MINNEAPOLIS - It’s never easy for the Minnesota Vikings, but they’re off to a 4-1 start in the Kevin O’Connell era and 3-0 in the NFC North after a 29-22 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday in front of more than 66,000 fans at U.S. Bank Stadium.
They had to come from behind to do it, letting a 21-3 lead slip away as the Bears scored 19 straight points and had a 22-21 lead on the Vikings with 9:26 to play. Kevin O'Connell and Kirk Cousins answered with a 75-yard game-winning scoring drive. For the third straight week, they won a tight game in the fourth quarter.
O’Connell said after the game he knows two things about the 2022 Vikings through five games: They can win hard-fought games, and they haven’t played their best football yet.
"I think what we’ve learned should really help us do two things in my mind: Have confidence moving forward that we can win football games that are hard fought and competitive in this league. Ultimately that we can still continue to chase consistency across the board," O’Connell said. "The best part is they’re the ones talking about it. Our leadership is telling me what we’re striving for, so I feel good about that at some point, it’s out there for us."
Another game that was uncomfortably close against a seemingly inferior team, but it's still a win.
"Would we like to blow teams out? Yes. We’ve got to find a way to when we get in those positions, just keep putting the foot on the gas pedal," said receiver Adam Thielen, who had four catches for 23 yards.
Down 22-21 with just more than nine minutes to play, the Vikings put together a 17-play, 75-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The Vikings converted five third downs on the drive, and Cousins finished it with a 1-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:26 left. He also hit Justin Jefferson for a two-point conversion that gave the Vikings the final cushion.
Cousins and Jefferson each had historic first halves as the Vikings built a 21-10 lead. Cousins completed his first 17 passes of the game, and 19 straight going back to last week, to break Tommy Kramer’s franchise record for consecutive completions in a game.
"After the first couple drives and the start we had I looked back at the plays and I felt like I’m being put in a position to be successful. That’s a great feeling when you realize the coaches are putting the wind at your back," Cousins said.
Jefferson had 10 catches for 138 yards in the first half, breaking Randy Moss’s record of 226 catches in his first three seasons. Jefferson finished with a single-game career-high 12 catches for 154 yards, and now has 236 for his career.
"It felt great. It felt like Kirk was out there with confidence. Us being 17-of-17 helps him out a lot to say that he can actually go out there and do it," Jefferson said. I mean we were pretty much having a great game the whole first half against them. Kirk was dialing it up, throwing to the right reads, make the right throws."
Dalvin Cook finished what Jefferson started, with 10 carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He finished with 18 carries for 94 yards. Cousins hit Jalen Reagor on a toss play for the other touchdown of the half. Cousins finished 32-of-41 for 296 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Down 21-3, the Bears got touchdowns from David Montgomery and Velus Jones, and a pair of Cairo Santos field goals, to take a fourth quarter lead. After Cousins and the Vikings answered back with the go-ahead score, Cam Dantzler sealed the win, taking the ball away from former Vikings’ receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette after a catch with 1:12 to play.
They struggled at times defending Justin Fields, who finished with 255 total yards and a touchdown. But they made big plays at the right times.
"We have very good confidence in our defense. The offense does too, so we knew we were going to end the game and make a play," Dantzler said.
The Vikings left with their fourth victory in five games to start the season, and get off to a 3-0 start in the NFC North for the first time since 2015. The prevailing thought after the game was it’s great to win, but it didn’t have to be that stressful.
The Vikings now have sole possession of first place in the NFC North Division after the Green Bay Packers lost to the New York Giants in London.
"We need to play better for four quarters. We need to play better through the stretch of the game so that we can pull away and not live in these games in the last two minutes," Cousins said. That will be the challenge moving forward is if we were to get out ahead of somebody, how can we just pull away?"