Notebook: Jerome Simpson's frustrating season with Vikings gets worse
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CHICAGO -- A frustrating season for Jerome Simpson got worse on Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings' starting split end dropped three passes, including a third-and-4 throw that held them to a field goal early in Sunday's 28-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.
"I'm frustrated just because we lost and how bad of a game I had," Simpson said. "I don't think I've never had this many drops in a game before.
"I've just got to go back and focus, and I always find a way to refocus and come back and bounce back and help my team the best way I can. So, I'll think about it a little bit (Sunday night), but I will be back full-force and catching everything that comes my way."
Simpson finished with only one catch for 1 yard in five targets from quarterback Christian Ponder, who finished 22-of-43 passing (51.2%) for 159 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"In the National Football League, as a wide receiver, you've got to hold onto the football," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's what you get paid to do, and we definitely had some drops (Sunday) and that affects the rhythm of your offense. You've got to catch. That's why you're a wide receiver in the NFL. You've got to catch the ball."
Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract in April, Simpson has only 11 receptions for 137 yards in seven games this season, missing the first three while serving a substance-abuse suspension and another because of the back injury that has sapped his explosion.
The back wasn't an excuse for what happened on Sunday, when the third-down drop cost the Vikings a chance to turn a Bears turnover into seven points instead of three. Simpson's other two drops came on one series in the third quarter.
"Just got to focus and just keying on the ball, watch the tip," Simpson said. "I've just got to focus in on the ball."
The Vikings don't have much choice but to keep playing him. Percy Harvin missed a second consecutive game because of an ankle injury, veteran Michael Jenkins isn't moving particularly well, Devin Aromashodu is a No. 4 receiver at best and Burton has dropped the last two passes thrown to him in game situations.
Only Wright, the rookie who led the Vikings with seven receptions for 49 yards on Sunday, seems to be rising to the occasion.
Asked if he's losing faith in Simpson, Frazier said, "Oh, no. No. Nope. Not losing faith in Jerome."
Ponder's interception came in a familiar spot -- down 18-3 and trying to make something happen before halftime.
On second-and-10 from the Vikings' 25-yard line with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the half, Ponder looked for Aromashodu on a dig route as defensive tackle Nate Collins charged toward him in the pocket.
The ball sailed well high and into the hands of Bears safety Chris Conte, who returned the interception 35 yards to set up Jay Cutler's 13-yard touchdown to tight end Matt Spaeth on the next play.
"I tried to wait for (Aromashodu) to get in the second window," Ponder said. "I shouldn't have waited that long. I had a crossing route to the left and I probably should have thrown it over his head or gotten the ball out. I tried to force a play down the field. That's something I did before, and I can't do that."
Ponder threw high on several other plays on a relatively mild afternoon at normally blustery Soldier Field. After the game, he spoke alternately about doing what it takes to avoid sacks -- he took two -- and standing in long enough to go through his reads.
"I have to stay in the pocket. That's the bottom line," Ponder said. "Obviously, we're going to see that on the film. There were plays that I could have made and I didn't make them. I have to get back to where I was two weeks ago."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield was convinced Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was going to be called for pass interference in the end zone in the second quarter.
Instead, Winfield was flagged, giving Chicago the ball at the 1-yard line and leading to Michael Bush's touchdown that made it 18-3 shortly before Ponder's interception.
"It looked like a post-up, but he had his arm on me," said Winfield, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds to Marshall's 6-4 and 230. "I'm trying to put my body on his. The referee said he saw me tug at his arm at the last second."
Winfield went to the ground as the ball fell incomplete. When he saw the flag, he hopped up and cheered the call, thinking it was going to back up the Bears.
"Absolutely," Winfield said. "I got up, I seen the flag, I went 'OK,' because I fell. But I don't know. I guess I'll have to see the TV copy.
"I'm getting a lot of texts saying, 'Well, it looked like he pushed you down! Even the announcers said it!' But as a DB, we don't get much love out here. It's an offensive game."
Frazier argued the call before the ensuing kickoff, too.
"When I saw it, I debated the call," Frazier said. "I told the officials that I'm looking forward to seeing it on tape. But with the naked eye, I thought Antoine was in great position. I thought he was in position to battle and got shoved. But the officials didn't see it that way. Just the way it goes."
What's the call?
It was a rocky day for officials, several of whom raised their arms in confusion when Vikings safety Mistral Raymond picked up a loose football and ran 52 yards for what was initially ruled a touchdown after some discussion.
As the crowd of 62,306 emerged from stunned silence to boo, referee Scott Green announced the call had been upheld upon the automatic review of all scoring plays -- only to correct himself several seconds later and say the review was underway.
Replays showed one of Bears halfback Matt Forte's knees was down before the ball came loose, and the touchdown was wiped off the board.
Asked if he got an explanation for the sequence, Frazier said only, "They said he was down."
No ill intent
Bears guard Lance Louis suffered a sprained knee on a hit by Vikings end Jared Allen, who was blocking on Winfield's interception return.
Replays showed Allen appeared to launch himself into the head area of Louis, who wasn't looking. But Allen insisted he felt he was making a legal hit.
"He's running to make a tackle, so I just went to block him," Allen said. "I never intentionally try to hurt anybody. I turned around, he was running to make a tackle, I threw myself into him to try to make a block, just like we're taught."
"I think Coach said he hurt his knee or something after that, so my condolences to him and his family. I never, ever try to intentionally hurt anybody. Just trying to make a block and spring our guys down sidelines. That's unfortunate."
Allen wouldn't speculate on the likelihood of a fine from the NFL, which has made a point of punishing players for helmet-to-helmet contact.
"There's nothing I can do," Allen said. "I can't worry about that."
Frazier said he didn't give any thought to kicking a 26-yard field goal that could have pulled the Vikings within two scores early in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Ponder threw incomplete on fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 8, leaving the Vikings down 28-10 with 14:04 to go.
"Where we were in the game, three scores down, we wanted to get a touchdown," Frazier said. "I just felt like we were doing good enough on defense at that point that, if we get a touchdown, we've got a good chance of getting this thing where we wanted it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."
On third-and-2, Ponder said, the ball was intended to go to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who got clubbed by Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. He settled for a jump ball to Wright and cornerback Kelvin Hayden made a play in coverage.
On fourth down, Ponder appeared to have Wright wide open on a drag route. But he was looking for a slant on the other side that linebacker Brian Urlacher covered up, then threw the ball out of bounds over Michael Jenkins' head when he came back to the left.
"I have to keep the ball in bounds," Ponder said. "I threw it over Jenkins' head and didn't make a play. On fourth down, you have to give someone an opportunity to make a play."
Halfback Adrian Peterson admitted he was "a little upset" he didn't touch the ball on either play but was quick to point out Ponder's 2-yard touchdown pass to Rudolph in the third quarter came off play-action.
"We know (Peterson)'s capable of getting those first downs," Frazier said. "But we thought we had some plays at the time that would get us the first down or the touchdown, and that didn't work out."
On the blocks
Even with Devin Hester in the locker room with a concussion, the Bears' special teams found ways to alter the game.
In the second quarter, Julius Peppers blocked a 30-yard Blair Walsh field-goal attempt -- the rookie's second miss of the season and first since Sept. 30 at Detroit.
After the Bears' ensuing drive netted a touchdown, punter Adam Podlesh made a two-point conversion on a designed fake, pushing the Bears' lead to 18-3.
"I'm not completely surprised they would do that," Frazier said. "Good job by them. But that didn't slow us down. We ended up blocking one later on."
That was thanks to Kevin Williams, who blocked Robbie Gould's 39-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime, keeping the score 25-3.
Williams said he got a piece of Gould's 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, too, but "I think I might have straightened it up. It glanced off the side of my hand. I thought I got enough on it, but I didn't."
Marcus Sherels was deep on most of the kickoffs in Harvin's absence, returning one for 38 yards.
Rookie Josh Robinson also got a chance and was stuffed after a 14-yard return.
Frazier said he has no idea on a timetable for Harvin's practice work this week.