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Vikings vs. Bears Week 17: Five Game-Changing Plays

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Looking back at the season-ending 24-10 loss to Chicago.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Well, that sucked.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, it was the perfect ending to the 2018 Minnesota Vikings season.

It had all the tropes we had grown accustomed to over the past four months, especially when facing a talented opponent. The defense allowed an easy early score, then did well enough to keep the Vikings hanging around for most of the game. We kept waiting for Kirk Cousins and all the talented skill position players to get going, but the offensive breakthrough never happened. (On Sunday, not even for the patented garbage time drives that made the overall numbers look respectable.) The offensive line was a mess. Every time the Vikings were presented with an opportunity to seize control of their destiny, they failed to do so.

And so a season that started with so much hope and promise ended with a fittingly unspectacular thud on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. All the Vikings needed to do was take care of business at home. They had to beat a Chicago Bears team that was only mildly interested in winning after their postseason seeding was determined fairly early in the contest. If the Vikings had, you know, maybe got a first down before halfway through the second quarter, perhaps Chicago would have called off the Bears dogs and started preparing for a very winnable rematch in the Wild Card round.

Instead, the offense put up a season-low 164 yards while allowing four sacks and 24 total pressures. While the defense managed to keep the game close for much of the day, they didn’t exactly bring their A-game either. They allowed the Bears to convert 8 of 14 third downs, didn’t sack Mitchell Trubisky once, and were carved up for 169 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, and three touchdowns on the ground. Chicago had no choice but to snuff out their division rival on Sunday; their superiority on both sides of the ball was that blatantly evident throughout the game.

Suddenly, we have been thrust into the painful chasm that is the NFL offseason much earlier than we anticipated. Today is the last day of the 2018 calendar, but fans of teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason will face months of anguish and debate before anything meaningful happens in 2019. The league year doesn’t start until mid-March. The NFL Draft isn’t until late April. Training Camp starts in late July. And the next game that actually counts for the Vikings isn’t for another eight-plus months. So before we embark on the agony of the offseason, let’s take one final look back at the torment we endured. It’s our final chapter of looking back at the most important plays of the game.

Play 1: Bears ball, 2nd & 3 at the Chicago 36. First quarter, 13:39 remaining. J.Howard right tackle ran ob at MIN 22 for 42 yards (D.Hunter).

After the Vikings had taken a whopping 36 seconds off the clock in their game-opening three-and-out, the Bears did this on their second play of the game.

It took the Vikings 21 offensive plays and 28 minutes of game time to equal what Jordan Howard gained on this single run—42 yards. Four plays later, the Bears were up 7-0 after Howard scored his first of two touchdowns. Trubisky passed one time for nine yards on the drive. Once again, a poor first drive from the defense while the offense did next to nothing was an awful opening act.

The Vikings defense held firm for the next two Chicago drives, but as we had seen all too often this season, that didn’t matter much. The Vikings offense still couldn’t even muster a first down on their next three drives, much less points. With just under ten minutes left in the first half, the Bears caught a break that helped them break the game open.

Play 2: Bears ball, 3rd & 11 at the Chicago 24. Second quarter, 9:48 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass incomplete deep left to J.Bellamy [S.Weatherly]. PENALTY on MIN-S.Weatherly, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at CHI 24 - No Play.

Before this play, Chicago’s offense looked in disarray. After taking a delay of game penalty, the Bears were forced to take a timeout in order to avoid moving back another five yards. The home crowd was in a frenzy. It looked like the Vikings were about to get the ball back with good field position in a one-score game after Trubisky sailed a deep pass over Josh Bellamy.

But instead of the Bears punting back to the Vikings, Stephen Weatherly was called for roughing the passer after this “vicious” “late” hit:

Weatherly was attempting to hold up from walloping Trubisky as he was throwing the ball, but the officials somehow interpreted his actions as a penalty. OK then. It kept the drive alive, and Trubisky didn’t miss on his next deep shot down the left sideline just five plays later.

Play 3: Bears ball, 3rd & 7 at the Minnesota 41. Second quarter, 7:43 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass deep left to T.Gabriel for 41 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the runner was not down by contact ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass deep left to T.Gabriel to MIN 1 for 40 yards (H.Hill).

Trubisky didn’t have an incredibly impressive game overall, but it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the better quarterback on Sunday. This incredible throw to Taylor Gabriel was certainly better than anything Cousins did.

The play was originally called a touchdown, but after review Gabriel was ruled to be down at the 1 yard line. Howard scored on the next play to give the Bears a 13-0 lead. Vikings fans can complain about the call that led to this play all they want, but they still have to give credit to the Bears for taking advantage with a huge play like this on third down.

There was still plenty of time for a comeback at this point, but the Vikings hadn’t won any of the previous seven games were they were down by double digits at any time in 2018. Even though the Bears were up two scores before the Vikings even had a first down, Minnesota still had a chance to get within a touchdown late in the first half.

They did not.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 3rd & 6 at the Chicago 27. Second quarter, 1:03 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to A.Thielen.

Sure, the Bears have a great defense. Sure, you have an interim Offensive Coordinator in his third game on the job. But if you’re Cousins and Adam Thielen, you have been working together for five full months now. You have connected on over 100 passes this season. So how, on a crucial third down in a must-win Week 17 game, are you this far apart on which route you think will be run?

The Vikings had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal, but the real fireworks came after the offense went to the sideline.

Cousins and Thielen had a heated conversation about the play, including an impromptu clinic in route running from Cousins:

I have zero problem with teammates getting after it the sidelines, especially when it appears to be constructive and not just bitching at each other. But the miscommunication on the field and subsequent argument off of it were excellent microcosms of the entire season for the Vikings offense. For whatever reason, they could never consistently get on the same page, especially when it mattered most.

Still, even after all this turmoil and disappointment, the Vikings trailed by only three points heading into the fourth quarter. Minnesota finally pieced together a touchdown drive—with some help from two huge defensive penalties by the Bears on third down—capped off by a two yard pass to Stefon Diggs. Just one more big stop from the defense, and who knows? Maybe the Vikings could steal this one and sneak into the postseason after all. Crazier things have happened, right?

Play 5: Bears ball, 3rd & 7 at the Minnesota 17. Fourth quarter, 9:07 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass short left to J.Wims pushed ob at MIN 8 for 9 yards (H.Hill).

Nope.

The Bears marched 16 plays for 75 yards in a drive that spanned 9:05 over two quarters and included five third down conversions. This pass from Trubisky to Javon Wims was the final third down conversion, which led to a touchdown from Tarik Cohen two plays later. Matt Nagy rubbed Mike Zimmer’s nose in it by going for two after the score, and the Bears were back up by 11 points with less than eight minutes to go. Game, set, season.

It feels a little unfair to put four Vikings defensive plays out of the five we listed this week. To be honest, it’s hard for your offense to have an “important” play when they did next to nothing for 60 minutes. There wasn’t even the signature game-sealing turnover to include this time around. I suppose I could have included one of Cousins’ deep passes that wasn’t even in the zip code of its intended target, but that would have been more for comedic purposes. It was simply a thorough domination by a deserving NFC North champion against a paper tiger petering out in their final game.

Sigh. There’s always next year. Or something.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Poll

What was the most important play of the Vikings’ season-ending loss to the Bears?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Howard’s big run to set up the opening score
    (72 votes)
  • 50%
    The roughing the passer call on Weatherly
    (255 votes)
  • 7%
    Trubisky’s bomb to Gabriel
    (37 votes)
  • 11%
    Cousins and Thielen not on the same page
    (57 votes)
  • 14%
    Chicago’s third down conversion on their 16-play drive
    (72 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (14 votes)
507 votes total Vote Now