By Tom Speicher, for Vikings.com
The Vikings needed to break a losing streak in 1994 and got past the Bears in a 1994 overtime game to propel them to the NFC Central Division crown.
Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
Chicago at Minnesota
Dec. 4, 1994
Following a 7-2 start to the season, nobody expected the Minnesota Vikings to be battling for playoff survival come December. But that was the predicament for Dennis Green's team when the division-leading Chicago Bears invaded the Metrodome for a Thursday night clash on ESPN. The Vikings desperately needed a victory after dropping three straight games. A win over the 8-4 Bears would give Minnesota a first-place tie in the NFC Central Division, and the Purple would hold the tie-breaker, thanks to a 42-14 dismantling of Chicago earlier in the season. A fourth-straight loss would leave the Vikings gasping for answers and a wild card spot.
Veteran quarterback Warren Moon, obtained in an offseason trade with Houston, led the Vikings offense. The prolific quarterback developed an excellent rapport with another future Hall of Famer, wide receiver Cris Carter, who would end the season with an NFL-record 122 receptions. Moon also made a star out of wideout Jake Reed, who snagged 85 passes for 1,175 yards. John Randle at defensive tackle and Jack Del Rio at middle linebacker, both Pro Bowlers, anchored the Minnesota defense.
Despite the Vikings' tailspin and Chicago's four-straight victories, Vegas installed Minnesota as a 5.5-point favorite for the game that would become an instant classic.
The Vikings gave the capacity Metrodome crowd reason to roar in the game's first minute. On Chicago's third play, rookie cornerback Dewayne Washington intercepted Steve Walsh's errant throw and returned it 54 yards for a quick 7-0 Minnesota lead. To their credit, the Bears weren't fazed. Walsh finished a 67-yard drive with a 39-yard pass to Robert Green. Initially, the third-down play appeared to be a short gain, but Green maneuvered past three Minnesota defenders to tie the contest midway through the first quarter. That would be the last touchdown of the half.
Following a series of punts, the Vikings could have seized control of the contest, but instead of touchdowns, they had to rely on the right foot of Pro Bowl kicker Fuad Reveiz. A promising second-quarter drive stalled at the Bears 27 and Reveiz hit a 45-yard field goal. At the end of the half, Reveiz connected from 41 yards to give the Vikings a 13-7 advantage. The Minnesota defense set up that drive when linebacker Ashley Sheppard recovered a Walsh fumble at the Vikings 23-yard line. Moon passed the Vikings down the field, but they could get no closer than the Chicago 23 before calling on Reveiz to close the half.
Any momentum Minnesota built with those field goals evaporated four plays into the third quarter when Chicago's Jeff Graham returned Mike Saxon's punt 61 yards for a touchdown and a 14-13 Bears lead. The big punt return epitomized Minnesota's coverage inadequacies on special teams. In addition to Graham's play, the Vikings would end the game surrendering 221 yards on seven kick returns by Nate Lewis.
View images of the key contributors for Chicago Bears this season.
On its second possession of the third quarter, the Minnesota offense sustained a drive, moving from its own 34 to the Chicago 11. Once again, the Vikings had to settle for a Reveiz field goal. The 29-yard kick delivered a tenuous 16-14 lead for Minnesota. Chicago proved how tenuous it was by answering with its own 29-yard field goal from Kevin Butler for a 17-16 edge.
The Bears' advantage quickly grew. Minnesota's Qadry Ismail fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Chicago's Barry Minter recovered to give the Bears a first down at the Vikings 33. Three plays later, the Bears found the end zone when Walsh hit Greg McMurtry for a 15-yard touchdown. As the game shifted into the fourth quarter, Chicago enjoyed its largest lead of the game, 24-16.
Minnesota gave the purple faithful some hope in the early stages of the fourth quarter when Reveiz hit his fourth field goal, this one from 38 yards, to shrink the Bears' advantage to 24-19. After an exchange of punts, the Vikings defense delivered a huge play. Middle linebacker Jack Del Rio forced Lewis Tillman to fumble and recovered it at the Chicago 15 with six minutes remaining in regulation. Passes to Cris Carter and Jake Reed helped push the Vikings to the 1-yard-line, where they faced fourth down. The Metrodome crowd held its breath when Moon lofted a pass for Carter, who plucked it out of the air for the offense's first touchdown of the night. Moon's successful 2-point conversion pass to tight end Andrew Jordan put the Vikings on top, 27-24, with 4:12 remaining.
The touchdown had the Metrodome masses celebrating with a tinge of apprehension. They knew that the Bears had plenty of time to respond and the Vikings' porous coverage unit would once again face Lewis on the ensuing kick. Their fears were well-founded. Lewis returned the boot 55 yards to the Minnesota 36. Walsh calmly moved Chicago to the Vikings 15. At the two-minute warning and facing a fourth-and-1, Chicago head coach Dave Wannstedt played it safe and called on Butler for a 33-yard field goal try. Butler's kick was true, and the division rivals were headed to overtime tied at 27.
The Bears won the toss, which generated a groan throughout the Metrodome. Vikings fans envisioned Lewis breaking off another long return to set up Butler for a game-winning field goal that would send the Purple Gang to a demoralizing fourth straight loss. Fortunately for them, the Minnesota coverage unit finally did its job, limiting Lewis to a 23-yard return. However, Walsh raised the tension by leading a methodical Bears drive that finally stalled at the Minnesota 22. Butler trotted on the field to end the game with a 40-yard field goal. The veteran's kick looked good before hooking left. The Metrodome erupted. The Vikings were still alive.
Two plays later, the noise level nearly blew the roof off. Moon zipped a perfect pass to Carter in the right flat. The All-Pro caught the ball in stride, evaded a Chicago linebacker at midfield and scampered for a game-ending 65-yard touchdown. The exhausted Vikings had finally won again, 33-27.
Minnesota linebacker Jack Del Rio forced and recovering a Chicago fumble at the Bears 15 with six minutes to play in regulation. The turnover led to Minnesota's first offensive touchdown of the game and a 27-24 lead.
Vikings Player of the Game
Wide receiver Cris Carter caught nine passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. His fourth-quarter TD put the Vikings in the lead, and his 65-yard catch and run in overtime delivered a huge win for his team.
Purple Honorable Mention
Quarterback Warren Moon completed 27 of 48 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns.
Post-Game Chatter (via the Dec. 2, 1994 Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Cris Carter (Vikings wide receiver)
"This one is at the top of my memories. A lot of people had given up on us: We couldn't do this and we couldn't do that."
Vencie Glenn (Vikings safety)
"All week long we stressed turnovers. That's all we thought about. We gave up some things but really came through when we had to. We knew they weren't going to quit. And we couldn't either."
Warren Moon (Vikings quarterback)
"There is light now. When you lose three in a row, you start wondering what it's going to take to get you out of it. The way we won this, maybe it'll shock us a little."
Minnesota won two of its final three games to finish 10-6 and claim its second NFC Central Division crown in three years. The Vikings had to defeat eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco on the "Monday Night Football" finale to win the division. Fortunately for the Vikings, the 49ers began resting many key players as early as the second quarter. Minnesota took advantage to win 21-14. However, the season ended with a first-round playoff disappointment the following week. The Bears enacted revenge on the Vikes with a 35-18 drubbing at the Metrodome. With the loss, Minnesota fell to 0-3 in the playoffs under head coach Dennis Green.