The Hitman, ladies and gentlemen.
Football is a game of momentum, and it threatened to swing against Minnesota after a Vikings fumble ended their first possession. But Harrison Smith set things back on track, and the Vikings went on to defeat the division-rival Bears 19-13.
On Chicago's second offensive play of the Monday Night Football contest, the All-Pro safety intercepted Bears quarterback Nick Foles on an errant pass off the fingertips of Anthony Miller. Smith initially bobbled the ball but managed to bring it in for the turnover.
True to his nature, Smith noted there was "nothing special" about the pick.
"It was just doing my job, making a break when the ball was thrown," he said. "The corner, [Jeff Gladney], did a good job contesting it.
"I almost dropped it," Smith added. "I had to lock-in there for a second."
The interception proved only the first impressive play by Smith under the lights.
On third-and-7 in the third quarter, Smith broke up a pass by Foles to Allen Robinson II and forced Chicago to go three-and-out. One possession later, it was the same three-and-punt story when Smith screamed untouched across the line of scrimmage on third-and-10. Foles wasn't sacked but felt the heat and threw an incompletion.
Smith's prime-time performance was welcomed but certainly not surprising.
"Harrison is a really good player. He has great anticipation, he understands what offenses are trying to do," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said postgame. "He's very coachable in the fact that I can talk to him during the game or during practice about this or that [and he responds].
"I think part of it is his vision and anticipation," he added. "And he's a tough guy, too. He'll do anything you ask him to do."
To use Zimmer's word, the entire defense played "outstanding" all night long.
Zimmer consistently dialed up big plays to stop Chicago's progress – particularly on third downs, of which the Bears converted just 2-of-11 attempts.
"I thought defensively, third downs, we played great tonight," Zimmer said postgame. "Our guys executed everything that we were really trying to do. I think the one third down [pass] that they hit, it was kind of a scramble, and [Foles] threw it back across the grain a little bit. But for the most part, I thought they did a good job disguising coverages, they did a good job of covering the guys that we were trying to get covered."
On the Bears second drive of the evening, Foles and Co. moved the sticks fairly well, but Minnesota clamped down inside the 10.
The Vikings forced an incompletion by Foles on first-and-10 and on second down stopped Cordarrelle Patterson for a gain of 2. Defensive end Hercules Mata'afa caused another incompletion, and the Bears settled for a 23-yard field goal.
Linebacker Eric Wilson again played a key role in the Vikings defense, leading the team in combined tackles with seven (press box stats). He sacked Foles for a loss of 7 to force a punt in the second quarter, and in the fourth quarter, he broke up a pass on third-and-5.
Rookie defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum recorded the second sack of Foles on the evening, dropping the QB for a loss of 9 late in the game. The play also occurred on third down.
And on the Bears second-to-final possession, Gladney stopped Robinson four yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing Chicago into its second unsuccessful fourth-down attempt of the game.
"Third down is money down," Smith said. "First of all, it helps when on first and second down, you've got them in third-and-long. But if you can get off the field on third down, that normally wins games. Our history here has been pretty good on third downs, and we've had some games where it hasn't been up to par. And honestly, fourth downs this year, we've been pretty bad. So getting off the field on fourth down in kind of a game-winning situation was pretty good."
Told Chicago's third-down conversion percentage of 18, Smith gave a satisfied nod.
"Yeah, that's pretty good. You're probably going to win a lot of games like that," he said.
The Vikings limited the Bears to just 149 net yards on the night, including a mere 32 yards in the second half.
Foles was 15-of-26 passing for 106 yards and one interception for a passer rating of 51.1 before being carted off with an injury inside the final minute. Smith opened his postgame press conference by offering well-wishes for the opposing quarterback.
"Before we start, I just want to say, shout-out to Nick Foles," he said. "I hope he's all right. I have a lot of respect for that guy. I know everybody in the league does. I hope he's OK."
View images as the Vikings take on the Bears at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football.
The seemingly rare victory at Soldier Field marked Minnesota's third straight win, all of them against NFC North opponents, and improved the team to 4-5 on the season.
The Vikings defense has done its part in the team's turnaround after starting off 1-5, and Zimmer is pleased with the unit that has weathered injuries to key veterans and asked a lot of its young players.
"They're starting to mature a little bit, and obviously they're getting a little bit of confidence now. I think it's been three games here where the other team's had the ball with the chance to win the game, and we've been able to put the fire out," Zimmer said. "The more times you do that, the more times that you believe that you can do it. And secondly, I think they're starting to understand what we're trying to do conceptually with the calls and things like that."
The Vikings will celebrate Monday's win before entering a three-game home stretch against the Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars, respectively.
"They just keep fighting. That's all we do," Zimmer said. "These guys, before the game, they weren't tight. I could tell in the locker room they weren't tight. They seem to go out and practice real hard, they seem to respond in practice – one of the things that we've been emphasizing a lot in the last few weeks is not allowing completions in practice defensively.
"Maybe that's starting to show up, the competition part," Zimmer added. "It's three games, we're fighting our way back into this thing hopefully. Still got a lot of football left to play, and hopefully we can keep going."