Adrian Peterson led the NFC in yards from scrimmage going into today’s game against the Bears. Still, he had not had that one giant break-out performance everyone kept anticipating – the kind of game that would catapult him into the national consciousness. Well, Peterson has now had that bust-out game – today he gashed the Chicago Bears’ vaunted defense for 224 rush yards on 20 carries and 3 TDs, and added a 53-yard kick return to set up the winning field goal in Minnesota’s crazy 34-31 victory in Soldier Field.
The game, expected to be a showdown between two of the NFL’s tougher defenses, ended up being a one-on-one duel between a pair of dynamic offensive performers – the Vikings‘ Peterson and the Bears’ return specialist/receiver Devin Hester. The first blow came courtesy of Hester, who in the first quarter took a Chris Kluwe punt back 89 yards to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. Kluwe had tried pinning Hester against the sideline, but the great return man merely caught the ball, spun around and sped back against the coverage, breaking several tackles before reaching the open field and cruising in. The lead would prove short-lived for the Bears however – on the next Viking possession, Tarvaris Jackson, in at QB for the first time since injuring his groin several weeks ago against Detroit, hooked up with Troy Williamson for a 60-yard TD pass – a welcome sight for Viking fans tired of watching their QBs miss their speedy wide-outs on deep balls.
The two early, big scoring plays would prove tone-setters for the game. Early in the 2nd quarter the Bears struck again, as Brian Griese hit Bernard Berrian for a 39-yard TD pass on a play where Viking corner Antoine Winfield lost his balance while back-pedaling and fell to the ground. Viking fans had reason at this point to believe it would not be their day – but Adrian Peterson was coming to the rescue. His first TD run saw him gashing the Bears for 67 yards, tying the game at 14-14. In the third quarter, Peterson blew by more Bears defenders, and finally outran Charles Tillman for a 73-yard TD, handing the Vikes a 21-14 lead.
Here’s where you would’ve hoped the Vikings could turn it over to their defense, and hand the ball to Chester Taylor and grind out the rest of the game. But it was not that kind of contest – despite the drizzly conditions and somewhat slippery field, it was a day for big plays on offense and in the return game. After an exchange of field goals, making the score 24-17 Vikings, Adrian Peterson struck again – slashing through the Bears’ stunned defense for 35 yards and another TD, making it 31-17 Vikings. Bears fans, jubilant after their big win in Green Bay, hung their heads and began exiting Soldier Field. However, the Bears and their superstar Devin Hester weren’t done.
With less than 3 minutes left, Brian Griese hit Mushin Muhammed for a 33-yard score – amazingly, the shortest scoring play of the game. The Viking defense seemed to relax far too much with their two touchdown lead, allowing the Bears this quick-strike, and hope that victory could still be in their grasp. An on-side kick attempt ensued – one which was recovered by the Vikings, seemingly icing the game for Minnesota. I say “seemingly” because there was still time for the Bears to stuff the Vikings and get the ball back – and get the ball back they did, after Chris Kluwe’s punt bounced out at their own 19. The stage was now set for Devin Hester, who had been used only sparingly on offense all day. The Bears sent Hester on a go-route – and the speedy star blew right past Viking safety Dwight Smith to snag an improbable 81-yard TD catch from Brian Griese, tying the game at 31-31.
The Vikings would have one last chance to win the game in regulation however – and it was a chance they would not let slip by. Adrian Peterson once again took the field, this time as a kick returner – and blazed through the middle of the Bears’ coverage for a 53-yard return. This left the Vikings needing only a few yards to get them in comfortable field goal range for Ryan Longwell. It was not a day when anything would come easy however – the Bears defense managed to rise up and keep the Vikings from gaining anything, leaving Longwell staring at a 55-yarder to get the win. It was a shot at redemption for Longwell who missed a chance earlier this year to kick the Vikings to victory over the Lions, only to see his field goal attempt strike the upright and bounce harmlessly away. There would be no intervention by uprights or anything else this time however, as Longwell booted the ball through for a career-long, and his 12th lifetime game-winner.
Stat wonks will be poring over this game’s numbers for days to come. They’ll have to start with Adrian Peterson, whose 224 rush yards broke Chuck Foreman‘s all-time single-game Viking record, and whose 3 rushing TDs tied him with 7 other players for the team mark. Peterson’s TDs were all of the long, electrifying variety – 67, 73 and 35 yards respectively. Not to be outdone (too much), Chester Taylor added 83 yards on 22 carries – doing the dirty work that freed up Adrian for the glory. Obviously, with that many yards being racked up, the Vikings O-line had a dominating day. It wasn’t just the running game that benefited from great blocking though – Tarvaris Jackson showed that, when given time, he can deliver the big play too, hitting Williamson for that 60 yard TD bomb. The Bears would sack Jackson only once, and failed to force the young Viking QB into even a single turnover. Perhaps most importantly, the occasionally mistake-prone line did not hurt the team with big penalties or missed blocks in key situations. It was maybe the cleanest, most physically impressive game the high-priced Viking line has put up since Brad Childress assembled it.
The defense, easily a more solid unit than the offense for most of the season, showed that despite its high ranking it still has a lot of work to do in becoming truly top-notch. There were far too many mistakes in the coverage – Winfield’s fall-down being only the most glaring. A unit that prides itself on not giving up the big play gave up two long TD strikes – including the huge play to Hester that brought the Bears back to 31-31 after falling down by two TDs. The defense played too soft all day – they gave up too many good runs to Cedric Benson, were burned for too many yards by a mediocre QB in Brian Griese (381) and became far too slack late in the game when the Bears decided to shift from their overly-conservative offense to something more aggressive. The defense did, however, distinguish itself in forcing turnovers – getting two fumbles, and picking off Griese twice. These were also key in the Viking victory, which raised their season mark to 2-3.