Notebook: The catch for Vikings is they need to start hanging onto the ball
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There will be at least one point of emphasis this week at Winter Park as the Minnesota Vikings prepare to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
That will involve making sure receivers hang onto the passes thrown by quarterback Christian Ponder.
Ponder struggled at times during the Vikings' 28-10 loss at Chicago on Sunday, but he wasn't helped by the fact at least six of his 43 pass attempts were dropped.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson had half of the drops - including one on a third-and-4 play on a first-quarter drive in which the Vikings were held to a field goal - and Jarius Wright, John Carlson and Stephen Burton also failed to hang onto the football.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Monday his team will do drills to work on making sure they catch the ball.
"The number of dropped passes we had (Sunday) is really unacceptable in our league," Fraizer said. "It's hard to continue drives when you don't catch the football. ... I can't recall us having that many drops in a ballgame at so many different positions. We're going to go back and look at some things fundamentally we'll work on this week. But it's hard to put together some drives when you're killing yourself with drops."
Veteran wide receiver Michael Jenkins agreed.
"It's tough," he said of the drops. "You want to see everybody making plays and contributing. Nobody wants to drop a ball or have a bad play. So guys just have to bounce back and make the next one."
Simpson has been a major disappointment in his first season with the Vikings.
He signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract last spring, but has only 12 receptions for 138 yards in seven games. He missed the first three games while serving a substance-abuse suspension and another because of the back injury that has sapped his explosion.
Asked about Simpson's drops in particular, Frazier said the miscues might have been a bit of a concentration issue.
"If your concentration is not on the next play, if you're thinking about the previous play, it can affect the next play," he said. "So, you really want to concentrate on this particular play. What to attribute the drops to? I don't know if I can say it's him thinking about what happened before or what.
"But I know he can catch the football. He's shown he can catch the football on a consistent basis, and he's got to do that. We wanted him to really make some plays for us (Sunday) and the drops really affected us."
The Bears converted 11 of 19 third-down opportunities on Sunday, with the longest successful conversions coming on four third-and-6 situations.
The Bears' success on third-and-short was partially a product of the fact they got themselves in spots where quarterback Jay Cutler did not have to drop back to pass.
Frazier said his defense needs to do a better job all around, including keeping opponents out of favorable third-down situations.
"I think we're still a physical defense -- we're just not making some of the plays we were making early in the season," he said "We've got to get back to making some of those game-changing plays."
The Bears' longest touchdown drive of the game took 14 plays and covered 80 yards in the second quarter. It was capped by a Michael Bush 1-yard touchdown run. Chicago converted on three third downs on the drive and also was successful on a fourth-and-1.
"You hate for a team to be able to possess the ball as long as they did on that drive with third-and-2, third-and-1 ... so many short-yardage situations for an offense," Frazier said. "You have to find a way to make a play along the way to get off the field and we didn't and it hurt us."
Frazier also acknowledged the Bears made some adjustments on offense after losing the previous Monday night in San Francisco.
"They started the game off chipping with the tight end and with the back, doing what they thought they would do early on," Frazier said. "But the style of passing game was different than what they had used the week before or the week before that. They really shortened some things down -- which was smart. They did the right things to do.
"There's a way to combat that. You need to maintain possession of the ball. You need to put some points on the board and make them have to throw the ball down the field and then we have to be very, very good against the run. But we got in too many third-and-shorts. That's to the offense's advantage. We've got to do better on first and second down, and if we do get in third-and-short, we've got to win our share of them. We didn't win our share of them (Sunday)."
Ponder completed 22 of 43 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Bears and registered a subpar 58.2 passer rating. He also was 0-for-8 when throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN research.
"I thought he did some good things at times," Frazier said. "You want to be consistently good all the way through the ball game. He had some good moments. He had some moments -- I'm sure when you get a chance to talk with him, he'll tell you he wished he could do a little bit differently. And for us, it's important that we get consistent, good play from the quarterback position. (Sunday) we were a little inconsistent and it hurt us at times."
The Vikings appeared to have things going their way early in Sunday's game.
After going three-and-out to open the game, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway recovered a fumble by running back Matt Forte on Chicago's first play from scrimmage. The Vikings turned that into a 40-yard field goal from Blair Walsh to take the lead. That drive stalled at the Bears 22-yard line when dropped a pass on third-and-4.
After the Bears went three-and-out, running back Adrian Peterson fumbled on the first play of the Vikings' next drive and Chicago recovered at the Minnesota 34-yard line. The Bears got a touchdown and never trailed again.
"We did the opposite of what you should have done to start that game," Frazier said. "Our energy level, our focus was where it needed to be. But you can't turn the ball over and you've got to capitalize on red-zone opportunities with touchdowns on the road. We've seen this happen early in the season and it happened again (Sunday) and it's hurt us. It's hurt us on the road. We've got to go on the road again this week."