They waited two-thirds of their season for it, played later into the calendar year before a week off than any Vikings team since the NFL instituted bye weeks in 1990. In that time, they'd won their first five games without Justin Jefferson, fashioned two victories without Kirk Cousins, crested at 6-4 and made the postseason a realistic goal for a season that began disastrously.
Even after a one-point loss to Denver last week, the Vikings returned home on Monday night to a tantalizing proposition: Beat the Bears for the fourth time in as many games under Kevin O'Connell, and they'd reach their bye with a 7-5 record, in prime playoff position with Jefferson about to return.
Instead, players departed U.S. Bank Stadium in sullen quiet, as rookie receiver Jordan Addison remained in uniform and stared deeply into his locker. While they prepared for a week off, O'Connell readied himself to spend the week considering one of the most pivotal decisions of his two seasons as Vikings coach.
It was all up for debate after a 12-10 loss to the Bears that showed just how deeply the Vikings need a jolt on offense. Joshua Dobbs threw for just 185 yards and was intercepted four times in the loss, becoming just the second NFL quarterback with four interceptions in a game this season and the first QB to throw that many at U.S. Bank Stadium. No Vikings quarterback had been intercepted four times since Sept. 14, 2014, when the Patriots intercepted Matt Cassel four times in a 30-7 win that gave Mike Zimmer his first career loss in the first regular-season game with TCF Bank Stadium as the team's temporary home.
Afterward, O'Connell said the Vikings would "take a look at everything" when asked if he would consider a quarterback change. He acknowledged he'd considered turning to Nick Mullens during the game, before Dobbs drove the Vikings for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"It started to get to a point in the game where I was just trying to think almost [about] what would give us a spark," O'Connell said.
The interceptions, paired with a few mistakes from Addison, an inconsistent run game and two series that ended near midfield without points, cost the Vikings on a night where their defense forced two Justin Fields fumbles in the final 10 minutes and again perplexed the quarterback for much of the night with a combination of blitzes and three-man rushes that left him holding the ball.
Chicago had just three plays of 15 yards or more until the game's final drive, which Fields started with a 16-yard pass to D.J. Moore. Then, a play after Fields threw the ball out of bounds in Danielle Hunter's grasp, avoiding the intentional grounding call O'Connell thought he should have had, the quarterback hit Moore for 36 in the middle of the Vikings' zone coverage, setting up Cairo Santos' game-winning 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
"Credit [defensive coordinator Brian Flores] and his defense for keeping us in a game we had no right to be in with how we played on offense," O'Connell said. "Until we figure out a way to play complementary with our defense, get a little more production without having the ball turned over on offense, we're not going to win football games."
After back-to-back wins to begin his time in Minnesota, Dobbs has now thrown five interceptions against two touchdowns in his last two games. His 51.6 passer rating was the third-lowest by a Vikings QB in O'Connell's tenure as head coach, ahead of only Cousins' 51.1 rating in Philadelphia last year and his 49.2 rating in Green Bay on Jan. 1.
"Based on the coverages that the defense is giving me, it's a fine line between, 'OK, that's a window to fit it in or it's not,'" Dobbs said. "First one, I got deked out by the corner. He did a good job coming up underneath and then falling under. And then the other ones I just can't put the ball in jeopardy. There is a fine line. But at the end of the day when the ball is in my hand and guys are open, I'm going to keep shooting, keep throwing the ball where it needs to go, and clean up everything else from there."
Before their final drive of the first half, the Vikings had posted 24 yards of offense, punting on their opening drive before a pair of Dobbs interceptions.
On the first, Dobbs tried to hit Addison on a corner route when Jaylon Johnson peeled off Brandon Powell's route and sunk underneath Addison's route, picking off a pass that was slightly underthrown. On the next series, Dobbs fired one over the middle that bounced off Addison's hands and into Jaquan Brisker's waiting arms.
The Vikings forced Chicago punts on both series, though, and on the final drive before halftime, Brandon Powell deftly twisted in midair to haul in a slot fade from Dobbs that gained 28 yards. A 26-yard pass interference penalty on Kyler Gordon against T.J. Hockenson — the Bears' sixth penalty of the half — put the Vikings in the red zone, and after a Dobbs intentional grounding flag, Greg Joseph tied the game 3-3 on the final play of the half.
Despite the fact they'd finished the first quarter with minus-7 yards of offense, and allowed the Bears to hold the ball for 19:47 in the first half, the Vikings emerged from the locker room with a chance to take the lead at the start of the third. O'Connell kept his offense on the field on a fourth-and-7, hoping to produce the spark he sought all night.
Dobbs threw a split-second late and a touch behind Hockenson, who caught it short of the sticks and couldn't stretch for a first down before being driven out of bounds.
"I thought it was worth the risk in that moment, giving the guys an opportunity to make a play for our team," O'Connell said. "We just came up a little short in that play."
The Bears drove for a field goal on the next possession, and added three more points on their next series, following a T.J. Edwards interception that was also tipped.
Dobbs' fourth interception, thrown while the quarterback was in DeMarcus Walker's grasp, hit Justin Jones' hands before Gordon hauled it in. The turnover gave Chicago the ball on the Vikings' 38, with a chance to take a two-score lead that might have sealed the game.
On a second-and-10, Flores sent six pass rushers after Fields, who stepped up in the pocket to try and avoid Josh Metellus blitzing off the edge. Danielle Hunter, who'd sacked Fields on the play six weeks ago that took him off the field for five games with a thumb injury, stripped the quarterback of the ball, and Sheldon Day recovered a fumble that might have saved the game.
A play after Addison missed a chance for a game-turning thunderbolt when he stepped out of bounds before catching a deep shot, the rookie hauled in a 14-yard pass while sliding in the middle of the field. The catch survived a Matt Eberflus challenge, and Dobbs hit Hockenson with back-to-back strikes to finish the drive, finding him for a 17-yard score when the tight end made a leaping grab against Eddie Jackson in coverage.
The score put the Vikings up 10-9, and they got the ball in Chicago territory when Metellus forced a fumble that was recovered by Anthony Barr.
But the Vikings gained no yards on three plays, and from the Chicago 43, O'Connell chose to punt on fourth-and-10 and play for field position rather than trying Greg Joseph from 61 yards. Ryan Wright's punt went out of bounds at the Bears' 22, traveling only 26 yards and putting Chicago just 45 yards from field goal range.
"We got to get a little cleaner and better clearly in our punts to try to pin people down deep. There has been enough of them now that it's going to be a point of emphasis moving forward," O'Connell said.
Fields danced away from two Vikings sack attempts, throwing the ball out of bounds twice to keep the Bears from losing yardage. He fired to the Chicago sideline before Hunter could pull him down on the second play, as an irate O'Connell asked an official why Fields hadn't been called for intentional grounding when Dobbs had been flagged on a similar play.
There was no flag, though, and when the Vikings rushed four on the next play on third and 10, Fields had time to step up in a clean pocket. He hit a wide-open Moore for 36 yards against zone coverage to the Vikings 13. Four plays later, Cairo Santos connected with his fourth field goal in five attempts to put Chicago up 12-10.
"They did a good job of finding a spot in the zone," Metellus said. "Third down, we were trying to play aggressively, keep them from getting big chunk plays, and forcing them to throw the ball down the middle of the field. They made a good play."
Monday night, Vikings players left U.S. Bank Stadium after their sixth one-score loss of the year. The bye, for its promises of rest, would not be peaceful.
"I don't think my bye week is going to be great anymore," Metellus said. "Sitting on this loss is going to stick with me for at least another week."