MINNEAPOLIS — The chance for the Vikings defense was right in front of them.
Minnesota trailed by three points and had just cut into the deficit with the Vikings first touchdown of the game when Chicago took possession of the ball at its own 25-yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Get a stop, or even limit the Bears to a field goal, and the Vikings offense would have a chance to take the lead in a must-win game.
Instead, perhaps the most reliable phase of the Vikings entire team faltered and couldn't get off the field as the Bears put together a crushing 16-play touchdown drive that spanned 75 yards and ate up more than nine minutes off the clock.
Minnesota never sniffed a chance for the lead again.
"That's just not how we play or how we have played in the past," said Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly after a 24-10 loss. "Honestly, I don't know what to say than that. It's frustrating more than anything as a defensive player seeing them convert those."
Added safety Anthony Harris: "We had a lot of opportunities in the game to get on the field on third down or have a chance to pin them and flip the field position. But we weren't able to do it and get it done. I believe on that long drive they made some plays and were able to keep the drive alive and keep the clock running."
Added safety Harrison Smith: "We have to take advantage of the momentum shifts. Once you get the steam rolling, you have to keep it going, we did not do that today."
The Bears were successful on all five third-down tries on the drive, as Chicago converted three of them through the air and one on the ground.
The fifth came when Vikings safety Jayron Kearse was called for defensive holding on a play where Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr sacked Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and appeared to force a Chicago punt.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. We have to go back out there after that play and keep on playing football," Kearse said. "We had that time and time [again] tonight – sometimes we won our matchups, and sometimes we didn't. It just happened to be that we didn't win it at the right time."
The Vikings entered the game with the league's best third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert at just over 28 percent on third downs.
But the Bears had plenty of success against Minnesota as they moved the chains on eight of their first 12 third-down plays. Chicago finished 8-for-14 overall on the down.
Chicago's second touchdown of the game came one play after the Bears converted on third-and-7 with a 40-yard gain through the air in the second quarter.
It was also after a sequence when a third-down, roughing-the-passer call on Weatherly kept the drive alive.
"Yeah, I tried to slow up," Weatherly said. "I probably should have just ran by him but they made the call and it is what it is."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the call was "ticky tacky," but made no excuses that his team performed poorly on third downs on Sunday afternoon.
"We had a holding penalty. We had a roughing [the] quarterback. And we got out," Zimmer said. "We had — they threw a long ball on Holton Hill one time. Threw another completion on him, I believe. And then, honestly, we kind of ran out of defensive backs today."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Smith said: "For the most part, we were great on third downs all year. Today we weren't, and that will get you beat."
Minnesota entered the Week 17 tilt facing a win-and-in scenario, and was looking to rely on a defense that had surrendered just 16 points and 217.6 yards per game at home.
But the Vikings were gashed for a 42-yard run on the Bears second offensive play of the game, which lead to an early 7-0 lead for the visitors.
Minnesota allowed a season-worst 332 yards at home this season as the Vikings saw their season end without a playoff appearance.
It was the only performance by the defense at home in which the Vikings failed to record at least one sack or a turnover.
"The game we played today is not a playoff performance," Barr said. "You can't go out there and play the way we did and expect to make the playoffs.
"The way we played, we don't deserve to be in the playoffs," Barr added.
Added Smith: "Too many ups and downs. We didn't do enough to win, that's it."