With how the rest of the NFC playoff teams fared on Sunday, the Vikings didn’t need to beat the Chicago Bears in the regular season finale to clinch a first-round bye. But it sure felt pretty damn good to do it anyway.
Minnesota completed their second best regular season in franchise history, putting John Fox and the last-place Bears out of their misery by a score of 23-10 at US Bank Stadium. The Vikings capped off their 13-3 season in the same building they’ll host their next game: the Divisional playoffs on Sunday, January 14 at 3:40 PM. By the time that game kicks off, we’ll know whether the Vikings would need to head to Philadelphia the following week with a win. If the Eagles do slip up the day before, there’s a chance the Vikings could be three home games away from their first ever Lombardi Trophy.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The NFC playoff bracket is absolutely loaded this year. The team that comes to Minnesota in 12 days will be a tough out regardless of how Wild Card weekend shakes out. We’ll have plenty of time to break down that matchup once it’s set; for now let’s take our final look back at the regular season and the five biggest plays from Sunday’s game.
Play 1: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Chicago 40. First quarter, 11:08 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass short right to S.Diggs pushed ob at CHI 14 for 26 yards (E.Jackson).
After the Vikings defense stopped Chicago for a three-and-out on their opening drive, the offense got to work right away.
As we have seen dozens of times this season, the Vikings ran the crossing rub routes with Kyle Rudolph and one of the wide receivers with great results. The Bears actually defended this one pretty well, but Stefon Diggs gave Adrian Amos (the second-best safety in the league behind Harrison Smith according to Pro Football Focus) a great stiff arm and tightrope walked the sideline to put the Vikings in the red zone. Three Latavius Murray runs later, the Vikings took another early lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
If it seems like Diggs has been a lot better at home this season, it’s because he has. Check out his home/road splits from 2017:
Stefon Diggs 2017 home/road splits
Let’s hope the trend continues in two weeks for Diggs. He will be an integral part of the Vikings’ success on offense.
Play 2: Vikings ball, first & goal at the Chicago 1. Second quarter, 9:34 remaining. (Run formation) A.Collins reported in as eligible. L.Murray left guard for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
After Bryce Callahan was called for his second long pass interference penalty of the day on a pass to Jarius Wright, Murray punched in his second touchdown of the day on first and goal from the 1.
David Morgan motioned from right to left, and Murray followed a C.J. Ham block off left guard to sneak across the goal line. That play should have looked familiar, because it was basically a carbon copy of Murray’s first touchdown:
Those of you that have followed my work throughout the years know what an emphasis I put on creativity and misdirection on short-yardage and goal-to-go situations. Neither of these plays were particularly creative, especially compared to what Pat Shurmur has pulled out at other times throughout the season.
But the fact that they still worked was very important—the Vikings capitalized on their red zone opportunities while Shurmur was able to keep some tricks in his bag for the playoffs. More innovation might be required later on, so it was nice to keep that under wraps this week.
Play 3: Vikings ball, 4th & 9 at the Minnesota 16. Second quarter, 6:05 remaining. (Punt formation) R.Quigley punts 43 yards to CHI 41, Center-J.Overbaugh. B.Callahan for 59 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
In two games against the Vikings in 2017, the Chicago Bears scored three touchdowns. One went directly through the hands of Andrew Sendejo. The other two came on punts.
For the second time in as many games against the Vikings, the Bears used special teams trickery to get their first touchdown. In Week 5, it was a fake punt; this time it was a “fake” return. Tarik Cohen dummied taking a fair catch while Callahan fielded the punt on the other side of the field, running untouched to the end zone. The Vikings were absolutely dominating the game yet it was still a one-score game late in the second quarter.
To be honest, I’m glad the Vikings got fooled by this Week 17; hopefully it will make them less susceptible to such plays in the postseason. Because I don’t know if I could handle a play like this being the difference in a playoff game. I’ve had enough special teams playoff woes for one lifetime, thank you very much.
Play 4: Bears ball, 2nd & 13 at the Chicago 9. Second quarter, 2:32 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass incomplete short right [L.Joseph]. PENALTY on CHI-M.Trubisky, Intentional Grounding, 9 yards, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY. The Replay Official reviewed the safety ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field stands.
DANCE DANCE DANCE!
This definitely was not the finest moment of Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season. But if Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter were chasing after me unblocked, I’d probably go full Dan Orlovsky too.
If the Vikings do end up reaching their ultimate goals, it will be largely because of the relentless and deep defense Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have assembled in Minnesota. Even if the offense sputters in the coming weeks, they’ll never be out of it thanks to a defense that has game-changing playmakers at every level. This safety gave the Vikings more breathing room heading into halftime, and the defense clamped down for the remainder of the contest to make the second half largely ineluctable.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 2nd & 9 at the Chicago 15. Third quarter, 0:20 remaining. C.Keenum pass short middle to S.Diggs for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Game, set, match, bye, clinched.
Two staples of the 2017 Vikings offense—play action and a Diggs post route—sealed their 13th victory and a first-round bye. This was textbook execution by everyone involved. For the third straight game, the Vikings took care of business and put away a team they were supposed to beat. That’s what good teams do.
We already talked about how the Vikings defense will keep them in games regardless of opponent. If Keenum and the offense can continue to make enough plays when the opportunities arise, we could be watching something special unfold over the next month. As always, we welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. If you think we missed a few others that should have been included, please add them in the comments.
What was the most important play of the Vikings’ win over the Bears?
This poll is closed
Keenum to Diggs to set up the first score
Murray’s carbon-copy second TD
Chicago’s punt return TD
Other (comment below)