The Vikings got back on the winning track and found their first NFC North win of the season on Monday night, defeating the Chicago Bears 20-17 thanks to a big turnover by the defense and a field goal on the ensuing drive late in the game. The win moves the Vikings to 3-2 and sets up a big showdown between the Vikings and Packers next week at U.S Bank Stadium.
Here are five observations from the Vikings win on Monday night.
1. The defense was dominant again
The Vikings defense continues to pace the team's effort and put on another dominant performance on Monday night. Chicago didn't score an offensive point until 12:24 to play in the game, and that was on a fluke play when Andrew Sendejo tipped a Mitchell Trubisky pass in the end zone and it landed right in tight end Zach Miller's arms for the score. Outside of that, there was nothing the Bears offense could do to move the ball on the Vikings defense. Chicago had only one red zone possession on the night and they ran a play from scrimmage in Vikings territory just twice in the final nine drives. The Bears were three of 12 (25%) on 3rd down and had nine of their 12 drives generate zero or only one 1st down. For the season, the Vikings defense has held opponents to 14 of 55 (25.5%) on 3rd downs, tops in the NFL.
2. Griffen, Smith turned the game around with big turnovers
Two of the Vikings biggest stars on defense came up the biggest on Monday night. Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith were both responsible for takeaways that led to lead-changing scores. Griffen timed his get off perfectly on a Trubisky dropback with 2:34 to play in the 2nd quarter and the Vikings trailing 2-0. Griffen raced around Bears left tackle Charles Leno and swatted the ball from Trubisky's throwing hand, leading to a fumble recovery by defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Three plays later, Kai Forbath came on to kick a field goal and give the Vikings a 3-2 lead with 1:02 to play in the first half. With the game tied and the Bears in position to mount a game-winning drive, Smith jumped in front of a Trubisky pass intended for Miller and intercepted it, giving the offense possession at the Chicago 28 with 2:20 to play. The Vikings offense ran six plays and took 2:08 off the clock before Forbath came on once again to convert a 26-yard field goal, with this put the Vikings on top permanently 20-17.
3. McKinnon dashed, then he closed
In the Vikings first game without injured running back Dalvin Cook and in a game in which starting quarterback Sam Bradford left prior to halftime because of an injury, it was Jerick McKinnon who provided a spark and then the finishing move on the Bears defense. McKinnon took a 2nd-down handoff from backup quarterback Case Keenum and worked his way to the right side of the field before sticking his foot in the ground and cutting straight up field to dash 58 yards for a touchdown that put the Vikings ahead 17-9 with 3:31 to play in the 3rd quarter. Then in the final minute of the game following Smith's interception, the Vikings called on McKinnon five times – four runs and one reception – to help move the ball 20 yards to setup Forbath for the game-deciding field goal. In total on the night, McKinnon had 22 offensive touches for 146 yards and one touchdown.
4. Keenum gave offense a spark
Keenum was thrust into action late in the first half when Bradford was forced out due to injury. At that point in time, the Vikings offense was struggling to generate a rhythm and had picked up only three first downs in the first six drives. Keenum was able to change the offense's fortunes in the second half. The Vikings began the 3rd quarter with the ball and Keenum led the offense on a 13-play, 75-yard drive to score a touchdown on a 13-yard catch by tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings also scored a touchdown on the next drive thanks to McKinnon's 58-yard run. In three series with Keenum, the Vikings lead increased from 3-2 to 17-9. Keenum finished the game going 17 of 21 for 140 yards and one touchdown, good for a passer rating of 110.3. He didn't take a sack, he didn't turn the ball over and he led the offense on three scoring drives.
5. Game management, play calling and execution in critical situations was sound throughout the game
Mike Zimmer pulled his starting quarterback in favor of the backup, won a challenge on a 13-yard reception by Markus Wheaton and he managed the final three-plus minutes of the game to perfection. Zimmer will be the first to insist that players win games, but there's no doubt head coaches have a profound impact on the outcome, as well. Smith's interception with 2:20 to play in the 4th quarter and the game tied at 17 gave the Vikings possession at the Chicago 28. The Vikings were then able to take 2:08 off the clock before sending Forbath out for the game-winning field goal, which left the Bears with only 12 seconds to field the kickoff and run an offensive play to try and get into field goal range or score a touchdown. One day prior, the Dallas Cowboys made the mistake of leaving too much time on the clock after scoring a go-ahead touchdown, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took advantage by driving his team 75 yards in nine plays and 1:02 to score a game-winning touchdown. Zimmer didn't make the same mistake and that kind of game management makes a big difference in closely-contested ballgames like the one the Vikings and Bears played in on Monday night.
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