CHICAGO – Forget about optics. The Vikings didn’t need style points. They needed a win. A win to continue their season reboot in a place that has chewed them up over the years.
They had two turnovers. They dropped passes and had costly penalties. They gave up a special teams touchdown and were atrocious overall in that phase.
Normally, that would be enough to unravel them, especially here. This time, they did an unfamiliar thing in an unfamiliar way.
They defeated the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field 19-13 with Kirk Cousins taking the leading role on offense.
The Vikings showed they have a Plan B on offense.
And Cousins finally has a victory on “Monday Night Football.”
The maligned quarterback more than filled in the gaps on a night when Dalvin Cook looked mortal to remove the goose egg from his Monday night record, now 1-9.
“The whole team was cheering for him to get his first win on Monday night,” rookie receiver Justin Jefferson said.
The Vikings had to breathe a sigh of relief internally. Not just by winning what felt going in like a must-win game, but also having Cousins play well in prime time against a stout defense.
On Oct. 18, Cousins threw three interceptions in a rock-bottom loss to the Atlanta Falcons that dropped the Vikings to 1-5. He had become a liability with 10 interceptions in six games.
Then came the bye week.
Then back-to-back wins in which Cousins was not asked to do much other than hand the ball to Cook.
The blueprint changed Monday, with more being demanded of Cousins, and he answered the moment by being efficient throughout and deadly on third down.
He attempted only 34 passes combined in wins over Green Bay and Detroit. He threw 36 passes vs. a defense that seemed hellbent on neutralizing Cook and was effective until Akiem Hicks left the game in the second half because of a hamstring injury.
Cousins completed 25 of his 36 attempts for 292 yards and two touchdowns with one interception that wasn’t his fault.
He saved his best for third down, completing 10 of 11 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked third-down defense.
“I thought he played really fast, which is important for him,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He was extremely accurate. He got the ball to the right places all night. I just felt like he did a really good job of handling what the defense was giving us.”
One sequence felt like a turning point. A long run by Cook late in the third quarter was wiped out by a holding penalty, setting up third-and-11 deep inside their own territory.
Cousins fired a dart to Jefferson over the middle and the rookie sprinted for a 54-yard gain, which helped set up a field goal that tied the score at 13-13.
“That was a big play in the game to be able to switch field position and kind of get some momentum going back in our direction,” Cousins said.
The Bears swarmed Cook every time he touched the ball. The Vikings needed Cousins to pick up the offense.
He was efficient in operating a high-percentage passing game. He spread the ball around in working the soft part of the Bears defense with intermediate passes, and he made smart decisions when under pressure. He didn’t look rattled in tense moments.
“They were able to contain our run game for the most part,” Cousins said. “That’s why it was so important to have success in the pass game and have success on the third down.”
Now the season outlook suddenly feels alive and relevant. A three-game winning streak has quieted the public’s tanking obsession and improved the team’s playoff odds to “hey, maybe,” which is a long way from a month ago when their season appeared over.
Three consecutive home games come next against teams with a combined record of 6-22, so the Vikings have a chance to get on a roll and stay in the playoff race.
More performances like this one from their quarterback will help that cause immensely.