One of these teams might make the playoffs. It’s hard to believe. After Monday night’s game in Chicago, well, at least it’s easier to believe it might be the Vikings.
Minnesota won a tight battle of attrition at empty Soldier Field, 19-13, its third consecutive victory since a 1-5 start to extend the Vikings’ hopes of making the NFL’s expanded 2020 postseason. “We’re fighting out way back into this, hopefully,” head coach Mike Zimmer said, “but we’ve still got a lot of football to play.”
You don’t say this much about a 4-5 team, but the Vikings have their destiny in their own hands. If they can go 5-2 in those games, there’s an increasingly good chance they will earn an NFC wild card spot.
The Vikings have seven regular-season games left, two against teams currently over .500, and the Saints — 7-2 and playing host to Minnesota on Dec. 25 — just lost quarterback Drew Brees to broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
The Vikings gutted out a physical, mean victory in a place they hadn’t won in three years, riding Dalvin Cook hard (30 attempts, 96 yards) and occasionally hitting big through the air (Kirk Cousins completed 25 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns).
“We’ll try to build on it and move on and try to string some more together,” Cousins said. “That’s what the season will be about.”
The Bears are done, losers of four straight — getting worse as the Vikings get better. Watching that offense is like watching video of one of those cockroach races. You expect the bugs to move forward; instead, they move right, left and backward because they don’t know what game they’re playing.
Rarely has a team wasted such a good defense, although when it does happen, it seems to happen in Chicago.
Still, give the Vikings credit. Nursing young cornerbacks and with new starting ends, they held the Bears’ offense to six points, 41 yards rushing and 2-for-11 on third downs. Quarterback Nick Foles, who torched the Vikings for 352 yards and three touchdowns in the 2018 NFC Championship, completed 15 of 26 passes for 106 yards and left the field sitting upright on a stretcher with what head coach Matt Nagy called a leg or hip injury.
“The intangible is literally the energy we choose to bring, decide to bring to whatever stadium it is,” said veteran safety Harrison Smith, who had an interception early and key pass breakup late among many of his key plays.
“I think it’s a goofy year for everybody, and we’re starting to figure out how to bring our own energy and our own confidence. So, I think we’re starting to figure it out a little bit.”
The Bears had two chances to win late because the Vikings missed an extra-point attempt because of a bad snap. They never came close. It was the same at Green Bay three weeks ago, where the Vikings held off Aaron Rodgers in their own territory as time expired.
“We’ve been able to put the fire out, I guess,” Zimmer said. “The more times you do that, the more you believe you can do it.”
They’re going to need that confidence. Their margin for error is slim, but if the Vikings make the playoffs, there’s a good chance they’ll get there as a pretty good team.
“Even after three wins … it really feels like the next one, or the next three, are really going to tell the story,” Cousins said. “So, until the last game’s been played and the final whistle is blown, you’re kind of always thinking about how you’re going to build on it and get to the next one and keep it going.”