EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings moved the ball well on several occasions Sunday against a stout Bears defense, but ill-timed stalled drives and having to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns hurt.
Minnesota lost to Chicago 33-27 and fell to 6-8 on the season despite 100-yard games from Dalvin Cook (rushing) and Justin Jefferson (receiving).
A Cameron Dantzler interception of Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone gave the Vikings a chance to come back late in the game, but the offense couldn't get going. Cook was stopped for no gain on third-and-1, and a fourth-down incompletion by Kirk Cousins turned the ball over on downs.
Even after going four-and-out, though, the Vikings had another shot. The defense held Chicago to a 42-yard field goal that made it a 6-point game with 0:56 left on the clock.
Out of timeouts, Cousins got quick completions of 12 and 7 yards off to Chad Beebe and Tyler Conklin, respectively, and with 30 seconds remaining connected with Irv Smith, Jr., for an 11-yard gain. When Smith was unable to get out of bounds, Minnesota got back to the line and spiked the ball with 10 seconds remaining.
A 7-yard pass to Jefferson left enough time for one final play.
Cousins heaved up a Hail Mary, and it bobbled off a few hands before ultimately landing as an interception by Bears defensive back Sherrick McManis to end the game.
"We had an opportunity at the end to win it," Cook said. "I think the defense did a great job of giving us back the ball to go win it. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and go fix it. I think we're supposed to finish the game off as an offense, and we didn't do that."
For the second consecutive week, Minnesota racked up the yards – finishing with 407 net – but wasn't able to capitalize with touchdowns.
The Vikings went three-and-punt on their first possession but scored on their second via a 3-yard touchdown catch by Adam Thielen to tie the game at 7-7. Cook scored on a run from the Bears 1 in the third quarter.
But on two other occasions inside the red zone, Minnesota drove down to Chicago's 6- and then 4-yard line and couldn't get in the end zone. Dan Bailey was 2-of-2 on field goals for the day, but it wasn't enough to lift the Vikings over their division rival.
"Certainly not the way we wanted to end the final home game of the season," Cousins said. "It was a back-and-forth game. We didn't convert enough third downs in order to win the game, specifically down in the low red zone."
On both drives that ended in field goals, Cousins missed a pass to Jefferson in the end zone.
"[On] the first one, I was working inside on an under route and it got matched, and then I went to my left and was playing off-schedule at that point," Cousins recounted. "I was trying to find anybody I could and kind of tried to throw it high and safe to Justin [Jefferson] because of the traffic patterns. You weren't sure where the defense was going, so I put it at kind of an 'ours or nobody's' kind of spot, and it ended up being nobody's.
"The other one … played kind of a bracket on [Bisi Johnson] and Justin and kind of had 3-on-2 there. I tried to work [Johnson] on the outbreak, but I was nervous about an undercut and then progressed to Justin, but the corner at that point had read my eyes and fallen off," Cousins continued. "That's where when you're that tight, you just don't have a lot of grass for them to have to defend, so they can kind of cover both guys quickly. Probably my mindset there [should be], 'Just go off schedule,' rather than throw it where I did. 'Just leave the pocket and try to start a new play off schedule,' because I kind of had the edge there and didn't have to force it to Justin in what was a low-percentage chance there."
Despite the missed opportunities in the red zone, Jefferson logged another impressive day.
The 21-year old totaled eight catches for 104 yards through the air, bringing his season receptions total to 73 and breaking Randy Moss’ rookie record of 69 catches in 1998. He also set a team record for the most rookie receptions through the first 14 games. Behind Jefferson are Moss (61) and Stefon Diggs (52 in 2015).
Conklin had another big outing in the absence of Kyle Rudolph, who was sidelined for the second straight game with a foot injury.
After recording a career-high five catches at Tampa Bay last week, Conklin had three catches for 57 yards against Chicago. The tight end also scored his first career touchdown, a 20-yard play in which speed and strength both were on display.
Cousins called the score "a long time coming" for Conklin.
"There have been several plays throughout the year where he has been open in the end zone and someone else got the touchdown time and again," Cousins said. "He deserved that touchdown by now. It was great to get it the way he did. It was a great catch by him, turn up the field, made multiple people miss and then used his strength to get in the end zone. It was a really strong play by him.
"I think it showed on that play, and throughout the game, just the player he is and the player he can be going forward," he added.
Cousins finished the day 24-of-35 passing for 271 yards, two touchdowns and the interception for a passer rating of 98.6. He was sacked three times for 22 yards, and the Bears totaled 11 quarterback hits in all.
"[Akiem] Hicks and [Khalil] Mack – they've got good rushers," Zimmer said. "They bring [Roquan] Smith on occasion. They've got good rushers."
On the ground, the Vikings rushed for 158 yards. Cook led the way with 24 carries for 132 yards and the touchdown. His 15th score of the season set a team record for most rushing touchdowns after 13 games, surpassing Adrian Peterson's 14 in 2009.
Cousins, who has been showing more mobility as of late, added 25 yards on three scrambles. Alexander Mattison added one rush for a yard after missing the past two games.
"They're going to make plays, and we're going to make plays. And they made [more] plays," Cook said. "Great defense, give it to them."
The Vikings will now turn their attention to the Saints, whom they'll face at 3:30 p.m. Christmas Day.
"There are so many plays you can point to, and go back and agonize over," Cousins said of the loss. "Now we have to get ready on a short week for a good football team at their place, so that's where your mind goes."