CHICAGO — The Minnesota Vikings reached rare air on Sunday by winning their 13th game of the season in a 29-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. The win marked only the third time in franchise history that they have topped 12 victories with 1998 and 2017 being the only other seasons to clear that threshold. Let’s have a look at the key takeaways from Sunday’s game…
Hello again, Giants
With the San Francisco 49ers’ 38-13 beatdown of the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings became locked into the No. 3 seed where they will face off with the New York Giants at US Bank Stadium in the first round of the playoffs. The Vikings beat the Giants 27-24 on a last-second field goal in Week 16. The Giants did not play their starters against the Eagles and lost 22-16 behind quarterback Davis Webb.
Elsewhere the Seattle Seahawks’ overtime win against the Los Angeles Rams booted the Detroit Lions from the postseason, and the Seahawks got in thanks to the Lions beating the Packers.
In the midst of the Vikings’ convincing win, two players limped off: Dalvin Cook and Chandon Sullivan. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said that Cook got stepped on and will be fine for next week’s game. He returned to the game after going to the injury tent. Sullivan likewise was not seriously injured and there are no future concerns.
Za’Darius Smith missed practice on Friday due to a personal matter. He did not play but was in attendance at Soldier Field. O’Connell said he will play against the Giants. Harrison Smith also sat after having some soreness following Friday’s practice. There are no worries about his status either, according to O’Connell.
As far as starting center Garrett Bradbury, O’Connell was less optimistic, saying that he will have to see whether Bradbury can practice this week.
“There’s a chance we’ll have him next week,” O’Connell said. “That is totally to be determined on how he responds to getting some real practice reps in his preparation for next week. So it’s really something I’ll update you guys on as the week goes on.”
Patrick Jones plays for Damar Hamlin
Vikings outside linebacker Patrick Jones had one of his best games as a per following a week in which he feared for his former Pitt teammate and close friend Damar Hamlin’s health. Jones said that he had a chance to speak with Hamlin prior to Sunday’s game.
“Being able to talk to him yesterday meant so much to me,” Jones said. “He told me he’s getting better and he said, ‘You know how we play, handle business.'”
Offensive line builds chemistry
Against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings’ offensive line was thrown into disarray after center Austin Schlottmann and right tackle Brian O’Neill went down with injuries. In Chicago, backup center Chris Reed and right tackle Oli Udoh were much more comfortable — although in a less challenging environment.
O’Connell said he wanted to see how the starting line responded to the types of pre-snap looks that the Bears gave them.
“There are some communication things with a defense like that, with the type of movement you see up front,” the Vikings’ head coach said. “That’s what I wanted to see. Could we be physical? Could we win the line of scrimmage despite kind of that moving target sometimes changing the math at the line of scrimmage they try to do” Our guys handled it well. They really did.”
On 20 drop-backs, Cousins was only hit twice and wasn’t sacked.
Justin Jefferson’s final stat line
Justin Jefferson only played in the first half and caught four passes for 38 yards, so he wasn’t able to threaten Calvin Johnson’s NFL record but he did become one of only six receivers to clear 1,800 yards in a single season with 1,809 on 128 receptions .
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“The different number of ways he’s making those plays,” Cousins said. “Some of them are go balls. Some of them are a screen. Some of them are a third down in traffic. So the versatility as a player that he affords us as a receiver, where it’s not just a certain trick that he does, but it’s really the entirety of what you ask a receiver to do.”
“I’m excited to see what he can do moving forward,” Cousins continued. “And then in playoff football, right? I mean, when the lights get even brighter, allowing him to shine there too. So excited for that and the big games he has up ahead in his career. And so, so grateful that we drafted him, that we have him, and that I get to play with him and get to throw the football to him.”
The Vikings brought in Duke Shelley prior to Week 1 after he’d been cut by the Bears. Since getting an opportunity due to injuries in the secondary, he has become one of their more valuable defensive backs. On Sunday he put the cherry on top of his season by intercepting a pass late in the fourth quarter. Following the pick, he went to the Bears’ logo at midfield and celebrated. And after the game, O’Connell awarded him with a game ball.
“All that guy’s done since he got to Minnesota is be a great teammate, work incredibly hard, be reliable as any player I’ve ever been around,” O’Connell said. “He’s as competitive as any player I’ve ever been around, and he’s an absolute joy to have on our football team.”
KJ Osborn’s big day
The Vikings have struggled at times to find secondary options behind Jefferson but they will head into the playoffs coming off a big day for one of them in KJ Osborn. He caught five passes for 117 yards against the Bears, including a 66-yarder on the opening drive.
“One of the things about KJ is he has so many jobs in our offense,” O’Connell said. “His role is an evolving thing, snap in and snap out. He’s incredibly valuable as a play caller to the coaches but also to the ten guys in the huddle knowing the different jobs he’s going to do. When called upon, he’s as explosive and reliable as anybody we have.”
Irv Smith Jr.’s return
Since the trade deadline the Vikings have been without tight end Irv Smith Jr. Against the Bears he made his return after weeks of rehabbing. Smith Jr. caught three passes for 14 yards and saw the field for the entirety of the second half. While TJ Hockenson is the unquestioned starter, Smith Jr.’s presence does give them an additional weapon if they want to use two-TE packages in the playoffs and have both tight ends as receiving threats.
Overall the Vikings put together 482 yards of offense at an impressive 6.8 yard-per-play clip. Cousins said that recently he’s felt like his understanding for O’Connell’s offensive system has clicked more during the final stanza of the season.
“It’s a gradual process,” Cousins said. “The Detroit game at Detroit, I felt like I kind of turned a corner a little bit there. I walked off the field and said, OK. This game kind of felt like it used to feel when I was in a system for two or three years, when you start to really understand where we’re trying to go with it. But then you have, you know, setbacks and you have challenges. Even today in the low red zone, feeling like I didn’t operate well enough. So you know, we’re getting there. We’re getting there.”
Cousins’ only criticism of his performance was failing to produce touchdowns in the red zone on the final two drives of the first half.
The Bears’ No. 1 pick
The most compelling storyline of the day for Bears fans wasn’t happening in downtown Chicago. It took place in Indianapolis, where the Texans came back to beat the Colts with a last-second two-point conversion, which secured the Bears the No. 1 overall selection.
Part 1 of Chicago’s goal to tear down and rebuild has officially come to fruition. Now the Bears will have to decide whether to pick at the top or trade down to a QB needy team.
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