CHICAGO – The Bears trailed 10-0 when they ventured deep inside Vikings territory early in the second quarter of Monday night's 17-9 loss to the Vikings at Soldier Field.
Young and very green Justin Fields had just completed a 6-yard pass to Darnell Mooney on third-and-3 from the Vikings' 19. Heck, the Bears actually looked competent enough to make a game of it despite losing 14 players, including their top five defensive backs, to the COVID-19 reserve list.
Two snaps later, the officials ruled running back David Montgomery down despite the fact defensive end Sheldon Richardson had emerged from the pile with the ball in his hands.
Richardson objected. Coach Mike Zimmer did as well before lobbing his red challenge flag onto the field.
After Richardson talked him into it, that is.
"Yeah, he did," Zimmer admitted. "He promised me that it was a fumble. I just talked to him, and he said, when I looked at him, he thought, you know – I can't say what he said, but I said, 'I'm glad you were right.' I said, 'Nice challenge,' to him too, by the way."
Zimmer came into the game having won fewer than half of his challenges in his eight seasons as Vikings coach. He was 25 for 51.
Thanks to Richardson, make it a game-changing 26th correct challenge for Zim, who is now 3-3 this season. After further review, a sea of knees going every which way showed neither one belonging to Montgomery had touched the ground.
Vikings ball at the Minnesota 12.
The Vikings offense did nothing with the gift, going three and out. They also would get just three points off two fumbles, a muffed punt and a missed Bears field goal.
But none of that would matter against Matt Nagy's bumbling and undisciplined Bears. The Vikings played horrendously on offense as well, but two of their scoring drives included two personal foul penalties on the Bears, including three on third downs and one on Nagy in the red zone for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Zimmer's successful challenge set in motion a string of woeful ineffectiveness by the Bears in Vikings territory, not to mention a sturdy resolve by a defense that has blown lead after lead after lead all season.
Yes, you might call it ugly, but Zimmer saw beauty in holding an opponent to nine points in seven trips to the Vikings' 31or closer. Especially when it put his team back into the NFC's seventh seed with a 7-7 record.
The Bears reached the Vikings' 10- , 16- , 31- , 21- , 9- , 14- and 19-yard lines. They turned the ball over on downs three straight times inside the 22 in the second half until a meaningless 19-yard touchdown completion as time expired.
Nagy, meanwhile, went 1-for-2 on challenges. He's 3-3 this year and 7-9 in his Bears career, which has three weeks until is expires.
Nagy successfully challenged the spot of the ball on a third-down run by Kirk Cousins deep in Vikings territory. That led to a 17-yard punt that was partially blocked.
The Bears took over at the Vikings' 30 down 17-3 with 17 ½ minutes to play. But, of course, they turned the ball over on downs at the 21.
Nagy's other challenge – an incompletion to Mooney into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 9 – failed.
And for all of you who like to count Cousins' prime-time wins, well, he just got one while completing 12 of 24 passes for 87 yards, four sacks, two touchdowns, and interception at a 69.3 passer rating. He has now thrown at least two touchdown passes in 10 consecutive road games.
Thanks to his defense and the bumbling Bears, Cousins left Soldier Field with a 58-58-2 career record.
"Good to get a win tonight," Zimmer said. "There were a lot of good things. And some things we need to definitely clean up."
Yep. But thanks to Richardson's strip and negotiation skills, Zimmer's successful challenge kept the bumbling Bears from getting what could have been some dangerous momentum early on.