It took just a couple minutes and a total of five plays late in the first half to turn the tide in favor of the Vikings, who improved to 7-5.
Fortunately for the Bears, as they try to make up the one-game difference with just four to play, they have the easier schedule, including three straight at home, starting with Sunday's matchup against the disappointing Jaguars.
The 6-6 Bears appeared in charge for much of the first half Sunday night, but the momentum and the lead turned in a hurry. On the verge of taking a 14-3 lead, the Bears instead found themselves trailing 10-7 in the blink of an eye.
First, the offense blew an ideal scoring opportunity when it failed to get any points from first-and-goal at the Vikings' 1-yard line, which was set up by a 26-yard Matt Forte run. But after an incomplete pass, runs by Forte and fullback Jason Davis failed to reach the end zone. On fourth down, the Bears disdained a field-goal attempt, but Forte was stopped short of the goal line again.
The failure by the offense was immediately made much worse when, on the Vikings' first play, Gus Frerotte launched a bomb down the left sideline that caught former Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian in stride for a 99-yard touchdown and a 10-7 Minnesota lead 4:48 before halftime.
"It's amazing what a shift in momentum can do," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You've got to be able to get the ball in on four tries from the one. If you can't get it in from there, you don't deserve to win. And you can't let them have a 99-yard touchdown pass."
But the Bears aren't conceding the division title yet.
"It's not in our control anymore, but we still control what we do the last four games," Orton said. "We have to win them all."
The Bears have the easiest remaining schedule with three straight home games, against the Jaguars (4-7), Saints (6-6) and Packers (5-7), before ending the regular season against the Texans (4-7) in Houston. The Vikings are on the road against the Lions (0-12) and Cardinals (7-5) and then at home against the Falcons (8-4) and Giants (11-1).
That doesn't make Sunday's loss any easier to swallow.
"We controlled our own destiny before (Sunday) night," Smith said. "Now we need a little help."
On the fateful 99-yard play, safety Kevin Payne broke toward the opposite sideline from Berrian just after the snap, leaving cornerback Charles Tillman alone with Bernard. Just before Frerotte's release, Tillman also broke toward the middle of the field, leaving Berrian alone with his thoughts and the longest touchdown pass in Vikings history.
"I can't say it wasn't my fault," Tillman said. "It was great execution on their part."
"It was three-deep coverage," Smith said. "We just didn't play it well."
Defensive coordinator Bob Babich was at a loss to explain what Tillman and Payne were reacting to on the play.
"Without watching tape, I don't know exactly what they saw," Babich said. "I can't speak for them. It was just a deep ball that got over our heads, and it's very disappointing."
The Vikings also gashed the Bears defense with the running of Adrian Peterson, as usual. He had exactly 100 yards by halftime and finished with 131 on 28 carries.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't win many games when you throw three picks. We have to make more plays in the passing game. I have to make more plays." — Bears QB Kyle Orton.
BY THE NUMBERS: QB Kyle Orton threw 206 passes without an interception, but then he threw three in the span of seven passes in the second half of Sunday night's 34-14 loss to the Vikings.