Sunday, November 1, 2015

Notebook: Vikings end a Windy City drought, pick up a gritty 23-20 win over Chicago

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The Vikings beat the Bears in Chicago for the first time since 2007 and improved to 3-0 in the NFC North. It was a tough start for Minnesota, but they managed to pull off a gritty last-second 23-20 road win.

Updated: November 1st, 2015 5:50pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings didn't make it easy and it took every second of the game, but they managed to beat the Bears in Chicago for the first time since 2007. It certainly wasn't pretty early in this contest, however, the win was truly earned in the final minutes. Until the fourth quarter, the only touchdown the Vikings  had under their belt was a 65-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels. The play was beautifully blocked  by the return unit and Sherels reached the end zone untouched. Nonetheless, all the Vikings offense could add in the first half was a field goal to extend their lead to 10-3. A critical interception by Teddy Bridgewater before halftime gave the Bears life and led to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Alshon Jeffery. This was a huge momentum swing as the game was tied heading into halftime. 

Coming out of the break, it looked as if they Vikings defense might bend and break. They allowed a 33-yard Robbie Gould field goal and later surrendered a 14-play, 74-yard drive, which was capped by a 4-yard Jay Cutler rushing touchdown. All the Vikings offense could do was add field goals and the Bears led 20-13 with with 4:55 remaining. Nonetheless, despite a rough game from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, he managed to bounce back when it mattered most. On the drive following the Cutler rushing touchdown, he marched the Vikings on a 7-play, 84-yard drive, to tie the game. The most notable highlight was rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs stepping up to make another huge contribution. Diggs hauled in a 40-yard touchdown reception and made a fantastic run after the catch to tie the game. The Bears had the ball with 1:49 left, but a critical drop by running back Jeremy Langford resulted in a Chicago punt. 

With a minute left, the Vikings had the ball in their hands with a chance to win the contest. Bridgewater found Charles Johnson deep up the field and he corralled a fantastic 35-yard jump-ball catch in traffic that put the Vikings in field goal range. Finally, Blair Walsh lined up from 36 yards out and made the game-winning kick as time expired. It ended the seven-year losing streak in Chicago, while improving the Vikings to 5-2 overall and more importantly, 3-0 in the division. This was a gritty team win that might not have been pretty, but the squad proved they can win when they face adversity. That's something that hasn't been associated with Vikings football for a very long time. 

Bridgewater struggles, but figures it out when it matters most

Teddy Bridgewater had a rough day, but he fought through the adversity to lead his team on a game-winning drive. His connection with Stefon Diggs for the equalizing score was huge as he stepped in the pocket and made the throw. Not to mention, the gutsy pass into traffic for Charles Johnson was even more notable. He had limited vision on the play and managed to loft the ball into a spot where only Johnson could come down with it. Bridgewater's inability to connect with his receivers early in the contest, along with an interception before halftime were very critical mistakes. What's more, he missed a wide-open Mike Wallace, who had 10 yards on the defensive back up the sideline. Nonetheless, he didn't let this put a damper on the remainder of his performance. He led his team on two critical drives to get them into a position to win. Overall, his performance might not have been his best, but he still managed to lead his team to a gusty win on a field they hadn't won on for seven seasons. 

Diggs flashes again and Johnson makes a huge contested catch

Stefon Diggs is making an impact every week and it's great to see. His ability to get open and make fantastic plays after the catch is unparalleled for a player with his experience level. Diggs is a seasoned route runner who can get open on any defensive back. Today, his 40-yard touchdown reception was the most critical play of the game. He got open and made two fantastic moves to fight his way into the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game. However, maybe a more important catch was Charles Johnson's in traffic on the next drive. He made the contested grab that put the Vikings into field goal range with seconds remaining. Johnson didn't play very much, but took advantage of the most important snap he was on the field. Finally, it's worth mentioning Mike Wallace's two drops that would have moved the chains earlier in the game. He's struggled with this during certain stretches of the season, but was open for a long touchdown that Bridgewater overthrew. As a whole, the Vikings have plenty of weapons through the air and when Adrian Peterson rushes for over 100 yards, that only makes everything better. The offensive line blocked well for Peterson and Zach Line had one of his best run blocking games. The pass protection was slightly better, but there is still room for improvement in this avenue. 

The defense is playing strong, while making tough tackles

The Vikings defense just keeps getting it done. They've managed to bend, but not break in almost every game this season. They've surrendered 20 points or less to opposing offense's in every game but one this season. After allowing a long touchdown drive at the start of the fourth quarter, they managed to stay strong, as they forced a punt on Chicago's final drive of the game. What I've liked most about the Vikings defense lately has been their tackling. Everyone is swarming to the ball and making the plays. Terence Newman and Eric Kendricks made several nice tackles in space as they both led the team with six stops each. Teams aren't cracking off big plays against the group and each score has been earned. 

Danielle Hunter saw plenty of action today in third down rushing situations. He made the most of this playing time, notching a sack and one tackle, while forcing a holding call on a running play. In fact, Mike Zimmer had Hunter standing up as he rushed the quarterback on third down. Rookies are making huge contributions on both sides of the ball and that's good news for the future of this team. The pass rush could have been better today as Jay Cutler was sacked just once in front of a make-shift offensive line. However, today's effort was enough to pick up a much-needed win. In closing, Linval Joseph was an animal on the final drive, making two huge run stops, while pressuring Cutler into an overthrow on the next play. He continues to be a major bright spot this season. 

Injuries piling up on both sides of the ball

I don't think the Vikings are going to like looking at the injury report this week. There were small injuries happening all over. Offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings suffered a stinger and missed a series, but later returned. Throughout this game, Everson Griffen was battling a neck/shoulder injury that limited his snaps. Eric Kendricks took a shot and exited for a few plays, but returned for the remainder of the game. Finally, Teddy Bridgewater withstood a low shot and was showing a considerable gimp on the final drive of the game. They'll probably be small injuries that will emerge this week, but it appears any major issues were dodged. That's good news as it certainly wasn't the case throughout the league today. 

Vikings are winning on the road and in the division

According to Vikings PR extraordinaire Sam Newton, the last time the Vikings had back-to-back road division wins in consecutive weeks was 1998. The Vikings knocked off the Bears in Chicago 31-28 and the Packers 37-24 in Green Bay. This stretch of five games was huge for the Vikings moving forward. So far, they're 3-0, picking up two road divisional wins. Next week, they'll have a tough home matchup with the St. Louis Rams. The defense will need to be ready to handle running back Todd Gurley, who has notched 100+ yard performances in each of his first four starts. Being 5-2 and having a 3-0 record in the NFC North is huge for a young team that is battling for a playoff spot. In a lackluster NFC thus far, the Vikings are aligning themselves well in the race. 

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