MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had no interest in reflection, still stung by several narrow losses in his eighth year that kept his team out of the playoffs and rendered irrelevant this season-ending win over Chicago.
Down the hall, Bears coach Matt Nagy was more introspective in defeat. With both of them in danger of being fired, though, the conclusion was the same. The decision isn't theirs, and the record doesn't lie.
Kirk Cousins passed for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the second half to lead a Vikings comeback to beat the Bears 31-17 on Sunday in a pad-the-stats game between eliminated teams.
Afterward, Zimmer stopped for a photo with co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson, his longtime colleague, before waving to fans as he walked off the field. Zimmer, who has two years remaining on his contract, said he had not been informed about his status for 2022.
The victory gave Zimmer a 72-56-1 record in eight years, including 2-3 in the playoffs. The Vikings have missed the postseason in three of the past four years.
“I appreciate the way this team goes about their business, the way they work, the way they represent the team, the way they represent the organization, the way they come out to practice every day, the way they go in the weight room, go in the meetings,” Zimmer said.
Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn had touchdown catches in the fourth quarter for the Vikings (8-9), who outscored the Bears 28-3 after halftime.
“Bittersweet to end this way, but it kind of is what it is, you know?” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “It’s been a pleasure being a Viking for the last eight years. I’m not too sure what the future holds, but whatever it is, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Minnesota.”
Barr and D.J. Wonnum each had two of Minnesota’s seven sacks of Andy Dalton, who went 33 for 48 for 325 yards and a touchdown pass to Damien Williams that gave the Bears a 14-0 lead.
Darnell Mooney had 12 catches for 126 yards to pass the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the Bears (6-11), who are 30-35 in four seasons under Nagy without a win in the playoffs.
“I’ve never been in this position before. I continue to just go about business like normal. I mean that,” Nagy said. “I know this, whatever is supposed to happen will happen. I’m a positive person.”
FOURTH DOWN FAILS
Nagy elected to go for it on fourth down six times, with only one conversion. Andy Dalton took sacks on three of the first four of those plays for 35 lost yards, with two of those on fourth-and-1. He also threw a fourth down interception late in the fourth quarter, when Patrick Peterson picked him off for a 66-yard touchdown return.
The Bears had seven possessions over the first three quarters and reached at least the Minnesota 35 on each one, but they had one touchdown and three field goals by Cairo Santos to show for it.
On their first drive of the second half, Dalton scrambled on third-and-8 for what was initially ruled a touchdown. The replay review reversed the call with his knee down just short of the goal line. Then Barr chased Dalton down for a 15-yard loss after he looped around behind the line of scrimmage looking for an open receiver.
Dalton, the 11-year veteran, made his sixth start of the season. Rookie Justin Fields landed on the COVID-19 reserve list this week.
“There’s a good thing going here right now, and there’s a really good franchise quarterback that’s here that’s going to be good for a long time,” said Nagy, whose boss, general manager Ryan Pace, is also uncertain to return. "Both Ryan and I were a part of that.”
COUSINS AND COMPANY
The Vikings netted 15 yards on their first 15 plays, but Cousins found his first spark with a 40-yard completion to rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette to set up a field goal on the final play of the first half.
Smith-Marsette had 103 yards and a touchdown, and Jefferson finished with 107 yards — leaving him 17 yards short of setting the single-season franchise record. Randy Moss set the 16-game mark with 1,632 yards in 2003.
The crowd chanted “Let's go, Justin!” when the Vikings took the ball for the last time, booing when they knelt down to end the game rather than giving Jefferson another chance at the record.
Cousins passed the 4,000-yard mark for the sixth time in seven seasons as a starter.
Bears: DT Akiem Hicks (ankle), who created the usual havoc for Minnesota's offense in the previous matchup on Dec. 20, was out for a seventh game this season.
Vikings: LB Eric Kendricks sat out on COVID-19 reserve. DT Michael Pierce (illness) missed his second straight game and was inactive nine times this season. CB Mackensie Alexander (ankle) and CB Kris Boyd (ribs) were both out.
Bears: Already locked into third place, Chicago will play the following third-place finishers in 2022: Houston and San Francisco at home and at New Orleans or Atlanta. The entire AFC East and NFC East divisions are also on the schedule for all NFC North teams. The Bears sent their first-round draft pick to the New York Giants for last year's trade up to get Fields.
Vikings: By finishing second, Minnesota will face Indianapolis and the Los Angeles Rams or Arizona at home and play at New Orleans or Atlanta.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Dave Campbell, The Associated Press