MINNEAPOLIS — It's hard to imagine the Vikings starting a game better than they did Sunday against the Bears.
Minnesota, however, prevailed to improve to 4-1 on the young season, sweep its home slate against NFC North foes with a 3-0 mark and become the first NFL team to win a game in London and then win again in the week that immediately followed.
Wind at their backs
Three possessions, three drives that each traveled more than 70 yards, lasted more than six minutes and ended in the end zone.
The Vikings ran 32 plays, netted 232 yards and scored 21 points to lead by 18 midway through the second quarter.
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell opted to receive the ball after winning the coin toss, and the group was able to set the early tone.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, but there's no rule that says that you can't try to set the tone to play complementary football with your offense," O'Connell said. "We've got so much confidence in our quarterback, our group, our coaching staff on offense to help put together a great plan, that the easy part is really calling the plays and watching our guys have the plan come to life. I thought we were really good on third down. Kirk [Cousins] was dialed in from the jump, had a great rhythm to him."
Cousins completed his first 17 passes on the day, setting a Vikings record to open a game.
It wasn't just dinking or dunking, either.
He connected with Justin Jefferson four times during Minnesota's opening possession for gains of 16, 14, 16 and 9, with the final completion in that sequence moving the ball to the Chicago 1-yard line and setting up Dalvin Cook's first of two rushing scores.
Cousins and Jefferson also had a 31-yard gain with a deep pass on third-and-2 in the second quarter. That was their eighth completion of the first half for 122 yards, a tally that increased to 10 for 138 by halftime.
"A lot of the success in the first half was just a really good plan by our coaches, putting us in some pretty good positions to be effective and kind of putting the wind at our back for us," Cousins said. "That was a great job by them with the game plan, coming out fast with the way they attacked. We obviously need to play better for four quarters.
"I just think the way that our staff prepared for and the way they planned to attack, mixing run and pass, play action, screen game, the no-huddle, the red zone plan, the run game was effective," Cousins added when asked a follow-up about what he liked. "Any time you're effective, it's usually because you're being pretty multiple and not leaning on any one thing too much, but I just thought that after the first couple drives, with the start we had, I look back at the plays, and I felt like I'm being put in a position to be successful, and that's a great feeling when you realize your coaches are kind of putting the wind at your back."
Jefferson said Cousins' confidence shined through that stretch of the game.
"I mean we were pretty much having a great game the whole first half against them," Jefferson said. "Kirk was dialing it up, throwing to the right reads, making the right throws. We just have to progress to the second half with that 17 of 17."
The Bears netted 54 yards and scored 3 points on their first three possessions.
The route was on, right?
Not so fast, Lee Corso's friends.
Against the Wind
The Bears closed the first half with a dose of momentum. Chicago started its fifth possession at the 50 following a shanked punt and holding penalty by the Vikings.
Justin Fields lofted a ball deep to Darnell Mooney for a 39-yard completion on the next snap.
David Montgomery rushed for a 9-yard touchdown three plays later to make it 21-10 with 1:08 left in the first half.
The Vikings drove to the Bears 36-yard line on the possession that followed, but Greg Joseph's 53-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 29-22 win over the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 9.
Chicago converted a third-and-10 with a pass to Cole Kmet for 23 yards as the key play of its touchdown drive to open the second half.
The Bears went for a 2-point conversion that failed and then tried an onside kick, but Akayleb Evans recovered the ball for the Vikings at the Chicago 48.
Minnesota failed to capitalize on that starting field position. Its drive stalled and then ended with a 51-yard attempt by Joseph that was blocked.
Chicago took that starting spot (its own 41) and mustered 34 yards for another 3-pointer.
Harrison Smith broke up a pass to Mooney in the end zone a play before Cairo Santos' kick.
An interception by Kindle Vildor, the first of his career, ended Minnesota's next possession. Vildor nabbed the pass, which Cousins said he tried to force to Adam Thielen instead of taking a shorter throw in the flat, at the Chicago 30 and returned it 18 yards.
"That was an example of allowing previous plays to influence your decision instead of just running the play in a vacuum," Cousins said. "I had taken that flat route so many times and a couple times last week, a time earlier in this game with Irv [Smith, Jr.], a guy was open elsewhere, and I kind of was allowing those previous plays to start to try to hunt something up that really I should have just said, 'Let's just play this in a vacuum, in its own entity and take the guy that's open in the flat, and settle for a shorter gain if it's a shorter gain.'
Seizing the turning of the winds, the Bears appeared to have scored on a 52-yard scramble by Fields, but former Viking Ihmir Smith-Marsette was flagged for an illegal block in the back. Chicago was able to advance the ball to Minnesota's 33-yard line and kick a 51-yard field goal for a 22-21 lead with 9:26 remaining in the game.
Vikings Win Again
The Vikings were able to turn the metaphorical wind once more and prevail.
Similar to the week before when Minnesota had controlled much of its game against New Orleans, the Vikings again found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter.
But they met the moment again.
The offense overcame a false start penalty to open its drive with a 15-yard pass to Irv Smith and went on to convert five separate third downs during the possession that ended with a QB sneak on third-and-goal from the 1 with 2:26 remaining.
Cousins also had picked up a third-and-5 with a scramble that was more grit than grace.
"I think it was 2-man [coverage], so that already gives you a chance as a quarterback to run because there's nobody man on you. I felt Adam get bear hugged," he explained. "He was really my number one guy on the route, and he got bear hugged, so he's not getting open, and then Irv kind of got mugged, as well, getting off the line.
"And then the rush, I just felt somebody cross my face and rather than progress to the backside to Justin and K.J. [Osborn], I knew it was 2-man, knew I had a chance to run," Cousins added. "I felt the rush kind of cross my face, and I just thought, 'I'm just going to take off here and try to get it.' Usually it's a slide but when it's third down, and you're down there, you've got to find a way to get across the line."
After converting just 15 of 48 third downs in their first four games, the Vikings moved the chains on 12 of 15 plays Sunday.
"Yeah, third-down conversions are such a big part of why you win or why you lose," Cousins said. "They get a big emphasis every week in your preparation. You spend basically a whole day on Thursday trying to lock that in. Again, it goes back to so many pieces have to work. The design needs to be good. It's got to be well-protected. Guys [have] to get open and separate versus their coverage, and we've got to find it and throw it, and you've got to have a mix of run and pass.
"You've got to stay in third-and-manageable. I think we had 10 third downs of 5 or [fewer yards]," he added. "When you're in third-and-11 all game, that's a different conversion than third-and-1. So staying in third-and-manageable, being productive on first and second down to give you that fighting chance on third down really helps."
The Vikings defense then needed to produce one more stop.
After allowing short passes to Montgomery for 8 and 3 yards before the 2-minute warning, D.J. Wonnum and Za'Darius Smith sacked Fields. Wonnum forced a fumble, but the Bears recovered at their own 25.
Montgomery followed with a 21-yard gain on a short pass before Fields passed to Smith-Marsette for a gain of 15.
Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., forced a fumble and recovered it from his former Vikings teammate to put the game on ice.
"I don't expect much anymore," Harrison Smith when asked about another game coming down to the wire.
"Are we where we want to be as far as how we're playing? No, but we're winning. At the end of the day, that's all that matters, so we need to get better in some areas, but we're going to savor these wins," he added. "They're hard to come by. Look around the league every week, stuff happens that you don't think should happen. That's just how it is. There's a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches."