Vikings feeling sense of 'dj vu' after loss to Bears

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Vikings feeling sense of 'dj vu' after loss to Bears

The date was October 14, 2007. The stage was Soldier Field. Rookie running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns, breaking the Minnesota Vikings single-game rushing record, in a 34-31 win over the Chicago Bears.

Thats the last time the Vikings won a game in Chicago. Since then the Bears have dominated the Vikings, winning the last five meetings at Soldier Field.

This is becoming dj vu up here, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. This is the same script, just a different year. We got to fix something.

One Viking suggests something supernatural may be the reason for Chicagos success.

They might have a lucky troll or something over there, defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. Every time we come up here it seems like the same story. We got to find a way to get over that and get a win here.

Recently the Vikings are not only having a tough time beating the Bears in Chicago, but they cant beat them at home either, losing six consecutive games in the series.

So is this something the Vikings carried with them heading into Sundays game?

We knew what we was getting into, Peterson said. Those guys wanted to come out and make a statement, but I feel like it was more so what we did. Giving the ball away. Not making routine plays. Got to give credit to those guys because they did a good job of stopping us.

The two teams will strap it on two weeks from now in Minnesota in what will be another crucial game for both teams playoff hopes.

Well swallow this, Peterson said. But I cant wait to see them again.

Marshall impressive to Vikings defense

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall collected 12 receptions for 92 yards on Sunday, becoming the first Bears wideout since Marty Booker to go over 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

I think Brandon Marshall caught literally everything that was thrown to him, which was impressive, Allen said.

Marshall didnt have many huge gains, his longest catch was for 17 yards, but the sheer volume of balls he hauled in was back-breaking for the Vikings.

He has a great catch radius, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. We were in position a few times with tight coverage and somehow the ball got in there and he came up with it. Hes a good player.

Balancing act for Bears

In the Monday night loss to San Francisco the Bears rushed for 85 yards, but only had 58 passing yards. Obviously those kind of offensive numbers wont win you many football games. But, in Sundays 28-10 win over the Vikings, the balance was back, as Chicago had 113 yards on the ground and 183 yards through the air.

Anytime you can be two-dimensional, its kind of hard to stop as a defense, Winfield said.

In a week that saw Chilo Rachal temporarily leave the team after being demoted for Chris Spencer, Gabe Carimi benched in favor of Jonathan Scott and Jay Cutler return to action, change was more of a theme than surprise.

They changed some protection things up, Allen said. We knew they were going to. You bench a guy and youre not going to just sit back there in five man protection and let people rush, especially when Jay Cutler is coming off of a head injury. So, hats off to them.

The Vikings watched Jason Campbell run the Bears offense on film against the 49ers, but instead faced off against Cutler on Sunday. So whats the biggest difference?

I think Cutler gets the ball out of his hands a lot quicker, Winfield said. He scrambles a lot more, buys time and hes not afraid to take chances. You can see Marshall in coverage and hes still throwing him the ball.

Slow start

Michael Bushs rush into the end zone, his second score of the game, with four minutes left in the second quarter hurt the Vikings. But the successful two-point conversion by holder Adam Podlesh was deflating, as it extended the Bears lead to 18-3.

We got chopped off at the head quick and that can break you down, Peterson said We continued to fight it just didnt go our way.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was intercepted by Chris Conte on the next drive, setting up Cutlers 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth, giving the Bears a 25-3 halftime lead.

The game got out of hand real early and we didnt really give ourselves a chance, Winfield said.

Ready for a rematch

Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway was adamant that Minnesota (6-5) was still in the playoff hunt, even following a 28-10 blowout loss to the Bears.

Were not panicking at all, Greenway said. We wanted this one really bad. This was a huge game for us. We need to take care of business in Green Bay and we need to take of business when Chicago is at our place. Thats just the way it has to be.

Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

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Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

Ben Zobrist never made it to the sit-down his camp had scheduled with the Washington Nationals at the winter meetings, which took place at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from his offseason home. 

The Cubs were quietly hitting their multiple bank shot, trading Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and getting Zobrist to Chicago for the physical to finalize a four-year, $56 million contract.   

The Nationals found their Plan B for second base by Christmas Eve, agreeing to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Daniel Murphy, the new Mr. October who crushed the Cubs during the National League Championship Series.

Murphy and Zobrist intersected again on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs winning Round 1 of this four-game series between National League heavyweights by a 5-2 score. 

The fans booed Murphy for last year’s NLCS MVP performance with the New York Mets, while Zobrist drew first blood with a two-run single in the fourth inning and a going-for-the-jugular two-run homer in the eighth. At 21-6, the Cubs are dominating every phase of the game after winning the offseason.   

“We knew that we were going to be good,” Zobrist said, “but sometimes you start slow. We got off well the first week and we kept it going. There’s something to be said for getting the ball rolling in the right direction early. And that makes a huge difference.”   

The Cubs wanted Zobrist’s steady presence on defense, his leadership in the clubhouse and a different dimension for their lineup. Zobrist earned his championship ring with the Kansas City Royals, handling New York’s power pitching in the World Series.  

Murphy cooled off by that point after a ridiculous four-homer power surge during the NLCS sweep, which included his memorable momentum-shifting swing against Jake Arrieta in Game 2. Murphy reached so far down for that Arrieta curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, lifting it out toward Citi Field’s right-field seats for a two-run homer and a 3-0 first-inning lead.   

“There’s not enough adjectives to explain how good Jake has been over the last year-and-a-half,” Murphy said. “I think he just put together – I was reading – (something) like the best 25-game stretch of anybody ever. So I was able to get a pitch that he probably felt like he executed pretty well. 

“I didn’t hit it great. I just happened to wrap it around the pole. With Curtis Granderson and David (Wright) in front of me, they had really good at-bats, and our pitching was throwing the ball really well. Fortunately, that kind of ended up being enough for us.”

Something clicked for Murphy, who after an 0-for-4 night is still hitting .382 with four homers and 17 RBI for a first-place Washington team (19-9) the Cubs might face in the playoffs. 

But the Cubs now believe they might have their own Mr. October, who didn’t go that far down the road negotiating with the Nationals. Zobrist turned down four-year, $60 million offers from the Mets and San Francisco Giants for the chance to make history in Chicago. 

“There’s a great mix of the way guys are playing,” Zobrist said, “the way they’re feeling, the way they’re having conversations with each other. It’s the way that they’re just out there having a good time. We celebrate well together. We battle well together.

“That’s great on May 5th to get that feeling already. Sometimes you won’t get that feeling of a good team until later in the season. We’re going to have to weather some storms. We know that. But right now, we’re just trying to play great baseball.”

Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

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Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

Three hours after being ejected, Dexter Fowler was still fuming.

Fowler - who leads Major League Baseball in on-base percentage - only got two at-bats Thursday night against the Washington Nationals before he was directed to hit the showers by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Fowler struck out looking in his first two times to the plate and expressed his frustration with Carapazza on the field after his third-inning at-bat.

It didn't take long for Carapazza to give Fowler the boot.

Here's the rundown of the conversation, according to the Cubs's leadoff hitter:

Fowler: Was that pitch at the top of the zone?
Carapazza: Yes.
Fowler: Are you going to call them away, too, and down? What are we doing? I wanna know the strike zone.
Carapazza: That's enough.
Fowler: Enough of what? I'm asking you a question.

"And he threw me out," Fowler said. "I was surprised he didn't answer the question. He just walked away and said, 'That's enough.' I said, 'You're not gonna answer my question?' And he threw me out.

"I figure I got two more at-bats; I wanted to know the strike zone. Are you gonna call them up? Are you gonna call them away? Whatever. Just let me know. That's all."

Fowler said he has never been ejected from a game in his life at any level.

He admits he's said more than that before and hasn't gotten tossed. And he's also occasionally asked umpires where their strike zone is.

"People have answered my questions and I walked off," Fowler said. "That's all you want is an answer. ... Everybody knows I'm respectful. I wasn't being disrespectful at all. I just asked a question. It sucks I got thrown out of the game."

Fowler has been the Cubs' most productive offensive player this season, but his teammates still found a way to earn a 5-2 victory over the Nationals in his absence.

Joe Maddon was on his way out to argue when Fowler was tossed, but the Cubs manager wasn't as interested in getting into the whole ordeal after the game like his centerfielder was.

"I was arguing that we are a team that does not expand our strike zone," Maddon said. "That was my argument."

Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

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Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

The Washington Nationals PR guy made sure a red backdrop spelling out the team’s website and Twitter handle framed Dusty Baker’s pregame media session for the TV cameras. But you could still see an even bigger blue screen covered with Cubs logos and Wintrust advertising inside this corporate conference center.  

There are so many layers to Baker, so much history with a guy who’s spent almost 50 years in professional baseball, building a resume that’s probably one bullet point away from the Hall of Fame and shouldn’t be defined by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.   

“Boy, this is different than the old interview room,” Baker said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Look at this place. Before, I was in kind of like the dungeon over there around the corner. And then I walked in here and I saw the lights and stuff and I was ready to ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”

Inside their state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs now have a Celebration Room, which they got to use after a 5-2 victory over the Nationals that pushed their best-in-baseball record to 21-6 with an absurd plus-96 run differential.  

Back managing a star-studded first-place team after two seasons away from the game, Baker knows all about huge expectations after guiding the 2003 Cubs to five outs away from the World Series, and then missing the playoffs with a 2004 team that won 89 games and might have been even better on paper.

So far, the 2016 Cubs are even better than the hype, and Baker believes they will be better positioned to withstand the attrition that wrecked what once looked like a great foundation.   

“I know they have more depth than we had,” Baker said. “They have a better bullpen than we had then, which is no consolation, but that’s why I had to stretch out my starters longer than I even wanted to, because we didn’t have the bullpen. Not to say we didn’t have a good bullpen, but at that time we had to make a big trade in order to make that push.”

A media/fan-driven narrative unfairly labeled Baker as a bad caretaker for young pitchers, and the way it ended with a last-place finish in 2006 probably helps explain the occasional shouting from the stands on Thursday night: “Dusty sucks!”  

“What kind of upset me a little bit is how much money they spent as soon as I left,” Baker said. “But I had to also realize that the Cubs weren’t spending money then because we were in the middle of the transition for the Tribune Company to be sold. 

“When you look back on things, ‘How come you didn’t do this?’ Or, ‘How come we didn’t do that?’ And then again, baseball takes a backseat to baseball business.”        

Baker is a three-time Manager of the Year who has won 1,690 games and already guided three different franchises to the playoffs. Cubs-Nationals would be a fascinating matchup in October.   

“Sometimes people appreciate you more when you’re gone than when you’re there,” Baker said. “On the other hand, I think many times about how I wanted to be the guy that won it in Chicago. We were close. 

“Now I’m in a similar situation in D.C. (The Nationals) haven’t been in existence that long. But baseball’s been in D.C. for a long period of time. This is the third try at baseball in D.C. since I’ve been alive. So now I got a new goal – to be the first guy to manage a team, take it to the World Series and win in D.C.”