Minnesota Vikings executives spent last week working diligently to make sure Monday night's game was played in front of their home fans in part because it was meant to serve as a celebration of the franchise's 50th season in Minnesota.
That was their first mistake.
Given the team's performance in its 40-14, five-turnover loss to Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium, those execs might have done their fans a greater service by having shifted this game as far away from snowy Minnesota as possible. That way many in the announced crowd of 40,504 wouldn't have had to witness a second consecutive listless performance from a team that might have played in the elements but mentally appeared to be in Maui.
"Bottom line they kicked our butts, that's the bottom line," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "Offensive, defensively and special teams, they kicked our butts."
Some in the home crowd let the Vikings know how unhappy they were by hurling snowballs at the home bench in the second half as the Bears pulled away by outscoring the Vikings 23-7. The victory gave the Bears the NFC North title — a crown the Vikings had held for the past two seasons — as the Vikings suffered a second consecutive loss and at 5-9 are assured of their first losing season since 2006.
Brad Childress was fired after an embarrassing 31-3 loss to Green Bay on Nov. 21 dropped the Vikings to 3-7. Leslie Frazier was named interim coach and led the Vikings to a brief resurgence with back-to-back victories over Washington and Buffalo — two teams that are a combined 9-19. That success is now long forgotten as the Vikings have been outscored 58-17 in losing to the Giants (9-5) and Bears (10-4).
Things don't stand to get any better when the Vikings travel to Philadelphia to play the 10-4 Eagles next Sunday before the season comes to its merciful end Jan. 2 at Detroit. The home portion of the Vikings' season ended Monday as they completed a "homestand" by playing three games in three different venues because of the collapse of the Metrodome roof on Dec. 12.
Asked if he was concerned not everyone on his team was competing, Frazier said: "I think the fight is still there. I just think we're not executing in some key situations that we need to execute in. We didn't execute on special teams the way we would have liked tonight. They had some big plays and some field-position situations that really hurt us. I don't doubt the guys are giving great effort. They are just coming up short in some areas that we need to get better at."
This certainly qualified as a massive understatement.
Many of the former Vikings who were honored during a halftime ceremony likely recognized the throwback helmets and uniforms the team wore — and they certainly were familiar with seeing the Vikings play in snow as they did at Met Stadium — but the performance certainly wasn't reminiscent of anything they had seen.
The Vikings, who were playing their first outdoor game 29 years to the day that they played their last, had their regular "Vikings twist" Monday that has become a mandatory part of every story line involving this team. This surprise actually occurred long before the game began when Brett Favre was upgraded from "out" on the injury report to "questionable."
Favre's NFL record consecutive-starts streak had ended at 321 the previous Monday against the Giants and at that point it appeared his career might be finished. But Favre, who has said numerous times this will be his final season, wanted to give playing a shot.
It proved to be a poor idea.
Favre was left lying motionless on the field after taking a crushing hit from defensive end Corey Wootton in the second quarter. He suffered a concussion and was replaced by rookie Joe Webb, who had been scheduled to start in the first place.
Webb completed 15 of 26 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions and a 38.8 passer rating and also scrambled six times for 38 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown. But it mattered little against a team that completed a series sweep of the Vikings.
The Vikings already were without Adrian Peterson, who had missed two days of practice last week because of a bruised thigh and was inactive for the first time since 2007.
The Vikings' first outdoor game since Dec. 20, 1982, came with a game-time temperature of 23 degrees and a windchill that made it feel like 9.
The temperatures seemed to agree with Bears return ace Devin Hester, who opened the third quarter with a 79-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 6 that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. The Bears increased their lead to 20 points later in the quarter when Hester went 64 yards with a Chris Kluwe punt for a touchdown. That gave Hester 14 returns for scores in his career- 10 on punts — setting an NFL record that he had shared with Brian Mitchell.
The night started out right for the Vikings as Favre led his team on a six-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin. From there it went downhill.
"It was a great opening drive," Favre said. "I probably should have gone straight up the tunnel after that."
That might have been his best move of the night.