Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had to leave the game Sunday in the fourth quarter with a neck injury. | Genevieve Ross~AP
MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears have enough problems when quarterback Jay Cutler starts slowly. But it’s never worse than when he can’t finish at all.
Cutler spent the Bears’ last offensive series on the sideline after suffering a neck injury in the fourth quarter — presumably when Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen hit him awkwardly on a sack with 7:38 left and the Bears trailing 21-7.
Griffen was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Cutler stayed in the game and drove the Bears to the Vikings’ 23-yard line — throwing nine consecutive passes before back-to-back drops by Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall ended the drive on downs with 4:27 left.
‘‘[It’s] really stiff,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘Started stiffening up more and more. I just have to take it day by day.’’
The Bears started without four starters — linebacker Brian Urlacher, cornerback Tim Jennings, defensive tackle Stephen Paea and guard Lance Louis.
Five more players left the game with injuries: Cutler, defensive end Shea McClellin (knee), defensive tackle Henry Melton (shoulder), special-teams player Sherrick McManis (knee) and reserve safety Craig Steltz (chest). Only Melton returned.
Kicker Robbie Gould suffered a calf injury in warmups and was unavailable for kickoffs.
With Gould ailing, punter Adam Podlesh handled kickoffs for the first time since his first NFL game with the Jaguars in 2007 — a similar last-minute situation when Josh Scobee was injured before the game.
Podlesh had two kickoffs — one bounced at the 2-yard line and into the end zone for a touchback. The other went to the 3-yard line and was returned to the 23.
‘‘It’s essentially impossible for me to do the job that Robbie did,’’ Podlesh said. ‘‘He’s a very, very good kickoff specialist.
‘‘In comparison to the rest of the guys kicking off in this league, I’m an amateur at best. I did all I could do.’’
Gould handled extra points and the onside kick in the fourth quarter. He said he was available for field goals.
The Bears didn’t attempt any, though they did disdain a 52- or 53-yard attempt and punted in the first half.
Gould indicated he would be ready next week against the Packers.
‘‘I’ll be all right,’’ he said.
Marshall sets mark
Marshall was magnificent in defeat with 10 receptions for 160 yards.
His 16-yard touchdown from Jason Campbell that made it 21-14 with 1:48 to play was his 101st reception, breaking the franchise season record set by Marty Booker (100) in 2001.
With 1,342 receiving yards, Marshall is closing in on Marcus Robinson’s franchise record of 1,400 set in 1999.
‘‘He’s the best receiver in the game,’’ Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said.
‘‘I put him up there with Calvin Johnson [of the Lions]. That guy is a problem.
‘‘He and Cutler are always on the same page. Cutler is going to give him the opportunities to make plays, and he made a few today.’’
Jennings said he dislocated his shoulder last week and still isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play against the Packers.
‘‘Still some soreness in there, but it’s getting better every day,’’ Jennings said.
‘‘I don’t have my range of motion all the way back. It depends on how this week goes.’’
Paea said the decision for him to sit out with a foot injury was a close call.
‘‘But we only dress three tackles,’’ Paea said. ‘‘I don’t want to be the one going down after 10 plays.’’
He said there’s a good possibility he’ll play against Green Bay.