By DAVE CAMPBELL | AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings established a remarkable rhythm early. Their resiliency surfaced again late.
The reward is being alone in first place in the NFC North.
Cousins scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:26 remaining on Minnesota's fifth third-down conversion of its go-ahead drive, and the Vikings snapped out of another mid-game slump just in time to beat the Chicago Bears 29-22 on Sunday.
“I'm not where I was at the end of last season in that old system,” Cousins said, “but we're developing it and we're getting there and I'm excited about that continued growth.”
Cameron Dantzler sealed the victory for the Vikings (4-1) by ripping the ball away from former teammate Ihmir Smith-Marsette near the one-minute mark after a pass from Justin Fields to the Minnesota 39.
“It’s a start. That’s all it is, though,” said Cousins, who went 32 for 41 for 296 yards.
The Vikings have trailed with less than 5 minutes remaining in three straight games and won each time. They took the lead against Detroit for good with 45 seconds to go in Week 3 and pulled ahead at New Orleans in Week 4 with 24 seconds left.
“Don’t necessarily think we found that four quarters of consistent ball that we’re looking for, but as we’ve learned it’s not easy to do in the NFL,” said first-year coach Kevin O’Connell, whose team has beaten all three division foes at home.
Fields went 15 for 21 for a season-high 208 yards and his first touchdown pass in 15 quarters and rushed eight times for 47 yards, but the Bears (2-3) were ultimately overtaken by the Vikings and their skill position stars.
Justin Jefferson finished with a career-high 12 catches for 154 yards and caught a 2-point conversion pass from Cousins to push the lead to seven. Dalvin Cook rushed for 94 yards and two scores against a defense that has been vulnerable on the ground in coach Matt Eberflus' first season.
Cousins set a franchise record with 17 consecutive completions to start the game, and O'Connell put on a play-calling clinic as the Vikings reached the end zone on their first three possessions for a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Three times last week against the Saints, they had to settle for field goals after crossing the 20.
David Montgomery returned from a one-game absence to an ankle injury and scored Chicago’s first touchdown on a 9-yard run late in the second quarter. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. scored on his first career offensive touch, a 9-yard reception off a jet-motion shovel pass to cap the first possession of the third quarter and make it a one-score game.
“I think we took a step forward, for sure,” Fields said. "A lot of teams in this league would have just laid down and stopped playing.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Kindle Vildor picked off Cousins as he rolled right on first down and tried to connect with Adam Thielen at the 30. The return gave the Bears the ball near midfield. Two plays later, Fields got loose for what would've been a 52-yard touchdown run, but Smith-Marsette was called for an illegal block above the waist to wipe that out.
Cairo Santos instead made his third field goal of the game to give the Bears for a 22-21 lead with 9:31 to go. The Vikings responded with a 17-play, 80-yard march that drained an even 7 minutes off the clock. That drive included a 5-yard run with less than three minutes left by the pocket-preferring Cousins on third-and-5 from the Chicago 20.
“I respect the man’s game. He’s a vet. You give him something, he’s going to take it,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said.
Jefferson passed Hall of Famer Randy Moss during the first drive to set a Vikings record for most receptions (236) in a player’s first three seasons. Jefferson got there in 36 games. Moss had 226 catches in 48 games.
“We let them get off to a hot start,” Jackson said. “We knew that was the guy they were going to.”
With division rival Green Bay playing early in London, much of the broadcast was shown on the videoboards as fans filed in. When the Giants took the lead for good in the 29-22 victory over the Packers, the Vikings' game operations crew sounded the celebratory Gjallarhorn. The crowd roared as Green Bay fell to 3-2 and Minnesota climbed ahead in the division standings.
The Vikings under new special teams coordinator Matt Daniels had been stellar in nearly every facet of the kicking game over the first four games, but there were some hiccups Sunday.
Greg Joseph, who was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after going 5 for 5 on field goals to beat the Saints, had a 53-yard try go wide right at the halftime gun and a 51-yard attempt blocked by Dominique Robinson on Minnesota's only possession of the third quarter.
Chicago: CB Jaylon Johnson (quadriceps) sat out for the second straight game. ... LB Matthew Adams (calf) was hurt in the third quarter.
Minnesota: Rookie RB Ty Chandler broke his thumb on special teams and will have surgery, O'Connell said.. ... Rookie CB Akayleb Evans was put in the concussion protocol the fourth quarter.
Chicago: Hosts Washington on Thursday night.
Minnesota: Visits Miami next Sunday.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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