EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Based on whatever abilities I have to gauge the mood of a team by its atmosphere in a postgame locker room, the loss that jarred the Vikings the most this season was their 31-30 defeat in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings were playing their second straight division game on the road, coming off a loss to the Detroit Lions in which they'd contained Calvin Johnson and forced a pair of turnovers. They still had a chance to put their season on the right path with a win in Chicago, and after Letroy Guion recovered Matt Forte's fumble at the Bears' 47 with 6:28 to go, it was easy for an optimist to map out what would happen next: The Vikings would ride to a game-sealing touchdown behind Adrian Peterson and a solid second half from Christian Ponder, head home with their first win in Chicago since 2007, claim a victory in a winnable home opener against the Cleveland Browns and head to London with hopes of a second straight playoff berth very much alive.
What happened instead, of course, is this: The Vikings drove to the Bears' 4, only came away with a field goal, kicked short to avoid Devin Hester, gave Jay Cutler 3:15 to move the Bears 66 yards, let Cutler pick away at their zone defense and gave up a 16-yard touchdown to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left, on a play where confusion reigned and frustration spilled into the visitor's locker room afterward.
Until that point, the Vikings had every reason to feel their season could be righted with a quick fix. As players tried to maintain a lid on their emotions afterward, it was tough to escape the ominous facts about what happens to 0-2 teams. What the Vikings couldn't have predicted at that point, though, was that they'd be faced with the same situation five times in their next nine games -- and only come away winners twice.
Minnesota has played more defensive snaps with a late lead than any team in the NFL this season, with worse results than any club in the league. When leading by seven or fewer points in the final three minutes of a game, the Vikings have allowed quarterbacks to go 30 of 47 for 365 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams have run for another 36 yards and gained a total of 23 first downs. The Vikings' only sack, and only turnover, came when Everson Griffen took Ben Roethlisberger down and forced a fumble to end the Vikings' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. But since Cutler beat them, Cleveland's Brian Hoyer and Dallas' Tony Romo have done the same, and Green Bay's Matt Flynn drove the Packers to a game-tying field goal last Sunday.
"The results don't say we've learned a lot [from the first Bears game]," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We haven't produced in these situations as often as we need to, obviously. I think we did learn some things from that situation. We've just got to find a way to make some plays. We did in the Washington game and the Pittsburgh game but we haven't done it enough."
There's not much of a silver lining in blowing four last-minute leads this season, but Frazier tried to find one Friday by pointing out the Vikings' defense stiffened and held the Packers to a field goal in Sunday's tie. The Vikings have also taken to calling timeouts on two-minute drills in their last two games, both to give their offense another crack at scoring and to make sure their defense is set. Frazier blamed himself for not getting more involved in the defensive play-calling at the end of the Bears game, and linebacker Erin Henderson said defensive coordinator Alan Williams' call on the touchdown was something the Vikings hadn't practiced in last-minute situations leading up to the game.
"It does help to get our guys settled," Frazier said. "Each situation is different. And with all the new people we're playing now. Being in these situations for the first time you want to make sure that we know what we're doing and you can't worry about the other team. We just got to make sure we know what we're doing.''
The youth of the Vikings' secondary has rarely been more apparent this season than it was that Sunday in Chicago, and Frazier wanted to believe they'd be better on Sunday if the Vikings found themselves in the same situation. With so many injuries sapping the Vikings' cohesiveness in the defensive backfield, though, it's hard to know exactly what would happen.
Against Josh McCown -- who's 10 years removed from his own memorable last-minute moment against the Vikings -- now would be as good a time as any to turn it around.
"We'll get another opportunity -- maybe -- against Chicago," Frazier said. "And if we do I think there are some things we learned from that situation that should help us on Sunday."