MINNEAPOLIS - Kevin O’Connell couldn’t have asked for a much better finish to his first regular season as the Minnesota Vikings head coach.
The Vikings beat the Chicago Bears 29-13 on Sunday at Soldier Field to finish the season 13-4. It was their first win this season that wasn’t a one-score game or decided on the final play since beating the Green Bay Packers Week 1. It should also put O’Connell in the Coach of the Year conversation. He’s the first Vikings’ coach to win a division title in his first season since Dennis Green.
The Vikings got to 13 wins for just the third time in franchise history, and flew home as healthy as they could be. Here are takeaways from the win.
BIG DAY FOR BACK-UPS
The Vikings needed a win and a 49ers loss to the Cardinals to get the No. 2 seed. Knowing the latter was unlikely, O’Connell had to find the delicate balance of getting starters work, avoiding injury and letting depth players see the field.
Alexander Mattison had 10 carries for 54 yards and two touchdowns. KJ Osborn led the receivers with five catches for 117 yards, his second 100-yard game of the season. Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook all stood and watched the second half from the sidelines. Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler got carries in the second half, and Jalen Nailor got four catches for 62 yards. Kris Boyd led the defense with five tackles. It was the perfect day to get a win, and use the entire depth chart to let the starters be ready for the playoffs.
OFFENSIVE LINE SEES EXTENDED WORK
The Vikings’ offensive line is the biggest question mark heading into the postseason. Brian O’Neill and Austin Schlottmann are on injured reserve, and Garrett Bradbudy is still working his way through a back injury. Chris Reed got the start at center, and was much better than last week. The starting line featured Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Reed, Ed Ingram and Oli Udoh. If Bradbury can return for the playoffs, it should do wonders to help the offensive line. Needing snaps to work on communication, the starting unit played into the second half Sunday.
GREG JOSEPH BOUNCES BACK
Greg Joseph has had an up-and-down season, ranging from earning NFC Special Teams awards to missing five straight kicks from at least 50 yards out. Sunday, he missed his first extra point attempt, and is now 40-of-46 on the season. He responded, making his two other point after attempts and made kicks from 28, 50 and 41 yards out.
NO RECORD FOR JUSTIN JEFFERSON
Justin Jefferson needed a big day to break Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yards record of 1,964. He didn’t get there, finishing the regular season with 128 catches for 1,809 yards and eight touchdowns. He wanted 1,800 after getting 1,632 last season. He got there, but what he really wanted was to make the playoffs. He’s there, and he loves the national spotlight.
GAME BALL FOR DUKE SHELLEY
Kevin O’Connell handed out two game balls for his defensive players after Sunday’s win, a revenge game of sorts for defensive back Duke Shelley and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, both former Bears. Shelley got his first career interception of Nathan Peterman in the fourth quarter, and three tackles. Tonga had two tackles, clogged up the middle and has been a force in 11 games this season.
UP NEXT: NEW YORK GIANTS
After the 49ers beat the Cardinals, the Vikings earned the No. 3 seed for the NFC Playoffs. The NFL announced Sunday night the Vikings will host the New York Giants at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The two teams met on Christmas Eve, where Joseph kicked a career-long 61-yard field goal as time expired to give the Vikings a 27-24 win.