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Final Thoughts: Vikings vs. Bears in Week 12

EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings faced a challenging journey leading up to their Week 13 bye, grappling with attrition that tested the depth of their roster. Injuries, a persistent adversary in any NFL season, seemed to target the Vikings repeatedly.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, however, has kept his messaging consistent since training camp. Then, following an 0-3 start, he identified Weeks 4 through 12 as an opportunity to stack wins together ahead of a bye week that should help Minnesota recover and recharge for a crucial final stretch.

Amidst adversity and then a five-game win streak, the Vikings showcased resilience. O'Connell's one-week-at-a-time mantra helped position Minnesota (6-5) firmly in playoff contention as the final quarter of the regular season nears.

On Monday night, the Vikings face the Chicago Bears (3-8) to conclude this segment of the schedule. A win puts Minnesota a game-and-a-half behind the first-place Lions (8-3) with a chance to gain several key players back from injury following a week of rest.

"Every game is kind of its own individual segment at this point, and coming off a tough loss on the road, I just think it's really important going into the bye that we continue to put together really good plans," O'Connell said. "Our players had another really good week of preparation. "We used the extra day, which I thought was a real benefit. And I think the guys are ready to roll.

"We want to get back to U.S. Bank Stadium. We've had some really good performances there as of late, which our fans have been a huge part of that. The energy, the juice we know will be there on Monday Night Football against an opponent that's playing pretty well right now."

Matchup to Watch: Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum versus Justin Fields

The Vikings have a formidable pass-rushing duo in Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum. Hunter entered Week 12 with 12 sacks, ranking second in the NFL behind Browns star Myles Garrett.

Wonnum complements Hunter's prowess, especially when facing the Bears. The fourth-year edge rusher has recorded 7.5 career sacks in just seven games against the division rival.

Both will look to disrupt a Bears offensive line that has utilized eight combinations in 11 games. Then, defending against the dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields will add another layer of complexity for the Vikings, emphasizing the delicate balance between pressuring Fields without compromising rush-lane integrity or blowing edge containment.

Fields returned to action last week after missing four games with a dislocated right thumb, which he suffered against the Vikings in Week 6.

Wonnum and Hunter combined for 10 pressures and three sacks in that game.

"He's a dynamic player. We know that just seeing him in the first matchup," Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores said of Fields. "I thought he played very well last week, and his ability to take off and create explosives as a scrambler, but also extended plays to get the ball down. In is very good."

Six Points: Memorable Week 12 Quotes

TE T.J. Hockenson on NFC North rivalries:

"Especially in the NFC North, it's physical football. Every game you come out of there, you always feel more sore than you do [after a normal game day]. There's obviously an amplitude to it, so we're just going to be excited to have Chicago here Monday night. It's going to be a blast; it's going to be a good atmosphere, being at U.S. Bank Stadium and being in front of our fans. I think we're just all looking forward to the opportunity."

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on facing the Bears run defense:

"It's gonna be a challenge. Chicago's second in the league, I believe, in rush yards per game and [No. 1 in yards] per attempt. They move the front quite a bit after the snap. That's always kind of been [Head Coach Matt] Eberflus' style and system. There are some positive runs if you watch on tape, but they also have a lot of negative runs, where they're getting into the backfield, where they are penetrating and moving the front. So it's certainly challenging. It was good to see in Denver the run game kind of come alive – hit a couple 15-yard runs and just had nice production throughout the night. Hopefully we can build on that, but I think it's going to be more of a challenge this week."

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on balancing desire to have Justin Jefferson back in the mix with chance to rest him another two weeks until post-bye:

"I think it's just something where we know we've got a football left ahead, and we also know we've got the bye week that gives us possibly an extra week of preparation for him to feel like he's got more and more work ready to go. But if you ask some of his teammates, they'd probably say he sure looks ready to roll right now. And that is the tricky thing with an injury like this, is he's getting great work in, he's preparing himself for when he's ready to roll, and we're doing the same thing as an offense and as a football team. I think it's just a matter of … this is not really something where there's a lot to invest time or energy in to try to figure everything all out. It comes down to the best receiver in football trying to get to a hundred percent so we can get him back out there, not just for any short-term burst but for a heck of a lot longer than that."

Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on playing without Jordan Hicks and getting Anthony Barr up to speed in the system:

"I thought Ivan [Pace, Jr.] did a nice job with the green dot. The communication was solid throughout the night. Obviously he got a lot of help from our more veteran players – [Josh] Metellus, Harrison Smith, Harrison Phillips, [Camryn] Bynum. I thought Troy Dye went in there and did a nice job, as well. So overall, that part of it, I think they stepped in and did some nice things for us. Defensively … it was a pretty smooth transition, I would say. Credit to Ivan and Troy and, really, the whole group on understanding that was a big loss for us, and they really worked hard on the communication, on the in-game adjustments. Our alerts, our checks, they went off without much of a hitch, and we're gonna need that moving forward.

"It was good to get [Barr] in last week, introduce him to the defense, the terminology. Obviously he's played a lot of football, and conceptually, some things are very similar to things he's done in the past. But just terminology-wise, getting the hang of the verbiage, getting a hang of the check system, I thought he did some nice things when he went in. That was kind of the plan, to get him 10-15 snaps and gradually work that up as we go forward."

Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels on Ty Chandler's contributions on special teams and the fake punt:

"I think the thing with Ty is he's truly shown his versatility. … I know last year we moved him around quite a bit – I tried him out as a gunner, I had him at the wing spot, and this year I kind of moved him over to the [punt protector], so that was a role where he was really third on the depth chart with Metellus being the 1 and Cam Bynum was the 2. [Ty] was really the third guy in. And then as Metellus grew his role at a safety spot, T.C. came to me about wanting to take ownership of that. We started meeting heavily on it. I grew some really great trust in him and how he went about his preparation, and I felt great about it, him having that running back background, what it would do for us from a standpoint of what it would do for us opening up those fake opportunities, having a running back back there – but also a guy who understands protection, who really does a great job back there of really being the quarterback of the punt team. So when that confidence grew between us, and he showed that versatility, I was all in on it."

QB Joshua Dobbs on whether he's mastered the Vikings offense:

" 'Mastered' is probably a far stretch, just because I'm always growing and improving. And stuff that's been installed throughout the year will get reinstalled. So, it's a constant learning each and every day. But I do feel really comfortable with the playbook. Obviously, I'm significantly farther along than I was two weeks ago and even last week. So, as I get more weeks under my belt, we get more situations out there on the field, whether it's another 2-minute in a game, a 4-minute operation situation. Different defenses require different installation of plays. So, as we continue to get more looks and stuff, I'll just continue getting to the mastery level. But yeah, I'm fighting to get to that level as quickly as possible, but the knowledge and knowing the playbook is leaps and bounds from where we were even a week ago. So that's exciting. That's exciting. Obviously coming home against an opponent that the Vikings have played, that I haven't played, but an opponent that we know from a coaching and schematics standpoint, will help us and allow us to go out and play fast, play efficient and ideally play good football."

Milestones Approaching

Dobbs last week became the first player in NFL history to pass and rush for at least one touchdown in his first three games with a team. Dobbs and Fields are two of the five QBs since 1970 who have had such a combination in at least four games. Fields (2022) and Kyler Murray (2020) hold the record at five consecutive games, which Dobbs can tie this week.

Dobbs and Fields are two of four QBs since 1970 with a streak of at least five games with a rushing touchdown. Fields (six games in 2022) broke the previous record set by Kyler Murray (2020) and tied by Cam Newton (2021) and Dobbs (2023 including final two games with Arizona).

T.J. Hockenson became the third tight end in NFL history to have at least 75 receptions in his team's first 11 games of a season. Hockenson needs five receptions to pass Joe Senser (1981) for the second-most receptions by a tight end in a season and nine to break Kyle Rudolph's record from 2016.

Hunter enters Week 12 with 83 career sacks, which is 2.5 behind Ring of Honor member Jared Allen, who ranks sixth in franchise history (includes totals before 1982 when sacks became an official NFL stat).

Harrison Smith will be playing in his 171st career game, which will tie him with Paul Krause for the most by a Vikings defensive back. Smith passed Krause's franchise record for starts by a defensive back (150) in 2022 and is poised to make his 170th start.

"Fan-ally" Friday (Saturday edition)

*First off, hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving however they celebrated. The holiday's central tenets of gratitude and goodwill (with a heavy helping of football) resonate so strongly. We're just going to go with two messages here, but I'll have the Mailbag for Monday (and then will have reaction comments to the game in Tuesday's Rehash). — Thanks, Craig *

With Thanksgiving being Thursday and with all the coverage of Randy Moss and what he did to the Cowboys in 1998, just want to say I was at that game! I was wearing my No. 93 RANDLE jersey, and I had a rubber chicken wearing a No. 8 AIKMAN jersey. It was a hit! Got the idea from the [Brett] Favre commercial. … I was at the first game that season when we played TB and watched Randy catch his first NFL touchdown. After that game I was at the exit of the stadium where the players walk out. Heard a commotion, looked back and Randy had jumped the table and was walking straight toward us! I told Randy, "Nice game, BEAT DALLAS," and boy did they!

— Rick in Stillwater, Oklahoma

You sure can pick the right games to attend!

Love the bit with the rubber chicken. The John Randle-Brett Favre dynamic enriched Vikings-Packers for so many years.

The performance by Moss that against the Buccaneers in Week 1, and the absolute dominance he showed 25 years ago on Thanksgiving will live on for the ages. Glad there's such good video highlights from that holiday game to illustrate his excellence to future generations.

I hope we bring back [Kirk] Cousins next year. He has enough money for three lifetimes, so he should sign for a reasonable contract, especially if this is where he wants to retire. Dobbs clearly has already shown that he was with seven teams for a reason. He fumbled three times (losing one) and threw the ball up for grabs numerous times. We dominated Denver, and his play and the coaches' decision not to try to get a TD and kick FG cost us the game. He had three timeouts and needed like 35 yards for a winning FG attempt, and he was not even close to looking like a professional QB. Five-yard dump offs and intentional grounding! If we stick with Dobbs, don't be surprised to see Green Bay sign Cousins.

I have watched the Vikings since 1978, so I go back to Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters. I remember seeing the same ending in Detroit in 1999. Less than a minute left in a high-scoring game and the coaches' decision not to attack the end zone and kick FG cost us a win. The Lions went right down the field with 30 seconds left and kick FG to win the game. Had we tried to score a TD, we could have ended the game right there. That's also Jeff George taking over at QB with 2 HOF receivers and Robert Smith. I want to know who to contact about getting on the coaching staff? Please help me and make the Vikings even better!

— Jeff Steedman in Oregon, Ohio

There's no question that Cousins was playing some of his best football before he suffered his season-ending injury. It's been great to see him around the facility.

Dobbs is 1-1 as a starter and played a gigantic role in Minnesota's win at Atlanta after Jaren Hall was sidelined because of a concussion.

The Vikings moved the ball really well, but the Broncos were able to deny Minnesota enough in the red zone. That doesn't fall completely at the feet of Dobbs, who actually scrambled and eluded a tackle before throwing the first touchdown and wound up having enough juice to run for another score.

The 2-minute drill results certainly were disappointing, again as a team, especially when the end result was leaving Denver with a loss after leading the game for more than 40 minutes.

Russell Wilson garnered another fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive by making some of the easiest throws (four to the running back) of anyone in Week 11, but he understood he had plenty of time to go that route.

Had to go back and look up the Vikings-Lions game Jeff mentioned.

Detroit led 19-0 at halftime before George threw touchdowns to Cris Carter and Randy Moss. A short TD by Leroy Hoard put Minnesota up 20-19 but the 2-point conversion pass failed with 13:30 remaining.

Jason Hanson's fifth field goal of the day put the Lions up 22-20 with 7:06 remaining.

Minnesota opted to run with Hoard on a third-and-7 from the 12 and forced Detroit to exhaust its timeouts on the following possession that ended with a 26-yard field goal with 1:43 remaining. Gus Frerotte, however, led the Lions for Hanson's sixth FG with 13 seconds remaining.

There's quite a bit of unknowns for Vikings quarterbacks next spring. My advice is to try to enjoy whatever happens the rest of this season as best as possible.