The Vikings defense rebounded in a big way on Sunday, holding Jay Cuter and the Bears offense to just 172 yards passing and no touchdowns after yielding many more yards and touchdowns to the Miami Dolphins offense last week. The defensive effort combined with steady play from Teddy Bridgewater and a few big plays on special teams produced a 13-9 Vikings victory.
Why did the Vikings win Sunday's game? Let's take a look.
1. Defense Responded and FinishedVikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer will be much more pleased with his defense's effort and production this week, particularly in critical areas. The Vikings defense was solid on 3rd downs, getting off the field on 11 of 15 opportunities, and they were perfect in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations in terms of not allowing touchdowns. In fact, the defense allowed zero touchdowns on Sunday, the first time they've done so since Week 1 in St. Louis. It was the Vikings defense that iced the game, too, forcing the Bears offense to turn the ball over on downs on their final drive.
2. Audie Cole Stepped UpDigging deeper on the defensive effort, LB Audie Cole stepped up in a big way. He started in place of an injured Chad Greenway and the defense did not miss a beat. Cole played not only in the base defense but in the Vikings sub packages, as well, and Zimmer credited Cole for making the calls and checks before the snap. Unofficially, Cole finished with 14 tackles and one tackle for loss, plus he made plays against the pass with a pass defensed to his credit and several impressive open-field tackles after receptions.
3. Other Unheralded Gust Stepped Up, TooAs has been the case in many of the Vikings victories this season, several unheralded guys stepped up in big moments and made big plays.
-- After making a huge 3rd-down reception to extend a drive in the 3rd quarter, Adam Thielen got over the top on Chicago's defense to haul in a perfectly-thrown, high-arcing pass from Bridgewater to score his first career receiving touchdown and give the Vikings a 10-6 lead they would never relinquish. Thielen also made an impressive tackle on kickoff coverage earlier in the game.
-- Marcus Sherels fielded a punt at his own 16 early in the 4th quarter but was able to make the first defender miss and rip off a 31-yard punt return down the sideline to set the offense up with solid field position at the Minnesota 47. The Vikings drove to the Chicago 28 and tacked on three more points thanks to Blair Walsh's second field goal of the game.
-- After being picked on by Cutler and the Bears big receivers earlier in the season, CB Josh Robinson atoned and, according to Zimmer in his post-game press conference, didn't allow a single reception on Sunday.
View images from the week 17 matchup at TCF Bank Stadium between the Vikings and Bears.
-- RB Matt Asiata's performance on Sunday was one of his best of the season and it was a microcosm of the role he's played for the Vikings this season. Although he did finish the season with 10 touchdowns this season, Asiata is known for doing the dirty work and gaining the tough yardage. He did so on Sunday, too, rushing for 91 yards on 19 carries and adding two receptions for 17 yards. On the Vikings final offensive drive, Asiata was particularly tough for the Bears to handle, gaining 44 yards on nine carries. While the Bears ultimately stopped Asiata on consecutive carries to close out the drive and not allow any points, the way Asiata ran as the Vikings drove to the goal line was representative of how he played all season – with toughness.
4. Alshon Jeffery Held in CheckThe Bears were without Brandon Marshall on Sunday. For much of the game, they were without WR Alshon Jeffery, as well, because Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes did such a good job in coverage on him. Jeffery finished with just two receptions for 34 yards on five targets, a win for Rhodes on the day and a big reason the Bears offense couldn't drive the ball down the field or put the ball in the end zone when they were close.
5. Bridgewater Made Big PlaysCool, calm and collected was Bridgewater once again on Sunday. While he and the offense didn't shred apart the Bears defense and light up the scoreboard, they adapted to the type of game that unfolded on Sunday and they made big plays when the opportunity arose. Bridgewater finished the game going 17 of 25 for 209 yards and one touchdown for a passer rating of 90.2. If not for an interception that bounced off the hands of the intended receiver, Bridgewater's rating would likely have been north of 100 for the fourth time in five games. Thanks in large part to Bridgewater's decision making, the Vikings converted eight of their 15 (53%) 3rd down attempts, and the Vikings also logged several explosive passing plays on beautiful throws from Bridgewater, including the 44-yard touchdown to Thielen plus another 22-yarder to Thielen, a precisely-placed 20-yarder to Greg Jennings and a 19-yard completion to Jennings thanks to a one-handed stab by the veteran receiver. Bridgewater also scrambled well to avoid pressure and pickup yardage, with his most impressive run going for 14 yards and including a broken tackle on 2nd and 15.