For now, the Bears will continue their playoff run with Adrian Peterson as the main man in the running game. Cedric Benson will miss the remainder of the season, as he will soon have surgery on his damaged left ankle.
Peterson, a six-year veteran, is a career backup who has usually been No. 3 on the depth chart. He has carried the ball a total of 185 times, never more than 76 in any season. Only once in a game has he had more than the 17 carries (for 55 yards) he got against the Broncos on Sunday. In the only start of his career, Oct. 19, 2003, Peterson carried 16 times for 55 yards before suffering a season-ending sprained ankle.
The 5-10, 210-pound sixth-round pick from Georgia Southern has 189 rushing yards this season on 52 carries for a 3.6-yard average, with a long run of 11 yards.
None of those numbers is very impressive for a featured ball-carrier. But Peterson has performed a myriad of tasks well enough in his career to earn the respect of coaches and teammates and keep the front office from rushing to sign another runner. Rookie Garrett Wolfe, who has just nine carries this season (for 31 yards), moves into the backup role.
In an emergency, fullback Jason McKie could be utilized as a ball carrier, but he has just 15 carries in six seasons including three this year. The Bears say as long as their remaining backs remain healthy, they will not rush to sign others.
"We feel comfortable moving Adrian Peterson into the No. 1 slot," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a guy that deserves an opportunity to get more playing time. He's done everything we've always asked him to do."
It remains to be seen if Peterson can withstand the rigors of 20 carries a game, but he actually gives the Bears more versatility in the featured role. He's tied for second on the team with 33 receptions and is adept at pass protection.
"He has [been] our No. 1 third-down back," Smith said. "He has good hands. [With] protection and all of that, he's been solid. And he's a good runner, too. We think we're getting a guy that can do it all, and I'm anxious to see him in a role where he's getting more carries."
Peterson entered this season with an outstanding 4.7-yard average per carry, 10th best among active players with at least 100 attempts. He also had more special teams tackles (68) in the previous three seasons than any other Bears player.
Peterson's 4-yard touchdown run in Sunday's comeback victory brought the Bears within 34-27 with 5:17 left and exemplified the effort and desire that characterize his game. In the middle of a scrum just short of the goal line that resembled rugby more than football, Peterson stayed on his feet, kept his legs pumping and bulled his way into the end zone with a push from several offensive linemen.
"Everyone kept pushing, and Adrian just never gave up," guard Roberto Garza said. "Every time he touched the football on all his runs, he never went down with one guy. He kept fighting. That kid's got a lot of power and a lot of drive to try to make something happen. You saw what he could do. He's a hard runner, and he gives you everything he's got every single time he touches the football. We're fortunate to have him."
The touchdown run exemplified Peterson's philosophy as a runner.
"If you see four yards, you should get six," he said. "Once they give me the four, I try to fall forward for another two."
And he sounds as if he's ready for the challenge after waiting almost six years.
"I'm confident," he said. "I know all the stuff, so it's just a matter of me going out and doing it."
NOTES & QUOTES
WR Bernard Berrian's three-catch, 24-yard day was his second-least productive game of the season, but his 3-yard TD catch with 28 seconds left might go down as the biggest play of the year.
Berrian beat seven-time Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey, but only after diving back toward Rex Grossman's pass that was thrown over Berrian's back shoulder to avoid an interception. Berrian had to change direction without losing his feet on the slippery Soldier Field turf that was slick because of a steady drizzle earlier in the game.
"I think it was a lot tougher than it looked because the biggest thing, I didn't want to slip and fall," said Berrian, who barely stayed in bounds while falling to the ground. "We knew we could get them on it earlier. We were studying film. He didn't bite on it the first time we tried to get him. He bit on it that time a little bit. Rex couldn't actually throw it where he wanted to, so he just gave me a back-shoulder throw to make a play on it."
WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian
M. Spencer Green/AP Images
One play earlier, the Bears went to Berrian on a slant inside, but it was broken up by nickelback Karl Paymah.
"I think I should have had it," Berrian said. "He made a great play and hit my elbow, knocked the ball out, jarred it loose a little bit. I was thinking, 'I hope they come back to me.'"
Berrian, who will be a much-sought-after unrestricted free agent after the season, has 54 catches, 23 more than the next Bear, and 733 receiving yards, 301 more than his next-best teammate. His TD catch was his third of the season, tied for the team lead with Muhsin Muhammad, and came just in time.
"I think it was just the drive and determination of not wanting our season to end, especially at home," Berrian said of the late awakening by a sluggish offense. "We're always going to go out fighting and swinging. We're never going to quit, never going to give up, so I don't want that to get in anyone's head." …
DE Adewale Ogunleye had the Bears' only two sacks of the game.
His first-quarter sack was his team-best eighth of the season, snapping a tie with Tommie Harris, and he added No. 9 in the fourth quarter.
Ogunleye stripped the ball from QB Jay Cutler on the first sack, but Broncos G Montrae Holland recovered. The forced fumble was Ogunleye's fourth of the season, tied for tops on the team with CB Charles Tillman. In three previous seasons with the Bears, Ogunleye's best season for sacks was 2005 when he had 10.
"As a leader, as a captain, I have to find ways to make plays and lead by example," said Ogunleye, who missed seven games with various injuries in his first three seasons in Chicago. "This is the healthiest I've been."
The defense was gashed for 430 yards, including 98 rushing yards by third-string RB Andre Hall. But the unit forced two turnovers, including just its second interception in six games and the forced fumble by Ogunleye.
"We made it a little tough on ourselves, but you can't even talk about that," Ogunleye said. "That's like crying over spilled milk. We're in playoff mode right now, and we found a way to win. I'm excited about that. We didn't give up. Even when people were leaving, fans were leaving, and we still found a way to play and make plays." …
In the wake of the season-ending injury to featured RB Cedric Benson, coach Lovie Smith was asked if he would trade Thomas Jones, the team's rushing leader the previous three seasons, if he had it to over again.
"How do you answer that question?" Smith said. "We don't have Thomas Jones here. This is the group we have, and we feel comfortable with it. Next question."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus – Rex Grossman didn't play well until it was almost too late, but he bounced back to help rally the offense to a game-tying touchdown with 28 seconds left and a game-winning field goal in overtime. Grossman completed just 17 of 33 passes, but his receivers dropped several catchable balls. Still, Grossman completed four of his last five passes in regulation for 46 yards and a 3-yard TD, and his only pass in OT went for 39 yards to TE Desmond Clark, who had two catches for 61 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C – Cedric Benson was well on his way to a second straight strong performance picking up 47 yards on eight carries, but he suffered a serious ankle injury on his final attempt, a 21-yard gain, and is out for the remainder of the season. Backup Adrian Peterson struggled to get 45 yards on 17 carries, and rookie Garrett Wolfe added 29 yards on three attempts.
PASS DEFENSE: D – Jay Cutler was able to throw for 302 yards thanks to major malfunctions in coverage that led to a 68-yard TD catch by Brandon Marshall, who beat Ricky Manning Jr., and a 65-yard screen pass to RB Andre Hall that set up a field goal just before halftime. TE Tony Scheffler also beat S Adam Archuleta for a 41-yard reception.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus – Third-stringer Andre Hall picked up 98 yards on 26 carries and the Broncos totaled 138 yards, but they needed 37 attempts to get there. Too much of the yardage came on misdirection plays that the Bears were slow to adjust to.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus – Devin Hester had a 75-yard punt-return TD and an 88-yard score on a kickoff return to keep the Bears close on a day when they should have been routed. K Robbie Gould hit all three field goal attempts, including the game-winning 39-yarder in overtime.
COACHING: C – The Bears didn't abandon the run game after Benson went down, and eventually the air show came around. RT Fred Miller, who struggled with DE Elvin Dumervil all day, should have been benched sooner than the fourth quarter.
All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...
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