All the stories have been told and re-told about the Minnesota Vikings and their struggles at Soldier Field. One of the mantras has been that results of the past have nothing to do with the 2015 Vikings and, after leaving the field with a 23-20 victory as time expired, the Vikings would appear to be backing up their words with actions.
Sunday’s game had all the makings of the type of nightmares that have typified games at Soldier Field. The Vikings dominated the first half, only to have a late interception in the first half lead to a Chicago touchdown that tied the game 10-10 at halftime and the Vikings wouldn’t have the lead again until there was no time left on the clock.
“We knew that this was going to be a 60-minute game,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We were prepared to fight until the clock hit zero and we showed that today.”
It did hit zero as Blair Walsh’s game-winning kick went through the uprights.
Part of the Vikings’ long-term frustration centered on the stereotypical type of Chicago drive that has typified the hard times the Vikings have suffered on the road, especially in Chicago. After the Vikings had tied the game 13-13 with 13:29 to play, the Bears went on a marathon 14-play, 74-yard drive that ate up 8:34 off the game clock and culminated with 4-yard scramble for a touchdown by Jay Cutler to give Chicago a 20-14 lead.
Vikings players and fans had seen this script play itself out too many times in the past. But it wasn’t going to happen Sunday.
“This team has a lot of toughness about them,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “It wasn’t always pretty today. I don’t think we played our best football, but we did a good job.
“It’s a very, very good win for our football team. When you’re in these situations and you continue to get in these situations and you continue to find a way to win, that’s what’s most important. It’s about how you finish.”
Starting from his own 16-yard line, Bridgewater was sacked when Chicago linebacker Pernell McPhee hit him in his left knee and Bridgewater buckled in obvious pain. However, he got up and continued the drive, scrambling for 19 yards on the next play to keep the chains moving.
One play later, Bridgewater took another big hit but delivered a 20-yard strike to Stefon Diggs for another first down near midfield.
Three plays later, facing a third-and-4 from the Chicago 40-yard line, Bridgewater found Diggs, who caught the ball, changed direction and was gone for a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game at 20 with 1:49 to play.
It was yet another big day for Diggs, who had four catches for just 30 yards until that drive, but finished the game with six catches for 95 yards – none bigger than his 40-yard touchdown, which Bridgewater said was much more a team effort than just a big individual effort by the Vikings rookie.
“That was a great job by Stephon and our offensive line did a great job on that play also,” Bridgewater said. “I was able to get through my progression, still have a little time back there to find Diggs. He did a great job creating separation from man coverage and he did the rest.”
While the game was tied, it was far from over. There was still 1:49 on the clock and the Vikings have seen Cutler do some miraculous things against them in the waning seconds.
Not this Sunday.
The Vikings defense did its part on the ensuing drive, getting the Bears off the field with a three-and-out drive, giving Bridgewater one more chance in regulation – with exactly one minute remaining from his own 34-yard line. What happened next vanquished all the ghosts of seasons past.
Facing a second-and-6 from his own 38-yard line, Bridgewater launched a dangerous pass into coverage that Charles Johnson leaped high to haul in for a 35-yard gain to the Chicago 27-yard line. After a 9-yard run by Adrian Peterson, Walsh ended the game with a 36-yard field goal.
Johnson has been almost a forgotten man in the Vikings offense, but with Diggs on the sidelined after a leg injury, Johnson came in and made the biggest play of his season when it was most needed.
“These guys know that when their number is called, we expect them to make big plays,” Bridgewater said. “Charles stepped up big for us, making that catch. Each week, a different guy can have success in this offense. They understand that. They also know that when their number is called, we expect them to make plays. Charles did a great job of doing that today.”
With the win, the Vikings improve to 5-2 and, with three wins in the division (two straight on the road), are in control of their own destiny moving forward. They are erasing the bad memories that have dogged them in previous seasons and Zimmer said Sunday’s win was just another instance of the 2015 Vikings not being related to any of the teams from years past.
“It’s just another thing to mark on our checkbook,” Zimmer said. “We can’t win in Chicago. We can’t win on the road. We can’t win two division games in a row. We can’t win in a temporary stadium. Just keep coming up with them.”