All season, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell stressed winning the turnover battle.
Sunday at Solider Field, Minnesota finally came out on the positive side of the turnover differential. Behind a punishing defensive performance that included a 42-yard fumble return touchdown and two more takeaways, the Vikings defeated the Bears 19-13, despite gaining just two first downs in the second half.
"The number one thing I wanted to see today was just our response," O'Connell said. "And I thought our defense was a great example. Regardless of what was going on in the football game, our inability to move it in the second half. [Defensively], they just never flinched. They made a bunch of big-time plays. Jordan Hicks was tremendous. … They got off to a great start. They forced a bunch of negatives. We finally did win the turnover battle."
Playing without Justin Jefferson for the first time since he was drafted, the Vikings offense struggled to string plays together. Leading 12-6 at halftime, Minnesota gained just 58 yards on 24 plays in the second half.
Minnesota went 0-for-6 on third downs after halftime. O'Connell said Cousins played well enough to convert some of those third-down tries, but too often the pressure influenced his throws.
"We practiced against a lot of those looks. When you're calling some play passes, and you're trying to get the ball down the field, maybe to activate some matchups or attack some voided zones. [We] got to get the quarterback time and it was kind of a revolving door. Missed assignment from some of our more reliable players."
Cousins was sacked twice and hit four times. He finished 21-of-31 for 181 yards and a touchdown. The Bears defense notched five tackles for losses. But the Vikings capitalized late in the first half with a good drive.
With 12 seconds left in the half, Cousins hit rookie receiver Jordan Addison for a 10-yard touchdown. The score is Addison's fourth of the season.
"With that play specifically, I had ran it in practice and was a little slow," Addison said. "So, I made sure when I ran it in a game that I hit it right, and Kirk [Cousins] put it right in there."
Addison said he could tell the Bears defended Minnesota differently without Jefferson. Often, Chicago put an extra defender in the box and played single-high coverage. Tight end T.J. Hockenson had a team-high 50 receiving yards. Receiver K.J. Osborn added four catches for 48 yards.
Addison finished with three grabs for 28 yards and a touchdown. He nearly completed a diving 20-yard reception early in the first quarter but couldn't finish the catch while going to the ground.
Kick Greg Joseph ended back-to-back drives with field goals from 50-plus yards. But it was the Vikings scoop-and-score touchdown that changed the game. Halfway through the third quarter, safety Josh Metellus strip-sacked backup quarterback Tyson Bagent. Lineback Jordan Hicks picked up the fumble and returned it 42 yards for the score.
The Vikings offense went three-and-out on drives before and after the game-swinging defensive score.
"I don't even know. I'd say there was a lot more out there, so much as we didn't string plays together," Cousins said. "On third downs, we faced tight man coverage, and we just couldn't seem to make the throw, make the catch, make the play, and then other times, we had some really long yardage. We were checking down underneath. It was hard to get to the sticks and kind of a combination of things."
Mattison caught four passes for 28 yards on seven targets. He added 44 rushing yards on 18 carries. Running back Cam Akers only touched the ball twice, an 8-yard run and a 7-yard reception.
Despite the win, O'Connell, Cousins, and the Vikings offense were the first to admit they all need to execute better without Jefferson. Cousins nearly lost a fumble midway through the second quarter. The quarterback tried to lateral the ball to Akers to avoid pressure, but the toss was off target and nearly was recovered inbounds by the Bears.
The turnover would've been the Vikings 13th giveaway of the season, but the play was reviewed, and the Vikings maintained possession.
Instead, Minnesota turned the ball over to Chicago on its next possession. Cousins was hit by linebacker T.J. Edwards before his arm was going forward, and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds caught the ball in air, making it look like an interception, but it was ruled a fumble and recovery.
With the 49ers (5-1) visiting U.S. Bank on Monday Night Football in Week 7, the Vikings offense has plenty to shore up leading up to the prime-time NFC matchup.
"Our guys are excited to get the win," O'Connell said. "But our offense will be hungry to go back to work and make sure we rectify some of those things."