Vikings drop finale to Bears 21-19, will face New Orleans in NFC Wild Card Playoffs

Stephen Weatherly #91 of the Minnesota Vikings tackles David Montgomery #32 of the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images))

Mike Zimmer doesn’t like to lose, but he also wasn’t willing to risk losing a starter or key impact player that could take the Minnesota Vikings on a run in the NFC Playoffs.

It’s the main reason why Sunday’s last second 21-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in the U.S. Bank Stadium finale felt more like a fifth preseason game. The outcome didn’t matter for either team. The Vikings were already locked into the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, and the Bears ended the season without the possibility of the postseason.

The Vikings learned Sunday night they're headed to New Orleans to face the Saints in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs next Sunday. That's after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 26-21 to clinch the NFC West title, first-round bye and No. 1 seed.

Zimmer made some tough decisions in the week leading up to kickoff, sitting several starters to make sure his squad is as close to 100 percent as it can be for the playoffs. On offense, it was Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Brian O’Neill and Riley Reiff. On defense, it was Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Harris, Shamar Stephen and Linval Joseph. Danielle Hunter played one snap on defense to keep a starting streak alive before running to the sideline and staying there the rest of the game.

It wasn’t worth risking a starter getting hurt to win a meaningless Week 17 game, even if it’s the last time the Vikings would play at home this year. That doesn’t mean it was easy for the head coach.

“It was really hard. I actually didn’t tell some of the guys until last night. I wanted them to prepare like they were getting ready to play. We gave more guys reps during the practice this week, but I think you just kind of weigh the risk/reward,” Zimmer said after the loss.

That said, the Vikings took a 19-18 lead with 4:53 left in regulation on Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal of the day, which also earned the veteran kicker a $1 million contract bonus for finishing the regular season above 90 percent on field goals. The Bears answered with a drive of their own, and Eddy Pineiro delivered his fourth field goal of the day with 10 seconds left to give the Bears the victory.

Sean Mannion got his second career start, first with the Vikings, with Cousins resting. He finished 12-of-21 passing for 126 yards and two interceptions, the second on the last play of the game. He’s embraced his role as the No. 2 to Cousins, but keeps the mentality of a starter and is always ready. He knows he’s only one injury away from live action.

“The preparation, the mentality throughout the week didn’t change. The nature of being a back-up quarterback in this league is if something were to happen to Kirk, you’ve gotta be ready to go in and play every snap so you always prepare that way,” Mannion said.

Without Cook and Mattison, Mike Boone got his second straight start on Sunday. He had to overcome early adversity with turnovers on each of the Vikings’ first two possessions. A fumble on the second play from scrimmage led to a Bears field goal. Boone also dropped a screen pass on the next drive that was intercepted. The Bears also turned that into three points.

He was also tackled in the end zone for a safety that gave the Bears an 8-3 lead in the second quarter.

Boone showed his ability to bounce back, rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry, and the score got Minnesota within 18-13 early in the fourth quarter. His focus after the game was on getting ready for the playoffs.

“That’s our mindset, no matter who we go out and play, we’ve got to play Viking football. That’s what we plan to do, come out and work,” Boone said.

The Vikings know this much: They won’t be headed to Green Bay next weekend. The Packers staged a late rally to beat the Lions 23-20, and in the process earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

The Vikings finish the regular season 10-6, on a two-game losing streak and were just 2-4 in the NFC North Division this season. Both wins came against the Lions, and their only win against an above .500 team came against the Eagles, who won the NFC East on Sunday.

None of that matters now that it’s the playoffs.

“I just look at it as a new opportunity to go out there and prove yourself, prove to everybody watching. For me personally going into this game, it’s 0-0. There’s no losing streaks, no winning streaks. It’s bring your best ball or go home,” said safety Anthony Harris, one of several defensive starters to not play Sunday.

With mostly reserves playing, the Vikings limited Mitchell Trubisky to 204 passing yards, no touchdowns and an 84.0 rating. He was also sacked four times, including a strip sack where Ifeadi Odenigbo thought he had his second defensive touchdown of the season, but the play was brought back after a review showed he was down by contact.

Chicago’s lone offensive touchdown came on David Montgomery’s 14-yard run that gave the Bears an 18-6 lead in the third quarter.

They may not have won the game, but they got the next best thing. A lot of reserves played in a regular season game, got live snaps and the Vikings avoided any serious injuries.

“It’s all about keeping guys fresh. It’s a war of attrition at this point, whoever is the healthiest will go the farthest,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “So for us to be able to give a chunk of guys some time to recoup, get their bodies right and get some young guys some opportunities to show what they have so coach has more weapons in the playoffs, it’s a win-win for all parties.”

Now, they wait to see where they’re headed in the playoffs.

“It’ll just be like a normal day. Go home, have a little dinner, have a little red wine and let’s sit back,” Zimmer said.