No need to check the calendar. Minnesota finally won again, so it must be December.
After finishing November 1-3 for the second year in a row, the Vikings began the final month of the season with their first victory in four games. Just barely.Kevin Butler's 40-yard field goal attempt for the Chicago Bears sailed inches outside the left upright five minutes into overtime Thursday night. Two plays later, the game was over.
Cris Carter turned a short pass from Warren Moon into a 65-yard touchdown, giving Minnesota a 33-27 victory over Chicago and a share of the lead in the NFC Central.
What is it about December with the Vikings, who finished 4-1 last year to salvage a playoff berth?
"I don't know, man," safety Vencie Glenn said. "Tell me what it is about November. All I know is we had our backs up against the wall, and when you've got your backs up against the wall, you come out fighting."
Carter's second touchdown catch of the game rejuvenated the Vikings (8-5), who lost in overtime to Tampa Bay just four days earlier and seemed destined to let another game slip away.
Minnesota led 13-7 at halftime and 27-24 late in the fourth quarter, but a 55-yard kickoff return by Nate Lewis set up the Bears (8-5) for Butler's tying field goal with 1:55 left in regulation.
The Bears won the coin toss, and drove to the Minnesota 22 before linebacker Ed McDaniel stopped Lewis Tillman for no gain on third-and-1.
Enter Butler, whose 27-yard field goal in overtime Sunday gave Chicago a 19-16 win at Arizona and, coupled with Minnesota's loss to Tampa Bay, sole possession of the division lead for the first time this season.
This time, Butler failed.
"We are not going to let it get us down," said Butler, who was 2-for-2 before the overtime miss. "I just have to go out and do it again. We just have to show some character and bounce back."
While December has been a welcome month for Minnesota, it has been torturous for the Bears.
Chicago has not won a road game in December since 1987, a string of 12 defeats, and the Bears have not beaten the Vikings in six games since Dennis Green became Minnesota's coach in 1992.
They were close this time.
Jeff Graham gave Chicago its first lead on a 61-yard punt return early in the third quarter to erase Minnesota's halftime advantage. The teams traded field goals before Qadry Ismail's fumbled kick return set up another Chicago score.
Steve Walsh, returning home on his 28th birthday, threw his second TD of the game, a 15-yarder to Greg McMurtry, to give Chicago a 24-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Fuad Reveiz's fourth field goal of the game cut the margin to five, and Moon's 1-yard, fourth-down TD pass to Carter and his 2-point conversion pass to rookie tight end Andrew Jordan gave the Vikings a 27-24 lead with 4:12 left in regulation.
Walsh lost for the first time in eight starts this season. He hurt himself with an interception that rookie cornerback Dewayne Washington turned into a 54-yard touchdown on the game's third play and a fumbled snap when the Bears were in field goal range in the fourth quarter.
But Walsh had his most productive game of the season, completing 24 of 33 for 233 yards as the Bears scored their most points of the season.
"We moved the ball against a very good defense," said Walsh, who grew up just across the Mississippi River from the Metrodome in St. Paul. "I didn't play very well in the first half, for whatever reason I don't know. But we're still in first."
Despite a nagging wrist injury that has bothered him for several weeks, Moon completed 27 of 48 passes for 306 yards. Carter caught nine for 124 yards, and needs just 11 catches in three games to break Sterling Sharpe's record of 112 in a season.
Moon's 38-year-old body badly needs a rest, and he walked gingerly into the postgame interview room. This time, he was smiling.
"This gives us some life, first of all," he said. "It shows us the season isn't over for us, even though it probably wouldn't have been over if we had lost. But it would have been a lot grimmer."
The Vikings have swept the season series from Chicago and are in control of the division, but their schedule is much tougher than the Bears'.
Chicago plays next at Green Bay and finishes at home against the Rams and New England. Minnesota must travel to Buffalo and Detroit before returning home for the regular-season finale against San Francisco.
"The comment was made before the game that we are playing for our lives," Minnesota safety Todd Scott said. "That's what we did, we went out and played for our lives."