They have a roster that reads like the waiver wire with not a single player earning enough votes to play in the Pro Bowl, but somehow, the Chicago Bears are headed for San Francisco.
The Bears fought through the Metrodome noise, survived two early turnovers then received touchdown-scoring performances from players with names well-known only to friends and family in stunning the Minnesota Vikings, 35-18 in a first-round NFC playoff game.
The Vikings (10-7), the NFC Central Division champions, had five Pro Bowl invitees and the fifth-ranked defense in the league, but the 35 points scored by the Bears were their most since defeating Tampa Bay, 47-17, on Sept. 26, 1993.
“Out in the first round,” said Viking safety Todd Scott. “Especially to the Bears . . .”
The Bears (10-7) ended a six-game losing streak to the Vikings, while Minnesota under Coach Dennis Green dropped a first-round playoff game for the third consecutive season.
“It’s almost like Buffalo--at least you get there,” said Viking safety Vencie Glenn. “We’ve had the opportunity and we’ve blown it three years in a row. But at least we’ve had the opportunity.”
The Vikings, 7-2 at one time before settling in for a long winter’s nap, appeared overwhelmed by the Bears’ resolve to make Coach Dave Wannstedt 1-0 in postseason play.
“I told our guys after the Pro Bowl voting came out and before we played the Rams, the only way to get any respect at that point was to get into the playoffs,” Wannstedt said. “You got to earn that, and then when you get in there you have to do something in the playoffs. There isn’t a guy in this locker room just happy to be in the playoffs. There is still some ball to be played.”
The Bears, however, could have been finished early on. They fumbled the ball away at their six-yard line on their opening possession, then gave it away with an interception at their 39 the next time they had it.
But the Vikings were doomed from the outset. A holding penalty wiped out a five-yard Terry Allen run for a touchdown and forced them to settle for a 29-yard Fuad Reveiz field goal after Lewis Tillman’s fumble, and another holding penalty wasted Anthony Parker’s interception.
“That was the key,” Wannstedt said. “Holding them to a field goal after the two turnovers.”
While the Viking offense stuttered because of five holding penalties and an erratic Warren Moon, the Bears continued to prosper under the direction of quarterback Steve Walsh. Walsh, 8-3 as a starter, marched his team 80 yards in 16 plays, handing off to Tillman for the final yard and a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
A Barry Minter interception--Barry who?--set up Walsh’s nine-yard scoring pass to tight end Keith Jennings moments later for a 14-3 advantage. Keith who?
“I’ve got a list of teams who wouldn’t pick me up when I was out of work that I’m going after,” Jennings said. “I just crossed off Minnesota.”
The Vikings made a pitch for second-half momentum with Moon throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Moon’s two-point conversion pass to Carter failed, but the Vikings were within striking distance at 14-9.
Walsh came out of the locker room throwing in the third quarter and after connecting with Curtis Conway for 23 yards and Jeff Graham for 18 more, rookie running back Raymont Harris went 29 yards--the longest running play for the Bears this season--to push Chicago ahead, 21-9.
Reveiz kicked a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter, but Walsh struck again with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Graham.
“I noticed single coverage on Jeff and we made contact at the line of scrimmage,” said Walsh, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 221 yards. “All things just went right for us. We had a lot of big plays, and you don’t see that very often.”
The Vikings remained within two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions of catching the Bears, but played as if they were trying to run out the clock. After taking possession with 12:42 remaining in the game, they ran 7:06 off the clock before Moon threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to running back Amp Lee. Moon’s two-point conversion pass for Jake Reed, however, sailed far off course.
“I think he was a little off and Warren would tell you that,” said Carter, who caught eight passes for 61 yards. “Any time you have a knee problem like Warren has had, it’s going to be tough to hang in there.”
Moon, who completed 29 of 52 passes for 292 yards, missed the team’s season finale against San Francisco after injuring his knee.
“He looked fine to me; there are no excuses,” said Bear linebacker Vinson Smith. “We just outplayed them.”
The Bears cleared the stadium after Maurice Douglass forced a fumble and teammate Kevin Miniefield picked up the ball and ran 48 yards for a touchdown.
“I’m sure people were saying, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” Miniefield said. “It’s something you just lay up at night dreaming about. For it to actually happen, that’s something special.”