CHICAGO | Brett Favre cranked up and made one more impossible throw, zinging a touchdown pass in the fading seconds. Too bad for the Minnesota Vikings, that merely put them into overtime.
The Vikings lost again Monday night, beaten by the Chicago Bears 36-30 when Jay Cutler tossed a 39-yard strike to Devin Aromashodu. Minnesota fell for the third time in four games, and the defeat gave the New Orleans Saints homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
“I know we’re fortunate to be in the playoffs but we have to play better than we did the last few weeks or we’ll be home fairly quickly,” Favre said. “I’m just being honest as I can be.”
Playing for the first time since the dustup between the star quarterback and coach Brad Childress became public, the Vikings’ late rally wasn’t enough.
After Favre’s stunning, fourth-down pass to Sidney Rice with 16 seconds left in regulation, Cutler threw the game-winner with just over 9 minutes left in overtime to prevent the Vikings (11-4) from locking up a first-round playoff bye.
Nick Roach recovered a fumble by Adrian Peterson following a catch, setting up Cutler’s fourth touchdown pass of the game.
Favre’s pass to a leaping Rice capped a 68-yard touchdown drive and tied the game at 30.
Chicago’s Robbie Gould, who kicked three field goals in the first half, had a chance to win it on the first possession of the overtime but missed a 45-yard field goal wide right.
The Bears (6-9) took advantage a few minutes later, though, when Hunter Hillenmeyer knocked the ball away from Peterson and Roach recovered. Cutler found an open Aromashodu, who had beaten Antoine Winfield, and the Bears won for just the third time in 11 games.
“It’s good for the team, it’s good for the morale of going out there and putting up points and answering the bell, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime when you have to do it,” Cutler said.
Favre has never led a team to a win after trailing by 17 or more points, falling to 0-43 in such situations. The Bears were up 23-6 in the third quarter and the Vikings were able to tie it twice.
Minnesota can lock up a first-round bye with a win next week and loss or tie by Philadelphia or with a tie and an Eagles loss. But after running away with the NFC North, the Vikings didn’t expect to be in this situation.
They started 10-1 behind a resurgent Favre, but have tailed off since. Favre had a good game after three mediocre performances, completing 26 of 40 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Peterson ran for 94 yards and two scores, but the Vikings simply couldn’t pull this one out.
Cutler looked more like the player the Bears thought they were getting in a trade with Denver than the one who’s been racking up interceptions at an alarming rate. He was 20 of 35 for 273 yards, although he did throw his league-leading 26th interception.
“It’s fun,” Cutler said of outdueling Favre. “He got me in Denver. I got him when he was in New York. … It was a good game.”
Aromashodu had seven catches for 150 yards, and Danieal Manning set up two touchdowns with kickoff returns of 57 and 59 yards.
The Bears led 16-0 at halftime and 23-6 midway through the third before Minnesota rallied. The Vikings tied it at 23 on Peterson’s 1-yard run with 5:49 left, then Manning ran the kickoff back 59 yards before tripping at the 21. Two plays later, Cutler hit Earl Bennett with a 20-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 30-23 lead with 4:55 remaining, and the Bears appeared to be in good shape.
Favre and Rice had other ideas, though, tying it with that spectacular catch at the end of regulation. Hillenmeyer finally set up the winning touchdown, knocking the ball away from Peterson after he caught a short flare.
This looked like a primetime-worthy matchup when the schedule came out, and it lived up to that billing even though the script didn’t play out as expected.
Bears coach Lovie Smith is feeling the heat, and general manager Jerry Angelo added a few logs before last week’s loss at Baltimore, when he passed on offering a vote of confidence while saying a roster overhaul wasn’t necessary.
Then again, after three straight misses, it’s not clear if Angelo is on solid footing.
“I think the game made a statement about our football team and where we are and what we can be in the future, no more than that,” Smith said. “As a football coach your job is at stake every day you go to work. … It’s like that with everyone. I realize where I am and where we are. It’s been a disappointing season and I’m the head football coach.”
Suddenly, the Vikings are looking shaky, too.
That sideline confrontation during last week’s loss to Carolina sparked reports that Favre and Childress had clashed over play-calling, although they insisted their relationship was fine.
Childress said he simply wanted to protect a quarterback under siege by the Panthers. Favre indicated it was performance-based.
Either way, the idea of pulling the league’s career passing leader raised more than a few eyebrows even if he hadn’t been playing the way he did earlier.
NOTES: Chicago CB Charles Tillman suffered a rib injury making a tackle in the fourth quarter and had to be wheeled off the field on a stretcher. … Bears WR Johnny Knox injured an ankle returning a kickoff and was taken off the field on a cart in the third. … Vikings NT Pat Williams was inactive because of an elbow injury and Jimmy Kennedy started in his place.