Mike Zimmer got a bit defensive this week when asked about how the Vikings have habitually struggled at Soldier Field over the past couple of decades.
“Well, I wasn’t here for all of the struggles,” he said with a subtle smile. “I think the biggest struggle is they are really good. That will be the biggest struggle for us. Just playing against a really good football team.”
That said, whenever the Vikings play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, it doesn’t really matter who has the better team. Usually, it ends with the Vikings flying back to the Twin Cities, licking their wounds after another loss inside unfriendly confines.
In fact, since the turn of the century, the Vikings are an abysmal 4-16 at Soldier Field, often looking more like Pop Warner players masquerading as an NFL team.
Everyone from the early 2000s dynamic duo of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss to the utterly dominant Adrian Peterson has experienced the same fate. And while Zimmer made it known that he has indeed fared a bit better than previous Vikings coaches, he is only 2-4 for his career at Soldier Field, which obviously is nothing to write home about.
It raises the question: Why has Solider Field been such a house of horrors for the Vikings?
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “It’s obviously a difficult place to play and get a win. I actually do like playing there. I get that old-school vibe and old-school feel when I’m on that field. It makes me feel blessed to be able to play the game.”
For the Vikings, exorcising some demons on Monday night could go a long way in elevating expectations for the rest of the season. After impressive wins over the the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions the past two weeks, if the Vikings can beat the Bears to complete their November NFC North sweep, they could get themselves back into the NFC playoff picture.
Not that anyone is getting too far ahead of themselves. Especially given the location of this matchup.
“Just focus on the present,” safety Harrison Smith said. “That’s all we can do. Just focus on going into Soldier Field, which is always a tough place to get a win for whatever reason, and focus on ourselves, focus on our assignments and focus on playing well.”
That likely will be easier said than done for the Vikings, especially considering quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t been competitive at Soldier Field over the past couple of seasons. Add in the fact that Cousins is 0-9 for his career on Monday Night Football, and history appears to be working against the Vikings for this one.
“We can’t really dwell too much on the past,” rookie receiver Justin Jefferson said. “We’re just trying to win this game and focus on the future.”
Perhaps having no fans at the game will help time around. That certainly has impacted the Vikings in games at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s changed tremendously,” Zimmer said. “When we played (the Atlanta Falcons), it was completely dead in the stadium. I think every team is kind of going through it and they are probably figuring it out a little better now. It’s definitely different.”
For the Vikings, starting fast against the Bears will be extremely important.
“We haven’t done it,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We’re always kind of like, ‘I don’t want to play at their pace.’ We go in and ease our way into the game. We’ve got to go in there and match their physicality. Not shying away from anything. I think this year, this Monday night game, is going to be about who’s going to be more physical. We’ve got to bring our lunch pail.”
Maybe a good luck charm would help, too.