Charles Tillman’s interception return in the second quarter gave Chicago the lead for good, and the Bears finished the season by stopping their five-game losing streak with a 17-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday despite 3½ sacks by Jared Allen.
Allen finished the season with 22 sacks, behind Michael Strahan’s mark of 22½ for the New York Giants in 2001. Joe Webb relieved Christian Ponder at quarterback for the Vikings (3-13) for the third time in the last month, but the wild-scrambling Webb wasn’t able to do enough to keep the Vikings from matching the worst record in franchise history, set first in 1984.
The Vikings got the ball back with no timeouts at their own 6-yard line and 1:51 left, but D.J. Moore’s interception at the Chicago 29 sealed the game and kept the Bears (8-8) from a losing record.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher played hard to the end, unfortunately for him and the Bears. His left knee bent awkwardly in the end zone while trying to break up a pass with 5:15 left, causing enough pain for him to briefly cover his face with his hand. But he was able to walk off the field without assistance.
And fill-in quarterback Josh McCown was sacked seven times.
Though the circumstances were so much different on this day, the Vikings came full circle with another loss to McCown. He filled in for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2003 season finale and knocked Minnesota out of a playoff spot with a stunning heave into the end zone on the final snap.
McCown certainly wasn’t the quarterback the Bears and their fans wanted to see in Week 17. But that’s the way this frustrating season unraveled after Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand with a 7-3 record and the postseason well within reach. Running back Matt Forte sprained his right knee two weeks later, and the Bears stumbled into this meaningless matchup.
Despite having Allen in his face all day, McCown he went 15 for 25 for 160 yards and a second-quarter touchdown pass to Roy Williams. The Bears have won five straight in this series, their longest streak against the Vikings since winning six in a row from 1983-86.
Ponder went 4 for 10 for 28 yards before aggravating a hip injury. Webb, who rallied the Vikings to victory last week at Washington and brought them within 1 yard of the same at Detroit on Dec. 11, went 17 for 32 for 200 yards and two interceptions. He netted only 2 yards on 4 rushes.
Toby Gerhart carried 15 times for 67 yards for the Vikings before leaving with an injury to his left knee.
The Vikings had their share of gaffes familiar to this at-times-woeful season. Most notable was Ponder’s 13th interception, a poorly thrown pass behind Gerhart that bounced off the running back’s hands and into the arms of Tillman for an untouched 22-yard return. That was the third pick six in the last five games against Ponder, the first-round draft pick who took over as the starter for the seventh game of the season.
Jamarca Sanford dropped an interception inside Chicago territory when Earl Bennett played defense by banging into him, and McCown promptly moved the Bears 90 yards in the next seven plays for their first touchdown.
Webb took a 10-yard loss on one of his wild scrambles instead of throwing the ball away on third-and-4 at the 20, moving Ryan Longwell’s field goal attempt back to 48 yards. Julius Peppers blocked, it preserving a 14-10 lead. Longwell made a pair of 26-yarders in the first half, but a high snap and a dropped hold led to another botched field goal in the second half.
The Bears were giving, too. E.J. Henderson forced two fumbles in the first half, setting up the Vikings for 10 points, including a 5-yard touchdown run by Harvin, who has scored 24 times over his three-year career.
Sanford recovered the second fumble and celebrated like the Vikings were trying to clinch the division title, running along the sideline where the baseball diamond used to be and into the end zone to encourage the crowd. Despite a number of glaring deficiencies and a couple of embarrassingly lopsided losses down the stretch, the Vikings didn’t quit at the end of Leslie Frazier’s first full season as head coach, coming awfully close to several more victories.
By losing they ensured themselves the third slot in the first round of the draft.