Everyone in the stadium knows Adrian Peterson is going to get the ball when the Minnesota Vikings are on offense. No one seems to know how to stop him once he does.
His sights set squarely on 2,000 yards, Peterson’s latest jaw-dropping performance also made sure the Vikings can keep their eyes on the playoffs.
Peterson rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Harrison Smith returned an interception for a score to lead the Vikings to a 21-14 victory over the free-falling Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Peterson topped 100 yards before the first quarter was over, helping the Vikings (7-6) overcome another lackluster day from quarterback Christian Ponder to get a victory that will keep their playoff hopes alive.
”The guy’s unbelievable,” Ponder said of his star running back. ”I don’t know if he’s human or not.”
Jay Cutler was 22 for 44 for 260 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and couldn’t finish the game for the Bears (8-5), who have lost four of five. He took a wicked hit to the head from Everson Griffen in the fourth quarter, remained in for the rest of that drive, but was replaced by Jason Campbell with 3 minutes to play.
Cutler has a neck injury, which could leave the reeling Bears without two of their most important players down the stretch. Linebacker Brian Urlacher did not play because of a strained right hamstring that threatens to end his season.
”It started stiffening up more and more,” Cutler said. ”I just have to take it day by day.”
Campbell threw a 16-yard TD to Brandon Marshall with 1:48 to play, but Kyle Rudolph recovered the onside kick. Marshall had 10 catches for 160 yards, but Chicago’s struggling offense couldn’t do enough to overcome the two turnovers and Peterson’s relentless effort.
Peterson’s remarkable comeback from a torn left ACL late last season seems to get more impressive every week. Not even a year removed from that major injury in Washington, he broke the 100-yard mark for the seventh straight game. He has 1,600 yards with three games to play, putting a hallowed 2,000-yard season within reach. He ran for 51 yards on the opening play and continued to gash the broken-down Bears the rest of the way.
The Titans’ Chris Johnson is the most recent player to reach 2,000 yards rushing. He had 2,006 in the 2009 season.
”I think about it,” Peterson said of 2,000 yards. ”I don’t try to think about it too much. I feel like it will happen. It’s obvious we’re going to continue to run the ball and the chips will fall where they may.”
No one was happier to see it than Ponder, who continued to look skittish in the pocket and out of whack with his mechanics. He finished 11 of 17 for 91 yards, including an ugly interception off his back foot late in the first half.
This time, his performance didn’t doom the Vikings. Owner Zygi Wilf addressed the team this week after a string of four losses in five games threatened to spoil a 5-2 start.
”You know when you play the Vikings you’re going to have to stop Adrian Peterson,” coach Leslie Frazier said. ”And for him to come out and gain 100 yards in the first quarter, just an amazing feat by him.”
Vikings fans trudged through a snow storm to get to the Metrodome, and they were ornery and ready to give Ponder all the grief they could. They booed him in pregame introductions, then Peterson touched the ball on five of six plays in the opening drive. He also ripped off a 16-yard run and finished it with a 1-yard TD.
”It looks like we weren’t ready for it, but we were,” Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. ”We were ready. It was the first drive and there was so much football played after that, I thought we did a pretty good job after that.”
Josh Robinson intercepted Cutler on the next possession, returning the ball to the Chicago 5 to set up Peterson’s second touchdown. The Vikings were off and running, exactly what they were hoping to do.
Cutler responded, hitting Alshon Jeffery with a 23-yard TD pass that got a healthy contingent of Chicago fans chanting ”Let’s Go Bears!”’
Just as the Bears appeared to seize momentum, Cutler floated a pass over Marshall’s head and right into the arms of Smith, who headed down the Chicago sideline for a 56-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and a 21-7 lead.
The Vikings haven’t made big plays in the passing game ever since Percy Harvin was lost for the season with a severely sprained left ankle against Seattle on Nov. 4. They finally did it Sunday, but it was the defense that made it happen.
Robinson and Smith combined for 100 return yards, more than the Vikings’ passing game had through the air.
Now the Bears must try to hold off another December malaise under coach Lovie Smith. They started 7-1, but Smith tried to ratchet up the intensity this week, saying the Bears had to win out to get into the playoffs.
Through six games, the Bears gave up an average of 71 yards rushing. But they had given up 136 yards per game on the ground in the previous six games.
”It’s all willpower, man,” Peterson said. ”They pretty much know we’re going to run the ball. Offensive line knows that, receivers. Everybody’s dialed in.”
NOTES: Vikings CB A.J. Jefferson suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter. He will be evaluated on Monday. … Marshall joined Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker as the only players in history with at least four seasons of 100 or more receptions. Marshall also set the all-time Bears record with his 101st catch this year. … Bears K Robbie Gould did not kickoff on Sunday after straining his left calf in pregame warm-ups. He did kick the Bears’ two extra points.