The Bears were exposed Monday night as the decidedly mediocre team most observers projected them to be this season.
Flailing away on offense, the Bears dropped passes, bungled blocking assignments, served up interceptions and failed miserably to convert third-down situations during a 19-12 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in front of a national television audience.
Quarterback Jim Harbaugh was sacked eight times and threw two interceptions as the Bears fell to 3-3 in front of a Soldier Field crowd of 64,677.
Asked to assess the blame, coach Dave Wannstedt said: "I think it's the whole group. It's a combination of some inexperience with (rookies) Chris Gedney and Curtis Conway. And the offensive line obviously contributed. They had a tough time with the pressure. And Jim, with a couple of the scrambles, he just has to find the open guy."
The Vikings (4-2) were no better offensively. Former Bear Jim McMahon hit just 14 of 27 passes for 90 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked once. But Minnesota gained 165 yards on the ground, compared to the Bears' 87.
McMahon left the game with a concussion late in the fourth period, but it was the Bears who wound up with their heads spinning.
Minnesota's No. 1-ranked defense kept the Bears from converting any third downs on their first 10 attempts. The Bears wound up converting just three of 15 third-down plays. The Vikings were only 3 of 14 on third down.
Minnesota moved to within one-half game of the NFC Central Division leader, Detroit (5-2), and play the Lions on Sunday night in Minneapolis. The Bears had their three-game winning streak snapped while losing to the Vikings for the fourth straight time.
Minnesota has won 10 consecutive NFC Central games.
Conway returned the opening kickoff 55 yards to the Minnesota 47. After four plays, including a 21-yard pass from Harbaugh to Gedney, the Bears settled for a 37-yard field goal by Kevin Butler at 12:53 of the first period.
"We have to keep getting the ball in (Conway's) hands, because he obviously has a chance to make some big plays," Wannstedt said. "That's what we're lacking right now."
The Vikings countered with a 39-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz to tie the game 3-3 with 5:34 left in the opening period. Minnesota drove 60 yards in 11 plays, mainly on the running of rookie first-round draft pick Robert Smith, who gained 80 yards on 14 carries.
The Bears turned the ball over with 5:17 left in the quarter when Gedney fumbled after a 5-yard reception. Linebacker Jack Del Rio forced the fumble and defensive back Carl Lee pounced on the loose ball.
"I jumped out of character with that fumble," said Gedney. "That will not happen again."
The Vikings transformed the turnover into a touchdown just 13 seconds later. Smith took a handoff from McMahon, cut left in front of Bears safety Shaun Gayle and sped 26 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead.
The Bears pulled to within 10-6 on a 39-yard field goal by Butler with 10:49 left in the first half. An apparent 19-yard touchdown pass from Harbaugh to Neal Anderson, who caught nine passes for 60 yards, was nullified because the Bears had an ineligible receiver downfield.
Earlier in the drive, Anderson scampered 31 yards to set up the Bears for a score. But Anderson gained just 45 yards on 16 carries.
Butler tied a club record with a 55-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the half, making the score 10-9. Bob Thomas had booted a 55-yarder Nov. 23, 1975. Butler's previous longest NFL field goal had been 52 yards. He once booted a 60-yarder for Georgia against Clemson.
Minnesota went up 13-9 with :13 left in the half after an 82-yard drive in 11 plays. A 40-yard pass-interference penalty on cornerback Anthony Blaylock set up a 25-yard field goal by Reveiz.
An interception by free safety Mark Carrier and a personal foul on the Vikings' Cris Carter set up the Bears on the Minnesota 33-yard line with 14:39 left in the third period.
Butler missed on a 48-yard field-goal attempt, but the Vikings were offsides. From 43 yards away, Butler lined up for another attempt, but instead sprinted into the left flat on a fake. Holder Chris Gardocki took the snap and lobbed a pass to a wide-open Butler, who dropped the toss.
"The thought on the fake field goal was that I was just trying to come up with a way that we could score a touchdown," said Wannstedt. "That was a play that obviously we thought we had. It just didn't work."
The next time the Bears got the ball, Harbaugh's pass to Gedney was intercepted by Audray McMillian and returned 22 yards for a touchdown. Reveiz's extra-point attempt after a Vikings holding penalty was no good, leaving Minnesota ahead 19-9.
Butler's fourth field goal from 35 yards away made it 19-12 with 7:58 left. But the Bears' final drive was thwarted by Del Rio's interception at the goal line.
vikings 19, bears 12