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Action Reaction: 'Longest' Yards Loom Large for Vikings on 4th Downs

MINNEAPOLIS — Whatever the Vikings need, they won't get.

That prevailing thought has manifested itself in so many ways in 2020, with several narrow losses likely to haunt Minnesota this offseason.

On Sunday against Chicago, it was the need for 1 yard on two separate fourth-down plays.

Failure to convert either time on plays inside Vikings territory allowed the Bears to follow with a pair of field goals in a 33-27 victory.

Certainly, the offense could have fared better (and has most of the year) on a couple of goal-to-go possessions, and the defense could have been better than allowing 199 rushing yards, but the shortest distance gave truth to the phrase "the longest yard."

Pre-game question: Could the Vikings regain a bit of control over their destiny?

In-game action:

Rather than improving to 7-7 with two games to play, the Vikings inability to win on either fourth-and-1 play dropped Minnesota to 6-8 and well behind in the race for a Wild Card spot in the NFC Playoffs.

There were some interesting dynamics that immediately preceded each fourth-down play.

Minnesota trailed 17-7 with 6:46 remaining in the first half and opened with a 2-yard run by Dalvin Cook.

Kirk Cousins then hustled everyone up and threw a quick pass to Justin Jefferson, but it was batted at the line of scrimmage by John Jenkins. Jefferson managed to prevent linebacker Danny Trevathan from intercepting the deflection.

On third-and-8, Cousins scrambled for a gain of 7. He was struck first by cornerback Kyle Fuller and then hit by defensive back Duke Shelley in the quarterback's head and neck area, either with his helmet or shoulder.

Not one, but two officials threw flags. After a conference, they picked them up and said no foul occurred on the play, resulting in fourth-and-inches from the Minnesota 34 (instead of first-and-10 at the 49). It's a sore spot for the Vikings, who have seen Harrison Smith flagged multiple times this season, including in Week 14, for lowering the helmet to initiate contact.

Chicago took a timeout, and Minnesota opted to go for it after first sending out the punting unit.

The ball went to Cook, but it was stuffed by Jenkins and Bilal Nichols, and Chicago kicked a 35-yard field goal for a 20-7 lead with 3:34 remaining in the first half.

Trailing 30-27, an interception by Cameron Dantzler gave Minnesota the ball at its own 20-yard line with 2:57 left in the game.

A 3-yard run by Cook was followed with a 6-yard pass to the running back.

With two timeouts left and the clock ticking toward a stoppage at the 2-minute warning, Minnesota hustled up to the line to squeeze in another play — a run by Cook into a wall of Bears defenders for no gain.

That set up the fourth-and-1. Minnesota opted for a pass this time with a bootleg, but Brent Urban was able to provide pressure up the field, force Cousins to backpedal and heave a pass toward Tyler Conklin that fell incomplete.

Chicago followed with a 42-yard field goal after gaining 5 yards for a 33-27 edge that forced Minnesota to try to get a touchdown instead of tying the game with a field goal to force overtime.

The Vikings drove to the Bears 33-yard line in the game's final minute, but a Hail Mary was intercepted after it was deflected.

Postgame reaction:

"I didn't talk to them, really. I was just going off what our experience had been this season with Harrison Smith and kind of what I had seen [be called] all season. So I was assuming that, 'Hey, from what I've seen all year, that's a penalty in our other games.' But we didn't get the call."

— Cousins on the hit that ended his scramble to cause the first fourth-and-1

"The thought because it was third-and-1 was, 'Let's just get the first down and not get to fourth down, so we jumped into a run play there. We were in our 2-minute mode, thinking, 'Throwing the ball,' and then because of the situation being third-and-short, we jumped back into a run, and they lined up in a front where they had, really six defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage and it was certainly a loaded box, a tough front to block. [We were] just trying to get lined up and get the ball snapped before the 2-minute [warning] so we didn't lose the opportunity to run a play. Again, the outcome of that one was just not what we wanted."

— Cousins on the Vikings approach at the 2-minute warning

"It was a bootleg. Wanting to sell the outside zone left, and we had the bootleg right. But we had the defensive end there kind of in a bind where he has to either play me or play our slide route, but it was the next player inside the tackle that was able to play up the field. I had to sink with a lot of depth to run away from him. In hindsight, talking about the plays you agonize over."

— Cousins on the fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter