The defense had just stonewalled Minnesota's Matt Asiata at the 3-yard line on both third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, leaving the lead for the Vikings at four points with 2:53 left. Cutler even ran for 22 yards on the first play, giving the Bears some space and a spark.
Then, in a fitting finish to this forgettable year, came the familiar mistakes. Three penalties, an incompletion and three too-short passes later, the Vikings took possession again with three kneel-downs all that remained.
Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter, and the Vikings hung on for a 13-9 victory on Sunday to slap one more blemish on a bad season for the Bears.
''We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot like we've been doing the entire year, which is something that needs to change if we want to continue to play in this league and win some games,'' running back Matt Forte said.
Coach Marc Trestman's opportunity to effect such changes might have ended.
After losing the last two games of 2013 to fall to 8-8 and hand the NFC North title to Green Bay, the Bears (5-11) finished 2014 with their worst record in 10 years. Trestman said he expected to return.
''I'm not going to stand up here and try to make a case for myself. I believe in what I'm doing, and I believe I have the answers to help us get better,'' Trestman said. ''I feel strongly about that, and I love this team and I love the players in this locker room.''
The Vikings (7-9) finally gave coach Mike Zimmer an interdivision win in the final game of his first season.
Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, linebacker Audie Cole had 11 tackles, three assists and a pass breakup in his first start of the season and Bridgewater went 17 for 25 for 209 yards to finish 6-6 as a starter in his rookie year.
''The players on the football team, the coaches, the organization, hopefully the fans, believe in this kid,'' Zimmer said.
Here are some key nuggets to know about the game:
Cutler finished turnover-free for only the third time in 15 games this season. But considering his 18 interceptions thrown, six lost fumbles and average of 6.8 yards per attempt, the second-worst of his career, the Bears could also decide to move on from their quarterback despite the hefty contract extension they gave him almost a year ago.
''I would like to be back. I said that a couple of weeks ago. But whatever happens, we'll deal with it then and make plans accordingly,'' Cutler said.
The bright spot for the Bears in this game was Forte, who set the NFL record for most catches in a season by a running back with 102. He passed Larry Centers, who had 101 receptions for the Cardinals in 1995.
Forte also topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fifth time in seven years and finished with 1,846 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage.
MORE THAN A THIELEN
Thielen, an undrafted player out of NCAA Division II Minnesota State who spent last season on the practice squad, had his first career offensive touchdown. He scored last month on a blocked punt. But just as important was Thielen's sprint to tackle Marc Mariani after a 67-yard kickoff return to the 35 early in the fourth quarter. The Bears had to settle for a field goal on that drive that cut the lead to 13-9.
''Good things happen when you hustle. That's the type of kid Adam is,'' Zimmer said.
COLE COMES THROUGH
With starting linebackers Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr out with knee injuries, Audie Cole got his first start of the season for the Vikings and shined with 14 total tackles, including one for a 2-yard loss on Forte. He also broke up a pass and had an interception negated by an offside penalty on Corey Wootton.
After a standout rookie year, playing in the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson slumped badly and barely played on offense down the stretch. Though Bridgewater's throw was behind him, Patterson bobbled a third-quarter pass that Kyle Fuller intercepted for the Bears.
''I've got a plan for this offseason for him, and hopefully it works,'' Zimmer said of Patterson's mindset. ''But it's going to be up to Cordarrelle.''
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