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Cousins, Vikings Offense Excels on 3rd Downs Against Bears

This was big-boy football, a smashmouth-type game where nothing came easy.

And there's no doubt Minnesota's 19-13 win over Chicago on Monday Night Football paid homage to a time when the teams met in the 'Black and Blue' division.

But on a night when neither team made it to 20 points, it was the Vikings offense that rose to the challenge and made just enough plays to earn a third consecutive win — all over NFC North foes.

"It's a really good defense we played tonight," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "I felt like they showed it all game long. Yards were tough to come by, points were tough to come by."

Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "When you play a defense that good, you've really got to fight each and every down."

Chicago's defense entered Monday night's contest as the league's top unit on third down, as carrying a wealth of confidence based on the past two meetings at Soldier Field.

Minnesota had churned out just 62 yards on 30 total carries in those games, with Dalvin Cook gaining 47 of those yards on 23 attempts.

Cook entered prime-time on fire, with 379 rushing yards and five scores in his past two games.

Unsurprisingly, it was tough sledding against a stout Bears defense. But the Vikings running back, who is closing in on his second straight 1,000-yard season, helped will his team to victory when it mattered most.

Cook finished with 30 carries for 96 yards (3.2 yards per carry) at Soldier Field. But in the fourth quarter he bullied his way for 65 yards on 12 attempts (5.4 ypc).

It helped that Bears Pro Bowl defensive tackle Akiem Hicks left the game in the third quarter and didn't return. But on a night where it was seemingly three yards and a cloud of dust, Cook did his best work in the final stanza.

"That's a tough group defensively to run the ball against, but we kept sticking with it," Zimmer said. "We didn't have as much production as we hoped, but we had enough."

Minnesota finished with 100 yards rushing as a team … if you don't count the final kneel-down by Kirk Cousins on the game's final play.

That game's final play might have been one of the most satisfying victory formations for Cousins, who also stepped up in crunch time to get his first win in 10 tries on Monday Night Football as a starting quarterback.

Cousins completed 25-of-36 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns to Adam Thielen. He also had an interception that Thielen initially bobbled, and the quarterback finished with a strong passer rating of 100.7.

And if there was a down where Cousins earned Monday's win, it was the most important one in football.

The quarterback was a tidy 10-of-11 on the critical down, throwing for 149 yards to four different receivers.

Both of Thielen's scores came on third downs, and Jefferson racked up 102 of his 135 receiving yards to help move the sticks. Of his 10 third-down completions, Cousins had seven that went for a first down or touchdown.

"I think [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Gary [Kubiak] deserves a lot of the credit for just the game planning," Cousins said of Minnesota's third-down success. "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 and man coverage, make plays, and find soft spots in the zones and protection had to hold up," Cousins added. "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."

Added Jefferson: "We're just finding the open spots and giving the playmakers the ball. We made some big plays out there. That's what it's going to take in order for us to move the ball and get in scoring range."

All that against a Chicago defense that entered the game ranked first on third downs with a success rate of 31.0 percent (40 for 129).

On a night when the Bears keyed so heavily on Cook, a handful of other players stepped up when called upon.

Kyle Rudolph had four catches for 63 yards in his top statistical game of the season. The same can be said for Chad Beebe (two catches for 16 yards) and Tyler Conklin (two catches for 11 yards).

A total of eight Vikings offensive players recorded a catch or carry against the Bears.

"It's fun to get so many players involved … Conk', Beebe," Cousins said. "And we have confidence in so many players that you love being able to spread it around and show defenses that they have to honor a lot of different [eligible receivers].

"And certainly we're not going to abandon the run game," Cousins added. "So even when it's been an uphill battle running the football, we're going to commit to it and still stick with it and use it as the foundation for our system. It was important to still be able to churn out those hard-fought yards when we could."

Cousins also credited Minnesota's offensive line for its performance, as he was sacked just once on 37 dropbacks.

That unit has played a big part in the Vikings rattling off three straight wins.

And now that the Vikings have shown they can win in pretty fashion — and in gritty fashion — they'll look to keep the momentum rolling Sunday at home against the Cowboys.

Don't look now, but Minnesota is 4-5 on the season, and could grind its way back into the playoff picture in the coming weeks.

"I just think as the season goes on you start to figure out who you are and how you play and who you lean on," Cousins said. "I think it's been nice to kind of figure ourselves out, find an identity as we play through things."