MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings offense knew it would need a fast start against the Bears, and it didn't get off to one.
Minnesota went three-and-out in its first series, and it wasn't until the second half that the unit strung together a touchdown drive. At that point it was too little, too late.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph pointed to a failure to convert third downs (they finished just 1-of-11) as the biggest problem.
"We talked about it all week – we had to be good on third down, and it would give us more opportunities to stay on the field and to run the ball, and we didn't do that in the first half," Rudolph said.
The Vikings had just one series in the third quarter but made it count, starting at their own 8 and moving down the field to cap it off with a touchdown pass to receiver Stefon Diggs from the Bears 2.
Minnesota moved the chains three times on its own with an 18-yard catch by Adam Thielen (first down), a 20-yard run by Latavius Murray (second down) and a 2-yard run by Dalvin Cook on fourth-and-1. The Bears were flagged twice on third downs – Khalil Mack for a roughing the passer penalty and Prince Amukamara on a defensive pass interference – to keep the Vikings drive alive.
Diggs' touchdown put the Vikings within three points of their division rivals, but Chicago pulled away in the fourth quarter. Minnesota got the ball with 7:46 remaining in the game and went three-and-out. With just over four minutes left to go and down 14 points, quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Cook for a 12-yard gain but followed it up with four consecutive incomplete passes.
The Vikings got one more crack on offense in the final two-and-a-half minutes and couldn't make anything happen.
"[We didn't] convert there in kind of a two-minute situation, and then you're in desperation mode the last drive," Rudolph said.
Unable to strike again, the Vikings fell 24-10 to the Bears and were eliminated from the postseason, bringing their 2018 campaign to a close.
"We're disappointed. We'd love to be in the playoffs," Cousins said postgame. "And I've said it all year, I love our team, love our group of guys. And we weren't ready for it to end. But unfortunately, it's over for this year."
Cousins said a "combination of factors" affected the Vikings offense Sunday afternoon, including a stout Chicago defense. The quarterback was sacked four times for a loss of 31 yards and felt heat on a number of snaps.
"It had a big impact," Cousins said of the pressure. "They have a very big front, a very good rush. They've shown that all year, no surprise. It had a big impact on the game."
Cousins finished the day 20-of-33 passing for 132 yards and one touchdown with a passer rating of 79.4. He was asked if the low stats were a reflection of time he had in the pocket or of Chicago's secondary taking away routes.
"A combination," Cousins responded. "It's a really good pass rush. … We didn't have a lot of time of possession. When you don't convert third downs, you're not going to stay on the field. So just a number of reasons."
Lamented Cook: "We just never got in a rhythm."
A consensus in the locker room following Sunday's game was that an inconsistent performance reflected the Vikings up-and-down season that ultimately ended in disappointment.
"We had a great opportunity. You win and you're in," receiver Adam Thielen said. "We couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. But we didn't capitalize, and now we'll be at home next week.
"[Identity was] something we were trying to find the entire year, what this offense is and how we can be successful," Thielen later added. "There were glimpses of it this entire season, but you have to be consistent in this league. Individually I wasn't consistent, and the offense wasn't consistent enough to win games."
Diggs was unable to give an immediate diagnosis to the offense's roller-coaster performance.
"I've kind of got to do an assessment at the end of the year, see where we're at," Diggs said. "As a player, you just take it week-to-week and day-by-day. I just come in each and every day trying to work, and then when game time comes around, I just try to do my best."
Rudolph said perhaps the most frustrating thing is realizing the talent up and down Minnesota's roster but seeing so many missed opportunities or self-inflicted wounds throughout the year.
He mentioned "shooting ourselves in the foot" as well as again emphasizing third-down production.
"When you get [fewer] cracks at the bat, you have [fewer] opportunities to use the potential that you have," Rudolph said. "I said all week that we have so many playmakers, but … if we only get three plays, then we don't have opportunities to get the ball to everybody."
Rudolph glanced around the locker room and acknowledged that the 2019 Vikings roster will look different than that of 2018.
"This team will never be together again, and there was so much potential on this team, and we felt like we had a real shot to do damage and possibly win it all," Rudolph said. "It'll sting for a little while, but I know the character of the guys in this organization, and I don't expect us to be anywhere but playing meaningful football next December.
"Nobody wants to be done in December," Rudolph said. "I don't think anybody expected our last practice to be Friday. We'll have to regroup and, like I said, next year is going to be a good year."