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To win their 'hump game,' Minnesota Vikings turn to Stefon Diggs

CHICAGO -- Brian Robison had been here for the Minnesota Vikings' last win at Soldier Field in 2007, and all the losses that followed -- the oddball return touchdowns, the late collapses, the broken game clock last year. When Mike Zimmer brought up how long the Vikings had gone without a road win in Chicago this week, Robison and Chad Greenway finished the sentence for him. And the way Robison talked about the losing streak on Sunday, it was clear it had burrowed its way into his conscience long before anyone brought it up.

"Hell, yeah, it weighed on my mind," Robison said. "I've been thinking about this for three weeks and trying to keep it out of my mind, just so I can concentrate on the task at hand. Hell, I postponed Halloween parties and everything else just so we can get this win. This was a true hump game for us. It was a true test to see if we really have turned the corner as a team or not."

For whatever bizarre events had contributed to the Vikings' seven-game losing streak in Chicago, there had been a common theme in most of them: The Vikings had failed to achieve a basic standard of quarterbacking quality that would've allowed them to ride out some of the harrowing moments. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Vikings quarterbacks had posted a passer rating of just 72.8 in those seven losses, with eight touchdowns against 10 interceptions.

It appeared for 55 minutes as though that would be the case again on Sunday. Teddy Bridgewater had completed just 11 of his 23 passes for 81 yards and an interception. He'd effectively caused a 14-point swing in the second and third quarters when he threw an ill-advised interception and overshot Mike Wallace on what should have been an easy touchdown. But Bridgewater -- who had one of his best games as a pro last week in Detroit -- remembered the great lesson of a game where he hit 11 different receivers: Just get the ball to your playmakers.

The Vikings' second-year quarterback appears to have one in rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, and he's lucky for that. In four short weeks, the fifth-round pick out of Maryland has looked more like a go-to receiver for Bridgewater than anyone else the Vikings have tried to pair with him. Charles Johnson hasn't continued in that role after a promising finish to last season (though he made a huge 35-yard catch Sunday) and Wallace has been underwhelming through six games in Minnesota so far. Through four games, Diggs has 25 catches for 419 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It's been Diggs who been there in big situations, reading defensive coverages with an acumen beyond his years and finding ways to get open for Bridgewater. On the game's pivotal play Sunday, he lined up in the slot on 3rd-and-4, fought off a jam from Bears corner Sherrick McManis, stemmed his route outside and broke back to the middle.

"I was going back inside, because I knew he was outside of me," Diggs said. "When I went back inside, the ball was right there."

Diggs presented a clear target for Bridgewater nine yards downfield, faked McManis to the ground with a sharp cut and bulled his way into the end zone with the help of a push from Wallace. The Vikings had tied the game, and they'd go on to win after a stop and a Blair Walsh field goal.

"He did a great job creating separation," Bridgewater said. "He did the rest once the ball was in his hands."

Because he helped pick up Bridgewater, the quarterback fashioned the fifth comeback victory of his career and ended a particularly thorny losing streak. It meant more to the Vikings than they let on, and it appears Diggs could mean more to Bridgewater than anyone thought this early in his career.

"I can't say enough about Stefon Diggs," Robison said. "From Day 1, he's come in here making plays."