MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Vikings hadn't played an NFC North Division game until Sunday at Soldier Field, yet their NFC Playoff hopes were fading fast as they faced the Chicago Bears after losing four of their first five games to start 2023.
The week started with star receiver Justin Jefferson going on injured reserve. Reports emerged later in the week that Kirk Cousins will not waive his no-trade clause to go to a possible playoff contender, and will stick out the 2023 season in Minnesota. In their first division game of the season, Jordan Addison and Jordan Hicks made sure all that talk would be put to rest for at least one week.
It wasn't pretty or probably how they drew it up on paper, but the Vikings beat the Bears 19-13 to improve to 2-4 on the season, and start 1-0 in the NFC North. Addison had three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half, his fourth of the season. Hicks had a team-high 12 tackles, an interception and returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown and breathing room in an uncomfortable game, with the offense struggling.
The Vikings ran the ball 22 times for just 46 yards. Kirk Cousins threw for only 181 yards. Minnesota had only 12 first downs and was just 2-for-13 on third down, but with two key touchdowns and five sacks from the defense, they're flying home from the Windy City with a win.
"Proud of our group altogether to get a win in the NFC North. Our response now off of a victory is to take a strong look at the tape and figure out how we improve and continue to chase our best performance, which is still out there for us," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the win.
Cousins credited the win to Garrett Bradbury, and the alternative rock group "Creed." He said Bradbury had the group's song "Higher" blaring in the locker room before kickoff. The Texas Rangers have used music from the band throughout their baseball playoff run. The Rangers are playing the Houston Astros for the American League Pennant.
"Great to get a win on the road. Not going to be picky about finding a way to get a win. Soldier Field has always been a tough place to play, and it was again today," Cousins said. "That may have made the difference. Garrett made sure it happened, and it was well-received. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that we won."
The game turned in the third quarter, when Danielle Hunter got his second sack on Justin Fields. The Bears’ quarterback went down hard on his throwing hand, and headed to the locker room after being evaluated in the medical tent. He was eventually ruled out for the game. Tyson Bagent, an undrafted Division II college free agent, won the Bears’ No. 2 quarterback job in training camp.
On his second offensive play, Josh Metellus got a strip sack on Bagent that Hicks recovered and took 42 yards for a touchdown, and 19-6 Vikings' lead in the third quarter. Hicks also had an interception on Fields earlier in the game.
"Basically a unanimous captain voted by his teammates, he’s somebody that I really lean on. What Jordan did today kind of rivaled what Harry did against the Panthers. He was not going to be denied," O'Connell said.
Hicks, 31 years old and in his ninth NFL season, wanted to prove to his younger teammates that he can impact the game.
"I haven’t been in the end zone since my rookie year so it’s been a while. At the end of the day it was about us and the message of responding to the season, to adversity in the game that was to come. We focused on ourselves and came out with the victory," Hicks said. "I felt young, being 31 and around all these young guys, you want to prove yourself and that you still got it. You want to show them that there’s a reason why I’m still here."
Bagent made things interesting for the Bears, scoring from 1-yard out with 7:46 to play to cut the Vikings’ lead to 19-13. They got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, after a Minnesota punt, but Bagent had a deep pass intercepted by Byron Murphy Jr., who recovered his own fumble on the play, with 1:51 left in regulation.
The Vikings’ defense came to the rescue, with the offense only able to get two first downs in the second half. The Vikings had to punt on three other drives, and missed a long field goal.
Addison caught his fourth touchdown of the season on a 10-yard pass from Cousins that gave the Vikings a 12-6 lead into the halftime locker room. But it was largely a tough day for the offense without Jefferson. T.J. Hockenson led the Vikings with six catches for 50 yards, and K.J. Osborn added four for 48.
It was an up-and-down day for Greg Joseph, who made field goals from 53 and 51 yards out. He missed wide right from 57 yards out, and had a point after try blocked.
The Bears ran for 162 yards, and the Vikings had just 220 total net yards. But Minnesota's defense was the difference with three turnovers and five sacks. It was far from pretty, but Minnesota comes home 2-4. The Vikings will host the San Francisco 49ers for Monday Night Football on Oct. 23, potentially without Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams.
"At the end of the day, the division is still in our hands. We’re the reigning NFC North champions, and we won our first division game. It’s all on us, we’ve got all the opportunity out in front of us and we just gotta go take it," Metellus said.