A season that started with Super Bowl aspirations came to a crashing halt Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFC North champion Chicago Bears refused to let up, riding Jordan Howard for 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns and that relentless defense for a 24-10 victory over Minnesota that kept the rival Vikings out of the playoffs.
With the 24-0 win by Philadelphia at Washington, the Vikings (8-7-1) watched the Eagles claim the last wild-card spot and went home wondering what happened to their offense after signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million guaranteed to be the franchise quarterback.
Tarik Cohen scored the last touchdown on a short run with 7:46 left to cap a 16-play drive for the Bears (12-4), who posted their best regular-season record since the 2006 team finished 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. They've won nine of their last 10 games.
The Bears began the afternoon with an opportunity, albeit unlikely, to get a first-round bye with a victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams. Rookie head coach Matt Nagy was unmoved by the big early lead taken by the Rams, though, keeping quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the entire game and only holding out the starters who were already previously injured.
Trubisky moved the chains four times on third down during the game-sealing scoring drive, completing three passes and running once for a first down. He took a sack by Anthony Barr that would've forced a punt from the Minnesota 45, but a holding penalty on Vikings safety Jayron Kearse gave Chicago a fresh set of downs.
After spending the majority of the last two decades trying to keep up with Green Bay, the Vikings have overtaken the Packers only to have their other primary rival the Bears surge to the top of the division. Whether Cousins or Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings under coach Mike Zimmer have had plenty of trouble moving the ball against the Bears.
Once again, they were out of sync against Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and the rest of that defense, which established a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed in one season. Done in by three-and-outs on their first four possessions, the Vikings finished with only 164 total yards.
Cousins and Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen were in a heated argument on the sideline after the Vikings had to settle for a field goal at the end of the second quarter. Zimmer almost cost the Vikings a touchdown when he challenged the spot of a reception by Dalvin Cook, who stepped out of bounds right at the marker. Cousins sneaked for the first down on fourth-and-1, only to have the play blown dead by the red flag. Cook was able to get the first down on the next play.
Stefon Diggs, who went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his four-year career, caught a short touchdown pass right after that.
The Bears now host the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs, next Saturday or Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Vikings stay home for the playoffs for the third time in five seasons under Zimmer.