The Vikings defeated the Bears 19-13 on Monday Night Football, picking up their third consecutive win of the season and within the NFC North.
Minnesota improved to 4-5, and Chicago fell to 5-5 after losing its fourth game in a row.
Kirk Cousins delivered an impressive performance, spreading the ball around through the air on a night when Chicago often bottled up Minnesota's vaunted rushing attack. Harrison Smith recorded a key interception early and showed up often as the Vikings locked down the Bears offense.
Pre-game question: Could the Vikings overcome bad situations, either forced by the Bears, or unforced?
View images as the Vikings take on the Bears at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football.
The storyline of the first half was that Minnesota generally avoided adverse situations, namely third-and-longs, which Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak mentioned last week would be a point of emphasis.
The Vikings didn't face anything longer than a third-and-5 in the first half and converted four of their five attempts. Minnesota even got a neutral zone infraction penalty against Chicago on its first third down of the game for a first down and scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen that was brilliantly delivered against solid coverage and finished impressively with only Thielen's left arm.
In the second half, however, Chicago overtook Minnesota on the opening kickoff when Cordarrelle Patterson's 104-yard kickoff return gave the Bears a 13-7 lead just 14 seconds into the third quarter. The score tied the former Viking with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the NFL record of eight career kickoff return touchdowns.
The Vikings faced notably longer distances on third downs in the second half but picked up a third-and-8 with a 14-yard completion to Justin Jefferson and a third-and-11 with a 54-yarder to the phenom. Minnesota also scored its other touchdown of the game on third down via a 6-yard pass from Cousins to Thielen on third-and-4.
Dalvin Cook caught a pass for a gain of 8 to convert a third-and-3 in the fourth quarter. He made a third-and-20 interesting with a 14-yard run, but the longer distances led to a success rate of 4-for-10 in the second half.
The third-and-11 was especially critical because it occurred one snap after an apparent 36-yard run by Cook was negated by a holding penalty. The long gain by Jefferson led to the 43-yard field goal that tied the game at 13 with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings then erased a first-and-20 after another holding call on their next possession with a 22-yard pass from Cousins to Kyle Rudolph. That play moved the ball from the Chicago 48-yard line to the 22, and Minnesota scored the game-winning touchdown four plays later.
"These guys, before the game, we weren't tight. I could tell in the locker room they weren't tight."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
"There was a couple times I was upset on the sideline, and Anthony Harris said, 'Coach, just call the game. We're going to win.' They keep me in line, too."
"It's a really good defense we played tonight. I felt like they showed it all game long. Yards were tough to come by, points were tough to come by, they were able to contain our run game for the most part, and that is why it was so important to have success in the passing game and have success on third downs."
"Third-and-11, [they] played a split safety look, and Justin was able to get behind their dime linebacker and cross the safety's face, and we were able to hit it. It was a big play in the game to just switch field position and kind of get some momentum going back in our direction."
"I think Gary deserves a lot of the credit for just the game-planning. He had a plan all week long of how to attack them on third down. I think when you go back and watch it, I think those plays put us in a great position. Then we had players get separation against man coverage, make plays, and find soft spots in the zones, and protection had to hold up. Third down-and-medium-to-long is where they know we're throwing it and they can pass rush, and we had great protection in those situations."
"As a defensive player that is very frustrating. It hurts a lot. It's disheartening, and it's a huge momentum boost for us. It's not how you draw it up exactly, but sometimes it can be to your advantage and get the momentum going."
— Smith on the effect of an offense converting a first-and-20 or third-and-11