Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
Minnesota at Chicago
Sept. 27, 1998
Under Dennis Green, the Minnesota Vikings were accustomed to fast starts to seasons followed by prolonged slumps and desperate scrambles to make the playoffs. In 1996, Minnesota won five of its first six games but finished just 9-7. The next year, the dropoff was more pronounced. An 8-2 start gave way to a five-game skid. Only a win in the regular-season finale secured a wild card berth for the 9-7 Vikings.
In 1998, the Vikings were once again the kings of September with a 3-0 record heading into a clash with the winless Bears at Soldier Field. This version of the Purple Gang actually had signs of staying power despite losing starting quarterback Brad Johnson to a broken fibula in a Week 2 win at the Rams. Backup Randall Cunningham had rediscovered his Pro Bowl form from years past as a Philadelphia Eagle. Of course, it helped that he had future Hall of Fame wideout Cris Carter, perennial 1,000-yard receiver Jake Reed and a rookie name Randy Moss at his disposal. Moss was already fulfilling his promise to "rip up the league" after falling to 21st in the NFL draft due to character concerns. The addition of the electrifying receiver, coupled with a healthy Robert Smith in the backfield, made the Vikings a powerful offensive force. The team could decimate opponents or, in the case of this Sunday afternoon game against the Bears, stage an impressive rally.
Minnesota flexed its offensive muscle in the contest's opening moments. On the sixth play from scrimmage, fleet running back Robert Smith took a screen pass from Randall Cunningham and streaked 67 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead. Surprisingly, that would be the Vikings’ lone offensive highlight of the first half as the Bears seized control of the game.
Chicago responded to the Vikings’ scoring strike by marching 84 yards in seven plays. Erik Kramer finished it with a 33-yard TD pass to Bobby Engram. Early in the second quarter, Minnesota momentarily recaptured the lead, thanks to a 50-yard field goal by Gary Anderson. The Bears answered with back-to-back scoring drives, both capped by a Kramer TD pass. A 23-yard toss to Chris Penn finished a nifty five-play, 80-yard series and a 4-yard pass to Engram culminated a crisp seven-play, 66-yard drive.
The Vikings, 6.5-point favorites, trailed the Bears 21-10 at the half. The porous Minnesota secondary made journeyman Kramer look like Joe Montana in his prime. Kramer already had 208 yards passing and three touchdowns. On the other side, the aggressive Bears defense frustrated the potent Minnesota offensive attack. Cunningham managed just 98 yards passing in the first half, with 67 of those yards coming on one play.
At the start of the second half, the Vikings made an immediate statement that things would be different. Playing with renewed vigor, the Minnesota defense forced its first three-and-out of the sunny afternoon. David Palmer injected more life into the Vikings sideline when he returned the Mike Horan punt 53 yards to put Minnesota at the Chicago 34. Five plays later, on third-and-11 from the Chicago 19, Cunningham hit tight end Andrew Glover for a touchdown to cut the Bears lead to 21-17.
Similar to how they responded to the first Vikings score, the Bears methodically drove down the field. However, instead of a touchdown pass, Kramer committed a crucial turnover. From the Minnesota 10, Kramer tried to hit Fabien Bownes in the corner of the end zone. Minnesota cornerback Corey Fuller read the play, tipped the ball and juggled it a few times before snagging the interception and returning it to the Vikings 32. A few plays later, Cunningham connected with Cris Carter on a 35-yard pass in the middle of the field that the All-Pro took to the house. Minnesota had the lead for the first time since the opening moments of the game, 24-21. Two drives later, the Purple advantage grew when Moss out-jumped the Chicago secondary in the end zone to complete a 44-yard bomb from Cunningham. The three second-half touchdown drives that gave Minnesota a 31-21 lead with 10:13 remaining consumed just 3:30.
The Bears managed to close the gap to 31-28 when Kramer fired his fourth TD pass of the day, a 19-yarder to Ryan Wetnight with 1:57 to play. Jeff Jaeger's ensuing onside kick went out of bounds and Minnesota ran out the clock to preserve the win and end September with a perfect 4-0 mark. The two teams combined for 803 yards of offense and eight touchdown passes during the exciting afternoon.
The Key Play
Cornerback Corey Fuller intercepted an Erik Kramer pass when the Bears were threatening to extend their lead in the third quarter. The Vikings scored a touchdown a few snaps later to grab a lead they would not relinquish.
The Viking Player of the Game
Quarterback Randall Cunningham bounced back from a frustrating first half to finish the game with 275 yards passing and four TDs.
Purple Honorable Mention
Cris Carter and Randy Moss only combined for six receptions, but they were key catches. Both had impressive TD receptions that led the Vikings to the win.
(via the Sept. 28, 1998 Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Todd Steussie (Minnesota offensive tackle)
"When we scored that first touchdown in the second half, you could see a little doubt creeping into their eyes."
Cris Carter (Minnesota wide receiver)
"We knew we could make some plays on them."
Corey Fuller (Minnesota cornerback)
"It was like the wild, wild west. It was a shootout and somebody's got to die."
Randall McDaniel (Minnesota guard)
"That game was early in the season and really set the tone. We were able to come from behind. We never thought we were out of it. There was never any panic on the sideline. We knew if we kept chipping away that everything would be fine. We knew what we had on that team and knew we were going to be good that year."
The Vikings proved they were for real the following Monday night when they crushed the two-time defending NFC Champion Packers at Lambeau Field, 37-24. That win propelled the Vikings to a 15-1 regular season as they scored a then-NFL record 556 points. Unfortunately, the year ended in heartbreak in the NFC Championship game when the Atlanta Falcons upset Minnesota in overtime, 30-27.