Chicago Solves Moon, Minnesota : NFC: Walsh leads Bears past Central Division rivals in 35-18 upset.
The team that wasn’t supposed to be here stunned the quarterback who was supposed to go so much further.
Steve Walsh led a precise offense with two touchdown passes Sunday and the Chicago Bears forced four turnovers in a shocking 35-18 victory over Minnesota, continuing the postseason futility of the Vikings and Warren Moon.
Few people expected the Bears to reach the playoffs when the season began. After ending their six-game losing streak to Minnesota, Chicago is off to San Francisco for a divisional playoff game no one will expect them to win.
“That’s nothing new to us,” said receiver Curtis Conway. “We’ve been underdogs all year. A lot of people said we couldn’t beat the Vikings. We won when we needed to win.”
The Vikings, NFC Central champions for the second time in Dennis Green’s three seasons, still haven’t won a playoff game under Green and have lost five in a row dating to 1988.
And Moon, for all of his impressive statistics, lost his fourth consecutive playoff game.
He offset his two touchdown passes with two interceptions, and was replaced by Sean Salisbury in the final minutes. Depsite his outstanding 11-year NFL career, Moon’s record remains tainted by his playoff failures, as does Green’s Minnesota tenure.
“It’s frustrating this year, because it’s right here and right now,” said Moon, 3-6 in the playoffs during his 10 seasons in Houston. “This is a game we felt we should have won. There’s no question we’re all disappointed.”
Moon’s injured left knee kept him out of the final regular-season game last week. He showed no signs that the knee bothered him during the game, but the Super Bowl hopes Moon brought with him from Houston during the offseason may have evaporated with the week and a half of practice he missed to end the regular season.
Moon’s timing was off all day against a fired-up Chicago defense, while Walsh confused the Vikings with a mix of long and short passes.
Forced to throw once the Bears got ahead, Moon completed 29 of 52 passes for 292 yards, setting Minnesota playoff records for pass attempts and completions.
But Walsh, a St. Paul native, was far more efficient, hitting on 15 of 23 passes for 221 yards in his best game since Chicago’s overtime loss at the Metrodome on Dec. 1.
“It was very special to come back here and win,” said Walsh, who grew up a Viking fan across the Mississippi River. “We haven’t had much success here. To come in and play as well as we did, it’s a big statement for us.”
The victory, Chicago’s first in the playoffs since 1990, was especially sweet to a team that had been taken lightly most of the year.
“We have as much right to be here as anybody,” said defensive end Trace Armstrong, who had both Chicago sacks. “We worked, we scraped, we hustled. You can’t take it away from us.”
The Vikings couldn’t, even though the Bears tried to give it away early.
Lewis Tillman fumbled at the Chicago six on the Bears’ first possession, and Walsh bounced an interception off his own lineman’s helmet on the next drive. But Minnesota managed just a 3-0 lead off the turnovers, then Walsh got hot.
With Coach Dave Wannstedt ready to replace Walsh with Erik Kramer if the offense continued to sputter, Walsh was six for six on the Bears’ first touchdown drive, capped by Tillman’s one-yard run.
Walsh then guided a 71-yard drive which featured a 52-yard pass to Jeff Graham and ended with a nine-yard pass to Keith Jennings as the Bears took a 14-9 halftime lead.
Raymont Harris scored on a 29-yard run, the Bears’ longest run of the season, in the third quarter. Walsh threw 21 yards to Graham to put Chicago up, 28-12, with 12:42 left in the game.
“We knew we should have beaten them the last time, and we came out with that same attitude,” said offensive tackle James Williams.
With Moon leading the most productive passing game in the NFC, the Vikings looked like Super Bowl contenders until a three-game November losing streak. But they still had momentum heading into the playoffs after beating the 49ers in their last game, and most believed they would continue their dominance over the Bears.