CHICAGO – Despite everything that had gone wrong — all the miscues, brain cramps and being physically knocked back on their heels — the Vikings somehow clung to a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
The Bears dominated them for one half but were unraveling. The Vikings trailed 14-6 when they took possession at their own 11-yard line with 8 minutes, 38 seconds left.
One drive at the moment of truth with first place in the division on the line.
Kirk Cousins flopped.
Cousins overthrew Laquon Treadwell along the sideline and the ball went into the arms of Chicago safety Eddie Jackson, who returned the interception 27 yards for a touchdown dagger in what became a 25-20 Bears win at Soldier Field.
The Vikings made a late rally, but their performance felt doomed from early in the game. With so much at stake, the Vikings needed to bring their “A” game. They didn’t come close.
They refused to take it even when the Bears tried to give it to them. And now they have serious work to do in the final six games to earn a return trip to the postseason.
The Vikings still haven’t defeated a team with a winning record, and the way they were so thoroughly dominated in the first half Sunday was alarming. The Bears took the fight to them, especially on defense.
“It’s another example of letting our defense down,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “We’ve got to play better than that.”
That starts at quarterback. Cousins deserves a large helping of blame after falling flat on the big stage.
He looked jittery against Khalil Mack and the Bears’ relentless pressure until the Vikings shifted into desperation mode late in the game. He was uncharacteristically wild on his accuracy, even when he had time in the pocket.
The Vikings harped all week on the importance of avoiding turnovers against Chicago’s ball-hawking defense. Cousins threw one interception that cost his team points and another one that gave the Bears points.
Dalvin Cook also contributed a first-half fumble in the red zone.
Cousins put the final touch on a disastrous first half with an interception in the red zone with 25 seconds left.
The Vikings had moved into scoring range. Any points would have been meaningful given how poorly they had played.
From the 32-yard line, Cousins felt the pocket collapsing and threw the ball up for grabs, right into the arms of safety Adrian Amos Jr.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, presumably his target, was 15 yards upfield.
The Vikings refused to burst through the door when the Bears opened it for them. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky showed why he makes Bears fans nervous with an erratic second half.
He threw an interception directly to Anthony Harris, who returned it 33 yards to the Bears 31 late in the third quarter.
The Vikings trailed 14-0. A touchdown would have made fans restless. Instead, a sack by Mack sabotaged the drive and the Vikings settled for a field goal.
The Vikings got another gift the next series when Jaleel Johnson stripped Tarik Cohen and the fumble was recovered by the Vikings at the Bears 29.
That drive also stalled after a third-down sack, and the Vikings kicked another field goal.
The game felt like a lost cause at that point.
“Our defense came up huge and gave us some turnovers to give us life,” Rudolph said. “And we couldn’t even sniff the end zone when we got those turnovers.”
Good teams seize that situation. They put aside everything that transpired before then and recognize that this is their moment to pounce.
The Vikings did the bare minimum with their chances. And then Cousins threw an interception in crunch time.
With so much at stake, this was viewed as a statement game for both teams. The Bears’ statement resonated loud and clear. So did the Vikings’.