Vikings report card: Adrian Peterson leads Minnesota to victory

Relief was the overriding feeling in the Minnesota Vikings’

locker room after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime win against the Chicago Bears.

Relief amid a season that has gone downhill, with Minnesota

being near the bottom of the NFC standings but largely competitive all year.

Relief from not losing in overtime for the second straight contest. Relief

after a game in which Minnesota appeared prime to lose, then win, then lose and

win again. Blair Walsh’s 34-yard field goal, his third chance of overtime, gave

the Vikings the win and a 3-8-1 record.           

Here’s how Minnesota graded out in each phase on Sunday:

Pass offense: B

The Vikings’ success in the passing game came with the

switch to Matt Cassel at quarterback. Christian Ponder showed concussion

symptoms after taking a hit at the end of the first half, completing a half in

which he was 3-of-8 passing for 40 yards and sacked three times. Cassel had one

play at the end of the half, a handoff to Toby Gerhart.

In the second half, Cassel added another dimension to

Minnesota’s offense with Adrian Peterson controlling the game on the ground.

Cassel was 20 of 33 for 243 yards passing in the second half and overtime. He

connected with Greg Jennings for a big 8-yard touchdown pass after being

flushed from the pocket. He threw one interception, which was the result of the

pass bouncing off tight end Rhett Ellison’s hands right at the goal line.

More importantly, Cassel made the plays when needed, driving

the Vikings down the field late in the fourth quarter for a tying field goal

with 24 seconds left in regulation. Cassel hit Jerome Simpson on a 20-yard pass

on 4th-and-11 from the 8-yard line. He also connected with Simpson for 24

yards, John Carlson for 17 yards and Jarius Wright for 21 yards to get Walsh

within striking distance.

With Cassel under center, Jennings emerged again. He had a

team-high seven catches for 78 yards and his first touchdown since catching two

from Cassel in Week 4. Simpson had three catches for 76 yards. In all, nine

players caught a pass on Sunday.

Run offense: A

Adrian Peterson has been limited with a groin injury. You

don’t say? Peterson didn’t break off any of the long, explosive plays he’s

become known for, but he controlled Sunday’s game. Peterson’s long carry of the

day was 23 yards, but he finished with a career-high 35 carries for 211 yards.

Minnesota ran for 246 yards as a team against Chicago’s league-worst run

defense.

Gerhart played a bigger role the past two weeks, but Sunday

was all about Peterson. He became the third-fastest player in NFL history to

reach 10,000 yards for his career and finished with the fifth 200-yard rushing

game of his career, which is just one away from the all-time record. Peterson

is now leading the league in rushing this season with 1,208 yards and appears

primed for another strong finish to a season. Peterson was consistent on Sunday

and big when he needed to be. He had 72 rushing yards in the first half, 88 in

the second half and then had nine carries for 51 yards in overtime. Rookie

Cordarrelle Patterson also showed a new wrinkle by lining up in the backfield

and scoring on a 33-yard run.

Pass defense: D

Alshon Jeffery is all that needs to be written. Jeffery

almost single-handedly gave Chicago a win. He was targeted 15 times and had 12

catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He started the second half with an

80-yard touchdown reception and then went up over Minnesota cornerback Chris

Cook for a 46-yard touchdown, which led to a Cook ejection after he bumped an

official while arguing the play. Quarterback Josh McCown was 23 of 36 for 355

yards passing, but was sacked four times.

The defense tightened after Jeffery’s final touchdown and

Minnesota scored the final 13 points of the game to win. Chicago was only 2 of

11 on third downs. Three of the Vikings’ four sacks came in the second half and

overtime and Minnesota got a turnover after McCown inexplicably tried a pass as

he was falling that went off a Vikings’ defender to offensive lineman Kyle

Long. Long caught the ball and tried to run and eventually fumbled. Minnesota’s

defense has been much maligned, and Jeffery looked like he was going to keep

the misery going, but the Vikings might have taken a step defensively on

Sunday.

Run defense: C

The final numbers skew the Minnesota run defense a bit.

Chicago’s Matt Forte finished with 120 yards on 23 carries. Michael Bush added

one 15-yard carry for 135 yards for the Bears at 5.4 yards per carry. Forte did

much of his damage on one run in the second half, a 41-yarder which helped set

up Jeffery’s second touchdown.

The Vikings probably won’t be happy allowing 135 yards

rushing, but there were signs of improvement as well. Forte’s one big run

overshadowed several stops by Minnesota, which also had better tackling. The

third-down defense and the late-game stops were key Sunday.

Special teams: C

The game twisted and turned on special teams. In most

occasions, that would be good for the Vikings’ usually strong units. Minnesota

originally thought it had won when Walsh hit a 39-yard field goal in overtime,

but Ellison was hit with a facemask penalty and the Vikings’ celebration ended

quickly. After a Peterson carry that lost yards, Walsh set up for a 57-yard

field goal attempt which he missed. He said he tried to hit the ball too hard,

but knew he’d get another chance. Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed a 47-yarder

to give Walsh another chance and he ended the game with a 34-yard field goal.

Minnesota also strangely gave Devin Hester a chance for a

return after tying the game in regulation and Hester — long a pain for the

Vikings — had a 57-yard return that gave Chicago a late chance.

Punter Jeff Locke didn’t give Hester much of a chance at

punt returns, with a 44-yard gross average and 42.7-yard net average.

Minnesota’s returners didn’t get much of a chance, with the Bears avoiding

Cordarrelle Patterson.

Overall: B

This has been a strange and difficult season for the

Vikings, but they have not given in despite the circumstances. Minnesota has

been in almost every game this year and could be looking at much different

circumstances with a few plays here or there. Many teams can say similar things

in the parity-driven NFL. But the Vikings continue to push, having won two of

the past four games, and nearly beat Green Bay last week before tying.

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