Vikings finish season by upending lowly Bears
By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has plenty of sayings. Two of his favorites summed up Sunday's finale and the 2014 season for the Vikings. Zimmer loves to talk about the "next man up'' w...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has plenty of sayings. Two of his favorites summed up Sunday’s finale and the 2014 season for the Vikings.
Zimmer loves to talk about the “next man up’’ when there is an injury. He regularly calls the NFL a “survival of the fittest.’’
Minnesota has been battered all season by injuries and star running back Adrian Peterson missing the final 15 games because of a child-abuse incident. So it figured that for the first time Zimmer could remember in his 21 NFL years he had a team dress out just four linebackers.
The Vikings also dressed just two running backs. And they were thin at wide receiver due to an injury and shaky play.
Never mind. The Vikings overcame it all to beat Chicago 13-9 at TCF Bank Stadium to finish Zimmer’s initial season 7-9.
“I do think that in the NFL this is a survival of the fittest each and every week,’’ Zimmer said. “We’re not the only team to have to deal with injuries and other issues. We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back for that, but it’s good for guys to come in there and (seize) the opportunities to go do some things.’’
The most notable understudy on offense was wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was on practice squad last year and had just five catches entering Sunday. Thielen, with Jarius Wright knocked out with a back injury and Cordarrelle Patterson benched after bobbling a ball in the third quarter that led to an interception, caught three passes for 68 yards.
Thielen’s 44-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter from Teddy Bridgewater was the first of his career. It put the Vikings up for good at 10-6.
“It was awesome,’’ Thielen said. “That’s how the NFL works. You might not get a lot of opportunities, but when you do you got to make the most of them.’’
A guy on defense who did that was linebacker Audie Cole, who started for Chad Greenway, out with a knee injury. After being in for just 30 snaps from scrimmage all season, Cole led the Vikings with 14 tackles.
“I want to make every tackle I can make,’’ he said. “I want 30 every game.’’
Another guy who stepped up when needed was running back Matt Asiata, the third guy to start at the position this season. Although Asiata has played a lot, his 91 yards on 19 carries were very important considering he and Joe Banyard were the only running backs active.
At quarterback, Bridgewater is someone the Vikings now almost always can count on. The rookie completed 17 of 25 passes for 209 yards.
“Great way to end the season, get my first division win,’’ Bridgewater said. “It’s good to end the season on a high note and head into the offseason with a lot of momentum.’’
The Vikings had been 0-5 against the NFC North. The win gave them third place in the division.
Despite all the injuries and not having Peterson, Zimmer steered the Vikings to a mark 1½ games better than last year’s 5-10-1 under Leslie Frazier. Zimmer had downplayed the need to close with a win, but came clean after Sunday’s game.
“I was lying about all of that,’’ he said. “(A win) may give you a good feeling about going into next year.’’
Still, it was hardly the prettiest victory. While Thielen had the only game’s only touchdown, three were overturned.
One was a 35-yard pass from Bridgewater to Jennings in the first quarter, with replays showing Jennings dropped the ball. Blair Walsh then kicked his first of two field goals for a 3-0 lead.
Chicago had two TDs nullified, both early in the third quarter. The first came with the score tied 3-3 after Bridgewater’s pass to Patterson was bobbled and picked off by Kyle Fuller, who ran 40 yards into the end zone.
Replays showed Bridgewater got enough of a tackle on Fuller that his knee touched at the Vikings’ 9. Later, Bridgewater, perhaps wanting to take heat off the beleaguered wide receiver, said it was a “poor throw.’’
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler then threw what was called a 7-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery, but replays showed he only got one foot down. That set the stage for a 25-yard field goal by Jay Feely for a 6-3 Bears lead.
The lead lasted barely two minutes as Thielen took a long pass down the right side for his TD. With the Vikings leading 13-6 early in the fourth quarter, Thielen saved what could have been a tying touchdown by dragging Chicago’s Marc Mariani down at the Minnesota 35 after a 67-yard return.
The Bears (5-11) then managed just a Feely field goal as Cutler continued to be ineffective. He completed just 23 of 36 passes for 172 yards.
Cutler’s future with Chicago is in doubt. As for coach Marc Trestman, he could be fired as soon as Monday.
Zimmer, meanwhile, is brimming with optimism about next season. He probably won’t mind, though, if he doesn’t need as many unheralded players to step up.
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