The Minnesota Vikings marched into Soldier Field with the 30th-ranked passing game and played to that low ranking for much of Sunday’s 23-20 win.
It couldn’t have started much worse. Mike Wallace dropped Teddy Bridgewater’s first pass of the day in a three-and-out drive to open the game. Two series later, Bridgewater overthrew Wallace on second-and-13, followed by a 2-yard loss on a pass to Matt Asiata that caused the Vikings to settle for a field goal after reaching the red zone.
The mistakes in the passing game were many – despite much-improved protection for Bridgewater – in the first half. In their final full series of the first half, Wallace couldn’t hold onto a first-down pass that he said got lost in the sun, rookie sensation Stefon Diggs had a pass go wide of him in a half that featured four targets and only one catch for him, and cornerback Kyle Fuller intercepted a pass for Diggs that shouldn’t have been thrown to set up Chicago’s game-tying touchdown late in the half.
“The guy just played great coverage on Diggs,” Bridgewater said. “He undercut the route and he just made a great play. It probably could’ve been avoided. I probably could’ve scrambled or something, but I’ll learn from it and try not to let the same mistake happen twice.”
Diggs dropped Bridgewater’s first pass of the second half and Bridgewater had third-down pass later in the drive knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
But in the fourth quarter, it turned around just on time. When the Vikings got the ball with less than 5 minutes remaining, Bridgewater erased the Bears’ only sack of the game with a 19-yard scramble for a first down on the next play. Then Diggs came down with a 20-yard reception just short of midfield before turning third-and-4 into a 40-yard touchdown when he made two defenders miss on his way to the end zone to tie the game 20-20 with 1:49 left.
The Vikings got another shot with one minute remaining and only a slip by Diggs after 4-yard reception kept him from his third straight 100-yard game – he ended with six catches on 12 targets for 96 yards.
It was mostly Diggs’ show after he was held to one catch for 4 yards in the first half, but Charles Johnson had a big 35-yard reception in the final minute, saving what could have easily been an interception with by high-pointing the ball in front of safety Antrel Rolle to set up the Vikings in field goal position at the 27-yard line.
“He’s a special player and he put that 39-inch vertical to work today,” Bridgewater said. “He went up down there and made a great play for us. He got us down there in field goal range. Like I said, these guys know that when they get an opportunity to make a play, we expect them to make those kinds of plays. C.J. did a great job of going up there and coming down with the football.”
For most of the season, pass protection has been an issue for Bridgewater. That wasn’t the case in Chicago on Sunday. Instead, inaccuracy, a poor decision on the interception and dropped passes marred numerous opportunities for most of the game. Until it was marked moot in the final five-minute flurry, thanks to big plays from Diggs and Johnson after they were limited for the first 55 minutes of regulation.
“It definitely wasn’t pretty. The defense put us in a position at the right time to get things going and to make a play,” Adrian Peterson said. “Hats off to C.J. for making a heck of a play. We was able to pull it off. We kept swinging the entire game. We fought back, scratched back. Collectively, it was a great game. We were able to make a last big play.”
The Vikings had only one of their first eight drives exceed 50 yards and none went more than 51 yards. But their final two drives went 84 yards for the game-tying touchdown and 48 yards for the game-winning field goal with no time left.