The Minnesota Vikings know that this effort won’t be good enough to beat the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers. They also probably know they need to beat at least one of those teams to get into the playoffs. They beat the Chicago Bears 17-9 to move to 7-7 and into the No. 7 seed in the playoffs right now, but that spot can quickly be taken from them.
“We’ve got work to do. I think there’s a lot to improve upon,” admitted Kirk Cousins, who was 12 for 24 for 87 yards in the win. “We’re playing three really good opponents up ahead. We’re probably going to need every one.”
The Vikings played the kind of game you would expect from teams battling for a playoff spot. If you didn’t know any better, you could be convinced that the Bears were also hovering around .500. The game was chippy; Chicago talked trash the entire game. It felt like the kind of game you play in subzero temperatures, with snow piling up on the gridiron.
But the Bears are 4-10 after this loss and had over 10 players out with COVID. This game had blowout potential written all over it. Justin Fields has raw athleticism but is still unpolished. Chicago may have constantly jawed at the Vikings, but there’s only so much a team can say when they’re playing spoiler in December. Their chippiness ultimately hurt them to the tune of nine penalties for 91 yards. And there’s no snow on the ground in Chicago. It was 38 degrees out at kickoff.
In the third quarter, the Vikings went up 17-3 on a 12-play, 77-yard drive and had multiple opportunities to seal the game. Yet, they went three-and-out on the following four possessions and punted after six plays on their final possession of the game.
Therefore, it was a bend-don’t-break defense that kept them in the game. The Bears turned the ball over on downs on their final three possessions and were 1/5 in the red zone. Their lone score within 20 yards of the end zone came on the game’s final play when Fields completed a 19-yard pass to Jesper Horsted to make it 17-9.
Chicago’s final touchdown made it a one-score game, meaning that the Vikings still have not won a game by more than eight points since beating the Seattle Seahawks 30-17 in Week 3. In many ways, they needed an emphatic victory going into the final stretch of the season.
After nearly blowing a 29-0 lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, they could have reassured their fans – and likely themselves – that they’re capable of putting their opponents away. In six days, Minnesota has to prove they can play at another level against the Rams.
“Every week, we need to continue to get better,” said Mike Zimmer before listing everything they need to improve upon: run defense, pass coverage, protection, and running the ball. “It’s not just playing better. It’s getting better.”
But this is the same old Vikings. They played the same game they always do against the Bears, only they came out ahead for the second time in the last seven games against them. They constantly ran the ball against a depleted secondary. Cousins had under 100 yards passing. Justin Jefferson finished with four receptions for 47 yards. Dalvin Cook finished with 89 yards rushing, but it took him 28 carries to get there.
“We probably threw the ball too much, to be honest, early,” said Zimmer, mentioning that Chicago was in shell coverage to protect their depth cornerbacks. “I thought we were running the ball well early in the game, and we tried to throw it a little bit too much, tried to get some shots over the top of them, and they did a good job back there.”
He thinks they passed too often early.
Chicago’s overzealous swagger ended up costing them in big situations. And the Vikings finished with only seven penalties for 54 yards. But it wasn’t as though they played perfectly disciplined football. Minnesota had the Bears pinned deep in their own territory when James Lynch was called for unnecessary roughness on Fields. The Bears went on an 11-play, 81-yard drive after that 15-yard penalty, nearly scoring to bring the game within one score with enough time to tie it.
But the defense held, and the Vikings held on to win. In some ways, it’s fitting that Chicago scored at the end. Because this game didn’t feel like a two-score victory. It somehow felt like they were staving off a catastrophic defeat once again. It doesn’t have to be this way against lesser opponents, and yet somehow it always is.