MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Vikings have won a whole bunch of games since their previous matchup with Chicago—a steady march to become NFC North champions that has put plenty of distance between the playoffs they're about to enter and that ugly first half they played against the Bears.
That's precisely where their path to the post-season began to straighten out.
When Case Keenum replaced the ailing Sam Bradford again at quarterback, the Vikings steered themselves back on course that night of Oct. 9 for a 20-17 victory that was the first of eight-straight.
For as much as coaches and players speak about the clichéd one-game-at-a-time focus, momentum can be an undeniable force.
“It was big,” said wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who hobbled through that game with a groin injury.
“I wouldn't say really like a turning point, but definitely some momentum moving into the rest of the season that no matter how we've got to do it, we can get a 'W' and finish,” he noted.
The Vikings had fallen to 2-2 at the quarter point of the season—stinging from a 14-7 defeat at home by Detroit made possible by three lost fumbles and made worse by the season-ending ACL tear to running back Dalvin Cook's knee suffered that afternoon.
After missing the three previous games with knee trouble, Bradford was cleared to return against the Bears.
But he clearly wasn't right. Bradford was sacked four times, and the Vikings totalled just 34 yards on six possessions while he was in the game.
Keenum took over again late in the second quarter and, 10 wins later, has the Vikings on a Super Bowl track that could have been wrecked by the absence of two of the team's most vital players.
“It was that stretch that we talk about,” said wide receiver Adam Thielen.
“Every game seemed like a bigger game.”
This rematch with the Bears (5-10) on Sunday has proven to be just as important for the Vikings (12-3).
With a win in this final regular-season game, they'll secure the No. 2 seed for the NFC playoffs that comes with a first-round bye.
That's basically a bonus victory, and the Vikings have been treating this scenario accordingly.
“The biggest thing is the confidence that this team is playing with,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said.
“We feel like if we take care of our business and we play the style of football that we're accustomed to, it doesn't matter who we play, when we play, where we play,” he noted.
“It's just how we play.”
The Vikings also can get the coveted bye with an assist from any of three other teams: New Orleans beating Tampa Bay on the road, Atlanta beating Carolina at home, or L.A. beating San Francisco at home.
Just one of those would need to happen. That's quite the safety net the Vikings have no desire to use.
“We don't want to get any help from anyone,” Rudolph stressed.
"We want to go out and take care of our business, play well, continue to ride this momentum into the playoffs.
“The last thing you want to do is limp into the playoffs coming off of a loss,” he noted.
“We want to go out and play well, and end this season the right way.”