Vikings beat Chicago to clinch first-round bye
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings' defense remains rock-solid, there were a few flaws in their offense and special teams revealed during Sunday's 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears.
Luckily for the Vikings, they will have an extra week to work on those things before opening the playoffs at home in two weeks.
The Vikings (13-3) clinched a first-round bye with the win over Chicago and may have spelled the end for Bears coach John Fox, who is widely expected to be dismissed after his team finished 5-11.
Minnesota was dominating on defense, as has become the calling card of these Vikings, holding Chicago to 201 yards of offense -- most of it in the second half when the result was no longer in doubt.
"You get to this point and have an opportunity to get a first-round bye is like winning two games if you can win this one," said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, who had his team's lone sack in the game. With the Super Bowl set to be played in Minnesota, the Vikings are eyeing a playoff run featuring three home games.
"It was huge for us to be able to come back here in our place, second round of the playoffs and hopefully have a chance to play playoffs throughout here."
Vikings running back Latavius Murray had a pair of touchdowns, while quarterback Case Keenum was 21 of 29 for 189 yards and one touchdown. Murray had 111 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, playing behind a patchwork offensive line, was 20 of 36 for 176 yards and was sacked once. He also gave up a safety.
"My hat's off to every guy in that locker room. They battled, they fought and we saw some more of that today," said Fox, who will be fired soon, according to multiple media reports. "The tale of our season is just not generating enough offensive points. The coaches did a good job of preparing, particularly on special teams."
Minnesota did what it could to eliminate any drama early, scoring touchdowns -- both via 1-yard runs by Murray -- on two of the Vikings' first three offensive possessions and taking a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Chicago's offense managed just one first down in its initial four possessions, but the Bears special teams got them on the board when Bryce Callahan returned a Minnesota punt 59 yards for a touchdown.
The Vikings got two more points before halftime, pressuring Trubisky in the end zone and forcing the rookie quarterback to throw the ball away. He was called for intentional grounding, which gave the Vikings a safety and a 16-7 lead. It was one of seven penalties for 91 yards whistled against Chicago in the first half, compared to just 53 yards of offense.
"Everybody was covered and I started to scramble a little bit and I was in the end zone," Trubisky said of the safety. "I thought I had a guy as a check down, so I flipped it to him but it was a lineman, not a receiver."
Keenum hit Stefon Diggs in the back of the end zone on Minnesota's final play of the third quarter for a 15-yard touchdown and a 23-7 lead. Chicago's offense finally scored with 8:22 to play via a 55-yard Mike Nugent field goal. Trubisky led two sustained fourth-quarter drives for Chicago, but got no points when the Bears failed to convert on fourth-and-goal plays from the 6-yard line and from the 2-yard line.
"I thought we played exceptionally on defense, the two goal-line stands and we did a good job in field position most of the day with special teams," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said after his team finished with the second-best record in franchise history for a 16-game season. "Offensively, we started fast and then we ended up messing up a little bit, getting some penalties, so those are some things we need to clean up."
Minnesota's last bye in the first round came in the 2010 playoffs. The Vikings beat Dallas at home and then lost at New Orleans in overtime of the NFC Championship Game.
NOTES: The Vikings encouraged fans to arrive a minimum of 45 minutes before kickoff to ensure they could get through security. Despite the minus-11 temperature outside at the start of the game, all fans were required to open their coats for inspection. ... Chicago was without regular offensive linemen Bobby Massie and Josh Sitton. ... John Fox's record in three seasons as the Bears head coach is 14-34. His first season in Chicago was his best, with a 6-10 record. ... Bryce Callahan's punt-return touchdown for Chicago was the first of his career. ... Vikings FB C.J. Ham left the game in the first half with a neck injury and did not return. He had one reception for 1 yard in the game.