CHICAGO – The Minnesota Vikings have little margin for error and plenty of room to improve as they try to secure a playoff spot.
Not that Kirk Cousins needed a reminder. Or, for that matter, coach Mike Zimmer.
Cousins threw two touchdown passes, and Minnesota beat the struggling and short-handed Chicago Bears 17-9 on Monday night.
The Vikings (7-7), part of a tight pack of teams vying for one of the NFC’s seven playoff spots, were in line for their most lopsided win before Justin Fields threw a touchdown pass to Jesper Horsted on the game’s final play.
That score aside, Minnesota withstood several scoring threats by Chicago down the stretch coming off a win over Pittsburgh in which the Vikings nearly blew a 29-0 lead.
“I think we have work,” Cousins said. “I think there is a lot to improve upon. We’re playing three really good opponents up ahead. We’re probably going to need everyone, so there is not a lot of room for error and we have to tighten the screws here and play our best football down the stretch.”
The Vikings' final three games are at home against the Los Angeles Rams and at NFC North champion Green Bay before they host Chicago in the finale. The result in this one was hardly a surprise given the state of the Bears (4-10).
Chicago lost for the eighth time in nine games, and with 14 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, that seemed inevitable. Receiver Allen Robinson was on it, as was the starting secondary.
The health issues also hit the coaching staff, with all three coordinators testing positive for the coronavirus during the week. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai was cleared to return hours before kickoff. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was not cleared, so Nagy called plays. And special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was out.
Cousins, who struggled last week, didn’t exactly dominate in this one. He was 12 of 24 for 87 yards with an interception and got sacked four times. The two-time Pro Bowler also connected with Justin Jefferson for a 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw a 7-yarder to Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the third.
Dalvin Cook ran for 89 yards, after going for 205 against Pittsburgh in a sooner-than-expected return from a dislocated shoulder.
D.J. Wonnum had a career-high three sacks and the Vikings recovered three fumbles on the way to their second straight win after back-to-back losses.
“It's not just playing better, it's getting better," Zimmer said. "It's getting better in the run defense, getting better in the pass coverage, it's getting better in protection. It's getting better in running the ball. It's all those things. We're trying to get better so we can get to that spot where we've got to get to.”
For the Bears and their fans, it was another frustrating outing.
Fields threw for 285 yards and ran for 35 in his second game back after missing two with broken ribs. The rookie completed 26 of 39 passes playing behind a line missing both starting tackles, with right tackle Larry Borom on the COVID list and left tackle Jason Peters out with an ankle injury.
Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks each had two sacks. Quinn has 16 this year, leaving him just shy of Hall of Famer Richard Dent’s franchise record of 17 1/2 in 1984.
But Chicago committed nine penalties for 91 yards in a sloppy performance that had fans again booing at times and making their feelings about coach Matt Nagy known, chanting “Fire Nagy!”
“That’s been the story, that’s been the story of the year,” Fields said. “It’s just us shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we eliminate those penalties, sacks on my part where I should just throw the ball away, throw the ball down to the ground — once we eliminate those, we start seeing more points come up on the board and have more success. I thought our whole defense played great tonight and put us in a position to win.”
A riled up Nagy got called for unsportsmanlike conduct between the first and second quarters, when he made his feelings clear to the officials about a penalty against safety Deon Bush.
The penalty against Bush happened near the end of the opening quarter when Cousins tried to connect with Tyler Conklin down the middle. The pass incomplete and Bush got called for a late hit on the tight end.
Referee Scott Novak told a pool reporter Nagy was penalized for "inappropriate language towards the official.” He wouldn't reveal what the Bears' coach said.
“When it crosses a line and it’s inappropriate, then that’s when we throw a flag,” Novak said.
Nagy's penalty gave the Vikings a first down at the Chicago 12 to start the second quarter. They settled for a field goal, making it 10-0.
Minnesota's Eric Kendricks got ejected in the fourth quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a sliding Fields.
Vikings: No injuries were reported.
Bears: WR/PR Jakeem Grant Sr. (concussion) exited in the first half.
Vikings: Host the Rams on Sunday.
Bears: Visit Seattle on Sunday.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL