Teddy Bridgewater turned in a flawless performance, another sign that Minnesota’s franchise quarterback is on the right track.
The season has brought some struggles, but this is just what the Vikings envisioned for Bridgewater’s second year.
Bridgewater threw a career-high four touchdowns and ran for another one, and the Vikings took a significant step toward the playoffs with a 38-17 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears.
“These last two weeks, I’ve seen a different look in his eyes,” teammate Adrian Peterson said. “I really don’t have to say much to him.”
Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards without a turnover, connecting twice with Stefon Diggs for scores. Jerick McKinnon and Zach Line had the other touchdown catches on a remarkably productive afternoon for all of Minnesota’s running backs.
Peterson missed some time because of an injury to his left ankle, but he finished with 63 yards on 18 attempts to maintain his NFL rushing lead.
The Vikings (9-5) stopped their two-game losing streak and assured themselves of at least a wild-card spot with a win at home next weekend over the New York Giants.
Other NFC teams could lose and clinch it for them before they arrive at the stadium for the Sunday night game.
The Bears (5-9) lost their third game in a row, giving the Vikings 14 second-half points on a lost fumble and an interception thrown by Jay Cutler.
“It doesn’t matter who we would’ve played today, we weren’t going to win playing that kind of offensive football,” Cutler said.
The Vikings dominated from start to finish, driving 93 yards in 13 plays to take the lead they never relinquished when Bridgewater floated a perfectly placed 15-yard pass over the shoulder of Diggs on a fade route for the touchdown.
McKinnon snagged a short pass from Bridgewater and as he was being brought down held his knee above the turf long enough to get the ball over the goal line for a 17-7 lead with 26 seconds left before halftime.
The game only got better after that for Bridgewater, who became the first Vikings player to throw for four touchdowns in a game since Brett Favre on Jan. 17, 2010, against the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
“It shows that when we do put the ball in the air, we’re pretty good,” Bridgewater said.
Cutler threw two touchdown passes, including one to Alshon Jeffery in the second quarter that pulled the Bears within 10-7, but he took five sacks and had a frustrated look on his face all afternoon with little help from the line in front of him. Jeffery aggravated his hamstring injury in the third quarter.
“That definitely has an effect. He’s our No. 1 receiver,” coach John Fox said.
The Bears surprised the Vikings with an onside kick they recovered to start the second half, but three plays later Brian Robison powered his way past right tackle Kyle Long to slap the ball out of Cutler’s hand during a sack near midfield.
Robison recovered, Cutler gave Long an icy stare on their way off the field and Diggs followed a little later with a 33-yard catch and run into the end zone. Diggs was wide open, and he bulled his way into the end zone with nickel back Alan Ball on his back to essentially put the Bears out of reach.
The game hit bottom for the Bears in the fourth quarter when Cutler floated a screen pass to Matt Forte that fell short, allowing backup defensive end Justin Trattou to intercept it at the Chicago 16.
Bridgewater followed with the exclamation point, a 12-yard dash up the middle he finished by launching himself into the air at the goal line to make sure he got across.
“Every time he’s in there I feel confident in his decisions,” Line said. “He’s always composed, and that’s the kind of thing we like in the huddle.”
NOTES: Exactly five years ago, the Bears beat the Vikings here 40-10 on a wintry Monday night after an earlier snowstorm punctured the Metrodome roof and diverted the game to the University of Minnesota campus. That was Favre’s final game. ... Forte caught a late touchdown pass and finished with 57 yards on six receptions, to go with 47 yards rushing on eight attempts. ... Blair Walsh made a 53-yard field goal for Minnesota that bounced off the left upright and ricocheted through early in the second quarter.