MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - In less than a year, the Minnesota Vikings have gone from being one game away from the Super Bowl in their home stadium to missing the playoffs entirely.
With virtually nothing to play for, the Chicago Bears dominated the Vikings at the line of scrimmage from the opening snap on both sides and handed Minnesota a season-ending 24-10 loss Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Eagles beat the Redskins 24-0 to clinch the final spot in the NFC Playoffs. They’ll be heading to Chicago next weekend after the L.A. Rams raced out to an early lead and never looked back in a 48-32 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bears led 13-3 at the half and gave the Vikings a metaphoric punch in the mouth in the second half, playing their starters the entire game in a scenario where it had no bearing on their playoff seed. But that didn’t matter to Chicago. Ending the Vikings’ season did.
“It’s disappointing. We didn’t play well enough to win in most of the areas,” a dejected Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the loss.
In Week 11, the Vikings ran the ball just 14 times for 22 yards. The expectation heading into the game was to run the ball more, despite the Bears having the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL. Instead, the Vikings had three passes on their opening possession and went three-and-out.
It was one of four three-and-outs to start the game for the Vikings’ offense. They didn’t get a first down until midway through the second quarter. They only ran the ball 15 times for 63 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
“The idea was to come out with two straight passes and not be in third down. Third down, you’re throwing the football,” Zimmer said. “Not good enough to win. (The Bears) They’re pretty good. They’re pretty good, so give them credit.”
The Vikings’ offensive line couldn’t get a consistent push the entire game, and Kirk Cousins had just 80 yards passing until late in the fourth quarter. The Vikings finished 1-for-11 on third down.
“I feel like we have the talent on this team to be a very effective team, a team that could do damage. It just comes down to making plays, getting momentum and starting fast, said wide receiver Adam Thielen, who finished with just three catches for 38 yards on four targets. “We haven’t been able to start fast and that’s really hurt this team the last few weeks.”
While the Vikings struggled offensively, the Bears imposed their will at the line of scrimmage from the opening snap. Jordan Howard ripped off a 41-yard run on Chicago’s opening possession, then scored from six yards out to give the Bears the early lead. They had 62 rushing yards on the opening drive, and it was the fourth time in five December games a Vikings’ opponent has scored first.
Chicago extended its lead to 13-0 after it appeared the Vikings had them stopped. The Bears faced a 3rd-and-11 after a delay of game penalty. Stephen Weatherly was flagged for a questionable roughing the passer penalty to keep the Chicago drive alive. Mitchell Trubisky completed a 40-yard pass to the 1-yard line, and Howard got his second score of the half.
“I tried to slow up. I probably could have just ran by him, but they made the call and it is what it is,” Weatherly said
Dan Bailey got the Vikings within 13-3 before the end of the half with a 45-yard field goal, but the damage had been done. The Bears out-gained the Vikings 205-49 in the first half.
The Vikings got new life after one of their weirder drives of the season. The Bears committed two penalties to keep Minnesota on the field, and facing a fourth-and-short, Cousins had a sneak for a first down. But Zimmer challenged the spot on a Stefon Diggs catch the play before where he was short of a first down. The challenge didn’t work, Dalvin Cook barely got a first down on the next play and the 14-play drive ended with a Cousins touchdown to Diggs.
The Bears answered with a back-breaking drive of their own, scoring on a 16-play drive that lasted more than nine minutes and culminated with Tarik Cohen’s 3-yard run to give the Bears a 21-10 lead with 7:46 to play after a two-point conversion. They converted four third-down situations on the drive.
The Bears ran for 169 yards in the game and were 8-of-14 on third down. Jordan Howard pounded the Vikings defense with 21 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
“We can’t play like we did today and expect to make the playoffs. I don’t think we deserved to be in the playoffs the way we played,” linebacker Anthony Barr said.
For the Vikings, it was another inexplicable performance with the season on the line. But it’s a movie Vikings fans have seen before. In control of their own destiny and with a shot at the playoffs, they fell flat.
The Vikings finished with just 195 yards of total offense and 12 first downs. Cousins was also sacked four times and faced pressure most of the game. Cook had just 11 carries for 39 yards.
“I don’t have a menu in front of me of all the tough losses, but I’ll tell you it’s not the first. It won’t be the last, it’s a part of the journey. You play in this league long enough, you’re going to get kicked in the teeth. It’s going to happen,” Cousins said. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do. When we do do it here, it’s going to be special.”
The Vikings season is over at 8-7-1, and now Black Monday approaches, the day where some head coaches get let go. It’s fair to question if Zimmer’s job is on the line, as well as General Manager Rick Spielman. Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf left the team locker room visibly frustrated and angry Sunday night without offering comment.