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Vikings top Bears, extending their winning streak to 3!

There were many demons that needed to be exorcised Monday Night in Chicago, a locale that the Vikings have (and I’m saying this lightly) struggled to, as friend of the site Chad Greenway said on my Podcast ‘Morning Joes’ last year, not “F*** Up” in recent years. There was the whole Soldier Field curse, the weird (and mostly meaningless) Monday Night Football record that Cousins’ detractors love to copy/paste, and the general feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop after what has been an amazing post-bye season.

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While that curse really, REALLY tried it’s best tonight (with Kyle Rudolph’s first EVER fumble and Adam Thielen forgetting he had thumbs for a stretch), the Vikings showed that they might not just be on the precipice of something special, but rather, are in the midst of something special as they extended their win streak to three games and kept their playoff hopes alive.

The Bears played the Vikings straight up and tough all night, with their front stifling Dalvin Cook for the majority of the game (until their beast of a defensive tackle Akiem Hicks went down with a hamstring injury). While it didn’t show on the stat sheet, Cousins had the game that he needed to silence his detractors (or at least, to make his detractors find some other worthless stat to rub in his face (“Cousins has ever won a game while Mars was in retrograde while during Lent!”), despite the mistakes that those around him were making.

MVP

Cousins was the MVP for tonight’s game (if I had to choose a single player, but the entire D gets the MVP award as well (see below)). Cousins came into this game winless during Monday Night Football and with people mocking his paycheck (incorrectly) and essentially saying that he was getting paid $40 million to hand the ball off to Dalvin Cook.

Well tonight he played great and if not for some weird “Only in Chicago” moments from the typically reliable Kyle Rudolph/Adam Thielen, his stats would look even better.

Since the bye, though, Cousins has had the following passer ratings: 138.1 (Packers), 141.7 (Lions), and against the Bears.

Tonight he also had a completion percentage of nearly 70%, and was incredibly efficient on third-down. He also deserves credit for scoring touchdowns instead of kicking field goals when getting into the red-zone these past couple weeks.

When your game plan is to create long, methodical drives, you have to be incredibly efficient in the red zone otherwise you’ll dominate the time of possession and lead by 6 points.

Needs Improvement

The Vikings special teams yet again, outside of the recovering a muffed punt, was atrocious yet atrocious tonight. They gave up a kick return for a touchdown, a huge punt return in the fourth quarter, and also a bad snap that kept the game within reach.

Highlights:

Yes, I’m linking to my own Tweet.

It ended up not mattering much, though, as old reliable Harrison Smith ended up with a gorgeous interception a play later. That gave the Vikings the ball back about 20-yards behind where their opening drive stalled. After this Chad Beebe first-down…

… The announcers said “This is Thielen Territory”, and Cousins (the QB that everyone loves to hate) came through with this masterful throw and catch:

For the First-Half recap:

But let’s hop into my stream of consciousness, completely panic inducing second-half recap for the now 4-5 Minnesota Vikings.

SECOND HALF RECAP

The second I saw Cordarrelle Patterson take the second-half opening kick-off out of the Bears’ end-zone, I yelled “DON’T YOU DO IT!”, as (perhaps it was the angle of that floating camera) but you could see what Patterson likely saw, a gigantic hole. That gave the Bears their first touchdown of the night, putting them ahead 13-7.

After a muffed punt turned field goal, the Vikings were trailing the Bears 13-10 when Cook FINALLY broke something against this Bears defense. That run was called back due to a “holding” call on Kyle Rudolph, who apparently pissed off the refs before the game (as that was as much a holding call as his fumble was a fumble). That brought up third-and-17 for these Vikings, on a crucial third down. It was converted thanks to another great pass by Cousins to Justin Jefferson, who passed the 100-yard mark yet again.

Cousins, at that point, was 7/8 on third down for 128 yards, five first downs and a touchdown.

Make that 8/9, as the Vikings were unable to convert Jets’ big gain into a touchdown, instead the Vikings opted to kick a field goal to tie the game at 13. For the second time tonight, Dan Bailey was straight down the middle (which makes me think this game will come down to a field goal that sails so far left that it ends up hitting the RIGHT upright). Point being, these Vikings make me literally sick with nerves.

But, if we take stock of the game so far, with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter, there’s a lot to be positive about. Despite once in a career fumbles, or Thielen somehow not being good at football anymore (that Soldier Field curse is no joke), the fact is that the Vikings defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown thus far and the Vikings offense has made much more headway than the Bears offense has.

With Akiem Hicks on the sidelines, too, you have to hope that the Vikings will be able to move the ball on the ground. I’m sure many in Vikings media will point to Cook’s inability to pick up yardage and link that to the lack of points the offense has been able to put up, but that’s not fair or the whole story. If you were to remove the Thielen pick, his multiple drops, and that Rudolph fumble, this could’ve been a much different game. But, based on what we’ve seen so far, I’ll take the situation at hand (which is, essentially, whomever wins the fourth quarter wins the game).

Case in point the multiple failed Wild Cat plays by the Bears. They clearly were looking for something, ANYTHING, as the Vikings are shutting down their passing game via the Cover-2 / two deep looks they’d been running all game. Mix in the amazing pressure that Zimmer and company have dialed up, not to mention the coverage sacks like the one DJ Wonnum had at the end of the third-quarter.

That was the third three-and-out for the Bears offense in the second-half, which lends itself to my … Gulp… Optimism going into the fourth quarter.

The Vikings should win this game, IF they stop doing things they otherwise never do. There is something to be said about the Soldier Field curse that the Vikings have dealt with really the entire time that Zimmer has been head coach. If the Vikings were to lose this game I’m sure people would mostly talk about Cousins’ record during Monday Night Football, but Cousins has played well enough to beat these Bears tonight and if anything this game shows you how simply looking at the W/L in a very specific circumstance isn’t always the whole story.

But here we are, with 15 minutes left, the game is tied and the Vikings are receiving the ball. It was also just confirmed that Akiem Hicks will NOT be returning to the game, which is HUGE for the Vikings, Dalvin Cook and my self esteem.

Sidenote: We really miss our good kick/punt returners in Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels.

We saw Patterson tie the NFL record for most kick returns for a touchdown and while the Vikings didn’t have the roster spot for Patterson anymore, we really need to find someone to return kicks and punts that might be able to help pick up more yardage in those situations.

The first drive of the fourth quarter started out well, with Cook picking up nearly 10 yards on first-down. However, he fumbled the ball while falling on top of it and appeared injured. That 8-yard gain was Cook’s longest of the evening, something that I’m hoping that the Vikings will build upon with Hicks out (assuming he’s healthy).

Sidenote 2: This is the moment that Cousins needs to silence, or at least dampen the noise from, his detractors. Fourth down in the worst stadium for this team to play in in the entire league, with Cook struggling to pick up yardage and those around him struggling to play at their typical level.

Cousins could “put the team on his shoulders” and win in Chicago, which even with how poorly the Bears offense has played, would be a HUGE win for these Vikings. Three wins in a row, all against divisional opponents (which could be HUGE in and of itself once all is said and done in 2020)?

Yes please.

But back to the game…

Cook is fine and luckily for the Vikings… Cousins, who all these Vikings “fans” say isn’t clutch, has completed over 75% of his passes in the fourth quarter with a 6:1 TD:INT ratio on the season. Sure, some of that is during garbage time, but these Vikings haven’t had a ton of garbage time as of late.

Thanks to a holding penalty the Vikings ended up with a 1st and 20, which was converted by Kyle Rudolph, who did other things he’s never done in his career… GASP… Picked up yards after the catch by using his superior physicality?

That gave the Vikings a first and 10 from somewhere around the Bears 30-yard-line. After a perfect play action rollout completion to Justin Jefferson, the Vikings were knocking on the goal-line yet again. Dalvin picked up six on first-down, making it 2nd and 4 from the Chicago 6.

The Vikings gave the ball to Cook again on 2nd-down, running right at where Hicks normally would be, but picked up nothing bringing up a huge third and four which was converted into a touchdown courtesy of a clutch pass from Cousins to Thielen, who like Rudolph, was making up for earlier mistakes.

Because this is Chicago, the snap by Austin Cutting, the only long-snapper drafted in the 2019 draft, was as awful as his “snap” last week. Perhaps the team needs to Cut…ting him?

That made the game 19-13, because why should we be able to relax?

Chicago went into their next drive, with about ten minutes left in the game, with -2 yards of total offense in the second-half. The Vikings defense stopped the Bears on first down after a five-yard gain, but the subsequent run was a -3 yard “gain”, bringing up 3rd & 5 and pressure from the Vikings D that looked like a fumble, briefly, but was indeed an incomplete pass.

That’s four drives and four three and outs in the second-half.

It’s time to ice this thing.

Osborn fair-caught the punt at the Vikings’ 10-yard-line, meaning that the Vikings could methodically run out the clock by putting together another long, efficient drive.

Sidenote 3 (or 4? I’m light-headed from this damn game): I feel like I might be jinxing things by writing my predictions before they happen, generally, but especially after my reaction to that Patterson return? Perhaps I should wait for things to happen before writing about them as no one will believe that I’m not just pretending to be live-blogging the game.

Back to the game…

The Vikings defense deserves a lot of credit for how they played tonight. A ton.

I wrote this week that if the Vikings do end up making the playoffs, Zimmer deserves to be the NFL Coach of the Year. While the Bears’ offense was atrocious before losing David Montgomery, that shouldn’t take away from what this defense did tonight as it’s a continuation of what they’ve done in the past two weeks (and against the Seahawks, outside of that last drive).

Sidenote 4: Imagine had the Vikings picked up that fourth-down against the Seahawks!

UGH!

But back to the game…

This was a HUGE game for this Vikings team for reasons everyone reading this article understands. After besting the Packers in Lambeau, this looked like the hardest game on the Vikings’ schedule at least until the mid-December (with the hapless Cowboys up next, then the Panthers and Jags) game against the up-and-down Tampa Bay Tom Bradys.

The Bears did have one last chance to pull ahead, but Foles went down with an injury on first-down, which meant that the curse of the back-up (to the back-up) could’ve happened as Foles was eventually replaced by Tyler Bray with 37 seconds left in the game after Foles went down after a near interception.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how you slice tonight’s game, this was a HUGE win for the suddenly surging Minnesota Vikings. Cousins finally nabbed his first Monday Night Football win in a great game from him, something that many said he couldn’t do without Dalvin Cook picking up 200 all-purpose yards.

The Vikings defense, while going against a tepid offense, continued to build on their momentum and confidence going into a three-game stretch that could end with the once 1-5 Vikings being 7-5 and, considering these recent division wins, second in the NFC North and easily within the top seven seeds in the NFC.

With Drew Brees out for a couple of weeks and the Packers/Bucs being different teams each week, there’s no telling how this season will end. However, suddenly the Vikings have their fans believing in them, something that seemed impossible only a couple weeks ago.

Stats:

Minnesota Vikings

Passing:

Kirk Cousins- 25/36 292 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Rushing:

Dalvin Cook- 30 for 96, 3.2 average
Alexander Mattison – 2 rushes for 4 yards

Receiving:

Justin Jefferson – 8 receptions for 135 yards, 16.9 average
Kyle Rudolph- 4 receptions for 63 yards, 15.8 average
Adam Thielen- 4 receptions for 43 yards, 10.8 average, 2 touchdowns
Dalvin Cook- 4 receptions for 16 yards, 4.0 average
Chad Beebe- 2 for 16 yards
Tyler Conklin- 2 for 11
CJ Ham- 1 for 8

Chicago Bears

Nick Foles- 15/26 for 106, 0 TD, 1 INT
Tyler Bray- 1/5, 18 yards
Rushing:

Cordarrelle Patterson- 12 for 30 (2.5 average)
Artavis Pierce- 3 for 9
Nick Foles- 1 for 2

Receiving:

Allen Robinson- 6 for 43 (7.2 average)
Anthony Miller- 2 for 28
Cordarrelle Patterson- 2 for 19
Ryan Nall- 1 for 18
Cole Kmet- 1 for 7
Lamar Miller – 2 for 6

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