EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings knew what was at stake 79 days ago when they arrived at Soldier Field for a Week 5 showdown against the Bears on Monday Night Football.
After getting a season-opening win, Minnesota had then lost two of its next three games to find itself at 2-2 at the quarter pole of the 2017 season. That included a Week 4 home loss in which the Vikings fell to the Lions and saw sensational rookie running back Dalvin Cook lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen even came out and said he wanted his team to go 4-0 over the next quarter of the season to get back in the playoff race.
The Vikings were at a crossroads of sort, and next up was a game in a stadium where they had won just once in their past nine tries.
The final score? Minnesota 20, Chicago 17.
"I think it was that stretch that we talk about where every game seemed like a bigger game," said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. "It was a really big part of the season, that every win we needed to kind of get us to the point we're at right now.
"It was a great win," Thielen added. "It's not easy to win at Soldier Field, as we've found out the past few years. Any time you can go in there and get a win, it's big."
Minnesota entered the game without Cook but saw Sam Bradford return after missing two games with a knee injury. But the quarterback left the game just before halftime when he aggravated the injury and was replaced by Case Keenum.
Keenum played the entire second half, finishing with 17 completions on 21 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown.
Jerick McKinnon provided another offensive spark, rushing for 95 yards, including a key 58-yard touchdown run, and had 51 more through the air.
"It was big, especially for the fact that, kind of the history, we haven't won there too many times, and to get there and come out with a win, it wasn't pretty at all," Diggs said. "We had our quarterback go down, and Case came in and played a hell of a game alongside of Jet. Jet did some special things. It was big.
"I wouldn't say a turning point, but definitely some momentum moving into the rest of the season, that no matter how we've got to do it, we can get a W and can finish," Diggs added.
Chicago tied the score at 17 early in the fourth quarter, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith intercepted Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with just over two minutes left to set up Kai Forbath's 26-yard, game-winning field goal.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph remembered his teammates being locked in at practice in the days leading up to the divisional showdown.
"It was the way we prepared that week. I remember going into that game, we knew it was a game we had to go win in a place we hadn't won very often," Rudolph said. "It was a stretch where we had three straight division games and had lost our first one. It was a big week for us."
Minnesota improved to 3-2 with the gritty win in Chicago, a victory that sparked an eight-game win streak. The Vikings now sit at 12-3, have won the NFC North and have their eyes on a first-round bye this weekend.
The surge to a successful 2017 season started with a win in Chicago. Now the Vikings can wrap up a stellar regular season by getting a win over the same Bears team.
"You lose a game, and it's almost like you definitely lose momentum. When you can stack wins on top of each other, you just keep building confidence," Thielen said. "Sometimes you feel like you're offense is clicking extremely well but maybe it's not. That just helps you moving forward because confidence is a huge thing in this league, and it can go a long way."
Thielen wins Stringer Good Guy Award
Thielen has become a hot commodity in the Vikings locker room thanks to his standout season, but he's usually more than willing to fill any interview request.
As a result, the Vikings wide receiver was named Wednesday by the Twin Cities chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America as the winner of the 2017 Korey Stringer Good Guy Award.
The award was established in 2001 in memory of Stringer, a former first-round pick who tragically passed away Aug. 1, 2001.
"I appreciate it," Thielen said. "Obviously I know who Korey Stringer was and heard nothing but good things about his character and what he did for this organization, so [it's] definitely an honor to represent him."
Former Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had won the award the previous two seasons.
For the Vikings: Kevin McDermott (shoulder), Shamar Stephen (ankle), Tramaine Brock, Sr. (foot) and Pat Elflein (shoulder) did not participate. Kyle Rudolph (ankle) and Terence Newman (not injury related) were limited, while Jerick McKinnon (shoulder) and Mike Remmers (low back) were full participants.
For the Bears: Bobby Massie (ankle) and Josh Sitton (knee) did not participate, while Adam Shaheen (chest) and Bradley Sowell (back) were limited.