jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead by turning two Bears fumbles into two scores, including Percy Harvin’s 5-yard touchdown run. That was just about it for the Vikings offense.
McCown, who finished the season in place of the injured Jay Cutler, responded by leading the Bears on a 90-yard drive that ended with his 22-yard pass to Roy Williams. Two plays into Minnesota’s next drive Vikings quarterbackChristian Ponder threw behind running back Toby Gerhart. The ball went off Gerhart’s hands to Tillman, who returned it for the score.
Minnesota managed a field goal by the end of the half, but didn’t score again. Ponder left the game mid-way through the second quarter with a hip injury. Joe Webb came into lead the team’s final scoring drive, but was held in check by the Bears’ defensive pressure the rest of the way.
“We are going to enjoy this win and of course go back tomorrow and start the evaluation process and see what we need to do to take that next step and to get back to where we belong,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said.
McCown, despite constant pressure, was 15-for-25 for 160 yards and a touchdown. Webb finished 17-for-32 for 200 yards, but he threw two interceptions; Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder would enter training camp next fall as the team’s starter.
Still, most of the excitement surrounded Allen.
He got a half-sack in the first quarter. When he got McCown again with five minutes left in the half he had become the eighth NFL player with 20 sacks. But he wasn’t done. He sacked McCown on the Bears’ first offensive play of the third quarter. And, with less than 6 minutes left in the third he got yet another sack.
But that’s as far as he got. The Bears used extra people to tie Allen up. As the game wound down the Bears, playing with a lead, were able to run the clock out.
“We just ran out of time,” Allen said. “It was emotionally charged. I have wanted to play football since I was eight years old. I have never missed a year, and to be at this point in my career, it’s amazing.”
That was the bright spot. But the Vikings still face the reality of picking up the pieces of a 3-13 season.
“We will have to do some things to not be in this position again,” said Frazier, who said everything — both personnel and the coaching staff — will be evaluated. “I don’t think you cannot look at everything.”
Game notes: Vikings ide receiver Percy Harvin’s 5-yard TD run in the first quarter gave him three rushing TDs this season, a franchise record for running backs. … Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, starting in place of the injuredAdrian Peterson, was injured on a third-quarter run. He was diagnosed with an MCL sprain of his left knee. … Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher sustained a sprained MCL while helping break up a pass in the end zone with 5:15 in the game. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher had a sprained MCL ligament and should be OK.