CHICAGO – For their performance in the first three months of the 2021 season — blending spellbinding moments with stupefying collapses — the Vikings were sentenced to four games fighting for their playoff lives, watching scoreboards and calculating tiebreakers against the rest of the NFL's middle tier.

On that account, the Vikings' 17-9 victory at Soldier Field was a victory they could not do without: It got them to 7-7, and back into a tie for the NFC's final wild-card spot. They will need more victories, however, and they might not find another opponent as willing to give them one as the Chicago Bears were on Monday night.

The Bears outgained the Vikings 370-193. Despite playing without 14 players, including most of their starting secondary, because of COVID-19, the Bears held Dalvin Cook to 3.2 yards per carry and kept Justin Jefferson to four catches on 10 targets. Akiem Hicks — the longtime Vikings killer who had returned from an ankle injury on Monday — tormented right guard Mason Cole on the way to two sacks and several run stops. Chicago Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn beat rookie Christian Darrisaw for his two sacks.

But the Vikings still managed to come away with the victory because of rookie Justin Fields' turnovers and missed throws in the red zone. The Bears made six trips deep into Vikings territory; they had scored only three points until the final play of the game, when Fields hit Jesper Horsted for 19 yards and officials ruled the tight end from Roseville had reached the end zone. Chicago was also called for four personal fouls on a night that had both teams (and their fan bases) irate with referee Scott Novak's crew.

Counting Fields' two fumbles, the Bears had four for the night. They lost three.

"It's always been a tough trip [to Soldier Field]. Division games are always tough," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "They play extremely hard. I still believe they're well-coached. They do a good job with the things that they're trying to do, and they give you — offensively, they can give you a lot of problems. And then defensively, Roquan Smith's a terrific player, and the front guys. They didn't have their two safeties tonight, and they're both good players, as well."

The Vikings began the game lining Jefferson up in the slot, intent on taking advantage of the matchups they would get against a Bears secondary missing all of its starters, and it paid off on their first touchdown. Cousins motioned Kene Nwangwu from his right to his left, getting the linebackers to shift and creating a clearer release for Jefferson against safety Deon Bush out of the slot.

Jefferson gave Bush a quick two-step move, breaking to the corner of the end zone for an easy 12-yard touchdown.

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Then, on Chicago's next drive, Cameron Dantzler swatted the ball out of Fields' hand as he flew by while the quarterback scrambled out of the pocket. Anthony Barr recovered, setting the Vikings up to score again.

It's there where things turned strange.

Officials called their first personal foul against the Bears when Bush hit Tyler Conklin in the helmet while trying to break up a pass as the tight end leaped over the middle of the field. The ruling made Matt Nagy so angry that the coach received another 12-yard penalty for arguing with officials during a TV timeout. Greg Joseph kicked a 37-yard field goal on the drive to go up 10-0.

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Then, after the Bears had driven to the Vikings 10 following Fields' longest completion of the night (a 27-yard throw to Darnell Mooney), Michael Pierce beat center Sam Mustipher and spilled David Montgomery's run outside, where Sheldon Richardson stripped Montgomery of the ball. Officials ruled Montgomery down on the field, but Richardson lobbied Mike Zimmer to challenge the play, and a review showed the defensive lineman pried the ball loose before Montgomery hit the ground.

"He promised me that it was a fumble," Zimmer said. "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."

Chicago would reach the Vikings 13 on its next drive, but Fields fumbled while trying to pull the ball down when D.J. Wonnum leaped into his throwing lane on a swing pass. Wonnum tackled Fields for a 14-yard sack — one of his three in the game — and the Bears had to settle for a field goal.

Still, they would get the ball back once more in the first half, after Cousins threw deep for Jefferson despite the fact the receiver had tangled his feet up with Marqui Christian's and tumbled to the ground after being grabbed by the defensive back. Bush made an easy interception, giving Chicago a chance for another field goal, but Dalvin Tomlinson deflected the kick and it fell short of the crossbar.

BOXSCORE: Vikings 17, Chicago 9

In the third quarter, the Vikings put together a touchdown drive with the help of two Bears personal fouls — the first on Teez Tabor, for violating a new rule that prohibits defensive players from going low on offensive linemen while trying to play through the blocker and make a tackle. The call, on a third-and-18 run, had Bears fans howling, and Chicago picked up another 15-yard penalty when Trevis Gipson was called for roughing, also after a third-down stop. Cousins hit Ihmir Smith-Marsette for the rookie's first career touchdown to put the Vikings up 17-3, after three defenders left the receiver open while converging on Jefferson out of the backfield.

"Honestly, some of these calls are starting to get a little crazy. These refs are trying to control the game a little too much," Bears defensive end Robert Quinn said. "A couple of years ago, half of these calls wouldn't have been made."

When Fields slid at the end of a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter and Eric Kendricks went low to touch him, the linebacker hit Fields in the head with his helmet. Kendricks was given a roughing penalty and ejected from the game.

The play put the Bears at the Vikings 7 with 9:30 left, but they couldn't capitalize on this break either, as Mooney landed out of bounds on a fourth-down throw to the end zone.

"I didn't get a good explanation, really," Zimmer said of Kendricks' penalty. "They came over late and said they thought he had an elbow to a head. I thought I saw it pretty cleanly, and I thought the quarterback slid and kept his head up, and Eric was going down and kind of raised his head to try to avoid it, and I thought they bumped heads. I didn't think it was anything real … real … I don't know what word I'm looking for."

Even if words to describe the Vikings' performance were hard to come by, they only were in search of one adjective for it: victorious.

For them to use that descriptor enough to reach the playoffs, they will have to be better than they were Monday night.