The Vikings fell a game-and-a-half behind the Bears in the NFC North with a 25-20 loss at Soldier Field on Sunday night.
Pregame question: Would the Vikings be able to keep Khalil Mack from wrecking the game?
Bears linebacker Khalil Mack has proven to be quite the difference maker since joining Chicago before the start of the season. The Associated Press 2016 Defensive Player of the Year entered the game with 7.0 sacks, an NFL-leading four forced fumbles and a pick six.
Side note: The Vikings were without David Morgan (knee), their top blocking tight end.
In addition to Morgan's benefits as a blocker in the run game, he provides a threat in the passing game when used on a route and helps shore up pressure by an opponent when blocking at the edge of the line. Morgan's versatility also can help keep a defense off-balance.
In game action:
The Vikings had talked up Mack's prowess and the importance of knowing where he was at all times.
It turned out that Mack had quite the wingman in Akiem Hicks, who has been a load to handle up front since joining the Bears in 2016.
With Mack causing problems on the edge, Hicks took aim at the interior of the line.
It didn't take long for either to start putting their stamps on the game.
Hicks surged through the line of scrimmage and into the backfield to keep Minnesota from converting a third-and-super-short-1 with a handoff to Latavius Murray to halt the Vikings first series.
Mack trucked the Vikings second possession that had much more promise. Minnesota moved from its own 40 to the Chicago 14, but he surged through a block to force and recover a fumble at the 15 and deny a strong scoring opportunity.
Mack and Hicks each recorded sacks of Kirk Cousins, and the duo helped adversely affect the quarterback's throws at different points of the game.
According to the press box tally, Hicks finished with six tackles, including five for losses, and two quarterback hits. Mack had two tackles, two quarterback hits and a pass breakup.
Kirk Cousins on the way the Bears pass rush affected the game:
"At times, they weren't necessarily getting a sack and they were affecting my arm," Cousins said. "Other times, the protection was holding up fine, and we were getting the ball out. I think it was everything across the board. Sometimes it was a rush around the edge, a rush inside, a stunt … different things. They have a really good front seven, and we said that all week. We saw that on tape, and that's a big reason they're as good as they are."
Dalvin Cook on the fumble forced and recovered by Mack:
"He made a play at the line of scrimmage," Cook said. "That's what he's been doing since he got there. He got to the line of scrimmage and stuck his hand out. It was a gift for them."
Cook on running backs trying to help pass protect:
"We tried to stay in as much as possible. We knew what we were facing," Cook said. "They're good up front; you've got to give them credit. They're good over there. We tried to scheme them as much as possible. They just made more plays than we did."
Thielen on the Bears defense:
"They're a good defense; obviously, they've been playing well all year," Thielen said. "They had our number tonight; obviously, we didn't help ourselves tonight, either. They're a good defense, but a lot of times, we hurt ourselves. We were moving the ball pretty well, and get in the red zone and have turnovers is how you lose games in this league."