(670 The Score) The Bears' playoff hopes hung in the balance as quarterback Kirk Cousins fired one last heave in the air. Then, they were tipped away from receiver Bisi Johnson, just out of reach of receiver Justin Jefferson and saved by defensive back Sherrick McManis with a game-ending interception.
Suddenly, it's not such a Hail Mary for the Bears to make the postseason after a 33-27 victory against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Chicago (7-7) leapt over Minnesota (6-8) in the standings and now has a more legitimate chance of a playoff berth, sitting in eighth place in the NFC as Arizona (8-6) still held the seventh and final spot after a win against Philadelphia later in the afternoon.
"This is what you play for," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "You play for an opportunity to get to the playoffs.
"We're in a good spot. We just got to keep that going."
Five weeks ago, the Bears posted just 149 yards of offense in a 19-13 loss to these same Vikings, and Chicago was left to wonder how much worse it would get. What followed was two more setbacks for the Bears, who bottomed out with a six-game losing streak. Their playoff hopes were bleak.
A two-game winning streak has given them renewed hope. On Sunday, the Bears were carried by an offense that's suddenly clicking on all cylinders. They posted 397 yards of offense with a balanced attack -- 199 rushing yards and 198 passing yards. Running back David Montgomery led the way with 32 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Hoping to save their season, the Bears have created a new offensive identity that's better-suited to Trubisky's strengths and that has relied on Montgomery for strong balance. Once the team's great weakness, the offense may just be what leads the Bears into the playoffs.
"Proud of our offense to really click and play well," coach Matt Nagy said. "Really, the pass game when we had to, the run game, getting that going. I thought Mitchell did a great job commanding the offense, making smart decisions. David ran his tail off. The offensive line blocked. The tight ends, wide receivers made big catches. And a credit to our coaching staff."
In an unexpected twist, it's the Bears' defense that now must rise to the level of the offense. The Vikings posted 407 yards of offense and nearly pulled off the fourth-quarter comeback. For a moment, Sunday seemed it could be reminiscent of the Bears' loss to the Lions on Dec. 6, when Chicago blew a 30-20 lead in the final five minutes.
Instead, the Bears' defense did just enough to hold off the Vikings, who had a chance at victory until their final Hail Mary landed in McManis' hands.
"It wasn't our best," Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said.
The Bears have endured a roller coaster season, starting 5-1 before losing six straight games and now winning a pair in a row. After seeming destined for disappointment, the Bears now have a great chance to climb above .500 when they face the Jaguars (1-13) next Sunday. A victory in Jacksonville would mean Chicago's playoff hopes would be on the line against the rival Green Bay Packers in the regular-season finale at Soldier Field on Jan. 3.
Just two weeks ago, the Bears seemed closer to cleaning house at Halas Hall than making the playoffs. But Chicago's postseason hopes are becoming more real each week.
"We knew if we stuck together and battled as a family and just kept leaning on each other that we could make a run," Trubisky said. "And we put ourselves in a position to do so. But at the end of the day, it comes down to being focused one day and one game at a time. We’ve got to enjoy this today but then also go back to work next week."
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.