The Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Kirk Cousins exorcised a few demons on Monday night.
Chicago's Solider Field has been a house of horrors for the Vikings in recent years as they had won at the stadium just twice in the past 13 seasons. And "Monday Night Football" has not been kind to Kirk Cousins as he was an NFL-worst 0-9 in the primetime game in his career.
It wasn't easy, and Minnesota's special teams were anything but special, but the Vikings slipped past the Bears 19-13 to win their third straight game on Monday. After a 1-5 start, the Vikings desperately needed to beat the Bears to keep their thin playoff hopes alive.
“We dug ourselves a hole, but we slowly climbed out of it,” Cousins said. “Hopefully we continue to do that.”
The Vikings had to dig out of a few holes on Monday night as well. They scored a touchdown on their second drive after a Harrison Smith interception for a 7-0 lead, and with Cousins off to a strong start, the Vikings were looking good.
But special teams gaffes made it a challenge. The Vikings botched pinning the Bears inside their own 5 on a punt in the first half when rookie Dan Chisena stepped into the end zone while trying to down the ball at the 1. Then Former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kickoff to start the second half 104 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears their first lead at 13-7.
But a young Vikings defense stuffed the Bears entire second half, allowing just 32 yards. At one point in the second half Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson had 114 yards receiving and the Bears offense had 115 total yards.
The Vikings have relied heavily on the ground game with Dalvin Cook this season, but the Bears strong run defense held Cook in check. With Cook being held to 86 yards on 34 carries, Cousins had to step up and make some plays. And he did.
Cousins delivered a 53-yard dart to Jefferson on a third-and-11, catch-and-run play in the third quarter that set up the tying field goal. In the fourth quarter with the score tied 13-13, Cousins guided a go-ahead drive which included key passes to tight end Kyle Rudolph and Jefferson before the QB hit Adam Thielen for a TD on a third-and-4 play from the Bears 6.
“We always stick with the run, but certainly we felt we were going to have to make some plays with the passing game,” Cousins said. “And we made enough.”
Cousins, who guided the Vikings to a playoff road win last season at New Orleans, obviously has been reminded of his record in primetime. He showed his emotion when he pumped his fist after throwing to Rudolph late in the game on a play-action pass for a first down.
But winning in Chicago is never easy for the Vikings. Due to a bad snap after their final TD, the missed point-after attempt kept the lead at six points. The Bears had a 47-yard punt return later in the fourth quarter to start a possession in Vikings territory, but the defense made a crucial stop.
“The defense really stood up the whole game long,” Cousins said.
While the Bears offense is a long way from elite, the Vikings played their best defensive game of the season. Minnesota is without four of its top five cornerbacks while linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Danielle Hunter are out for the season. But head coach Mike Zimmer somehow has his young unit improving over the past three weeks.
Rookies D.J. Wonnum (defensive end), Jeff Gladney (cornerback) and Troy Dye (linebacker) are all getting extended action and making plays. Hercules Mata'afa has had an impact at defensive end and Eric Kendricks and Eric Wilson continue to excel at linebacker.
The Vikings held the Bears to a mere 149 total yards.
And Cousins? He showed he could win a game on the road and in primetime. He was 25-for-36 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, both to Thielen. He also threw an interception, which slipped through Thielen's hands late in the first half and led to a Bears field goal.
After a 1-5 start that included a pair of one-point losses, the 4-5 Vikings now have three straight winnable games coming up against Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville. They also have remaining division games against the Lions and Bears.
A couple weeks ago Vikings fans were talking of tanking for a top pick in next spring's draft. Now they have to be wondering if the Vikings have enough in the tank to make a run at this year's expanded playoffs.
Guy N. Limbeck is a sports writer for the Post Bulletin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.