Wasn't the Bears vs. the Vikings game supposed to be a low-scoring match with showcase defenses? Not when each team had their most exciting playmaker in full fall bloom Sunday at Soldier Field.
For the Vikings, Adrian Peterson rushed 20 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns – none shorter than 35 yards – and returned the last kickoff of the game 53 yards to put the Vikings in position for a game-winning 55-yard field goal that allowed them to leave Soldier Field as winners, 34-31, for the first time in six years.
For the Bears, Devin Hester opened and closed the Chicago's scoring – taking a punt 89 yards for touchdown in the first quarter and a pass 81 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But in a battle of emerging superstar athletes in the old Black and Blue division, it was Peterson and the Vikings taking home the blue ribbon as a bye-week self-study helped the formerly anemic Minnesota offense churn out 311 yards rushing – Chester Taylor added 83 yards – and a passing offense that was just efficient enough despite several dropped passes and errant throws.
Thanks to Peterson's three rushing touchdowns, the Vikings built a 31-17 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Bears struck quickly when it appeared the Vikings defense had relaxed. Within the span of three Chicago passes and less than one minute of game time, quarterback Brian Griese connected with Muhsin Muhammad for a 33-yard touchdown and Hester for an 81-yard touchdown that tied the game, 31-31.
The Vikings still needed Peterson and he delivered his best kickoff return of 53 yards to the 38-yard line to put Ryan Longwell in position to nail his career-long 55-yard field goal attempt as time expired, lifting the Vikings to the three-point win and a 2-3 record. The Bears, last year's NFC champions, fall to 2-4.
It didn't all start off as wildly as it became. The Bears started with a 10-yard pass to Bernard Berrian and an 11-yard rush by Cedric Benson, but went backwards after that on their first possession.
The Vikings experienced better consistency with their offense on their opening drive. Chester Taylor produced 13 yards on the first three plays of the game – all rushes – before Troy Williamson dropped an easily catchable ball, then corralled a 9-yard pass on the next play. Tony Richardson converted that into a first down with a 4-yard run before Adrian Peterson produced the only gain in the next six plays – a 27-yard run that put the Vikings on the Chicago 33-yard line, but they elected to punt after not gaining a yard after that.
The defense forced one more short drive and punt from Chicago before the fireworks started.
What the Bears offense couldn't produce, their very special teams would. Hester fielded his second punt of the game over his shoulder, sized up the coverage, sidestepped Chad Greenway, made Mike Doss miss, and out-stepped a diving Heath Farwell on his way to an 89-yard punt return for touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 1:56 to play in the first quarter.
Tarvaris Jackson responded with one first down on a checkdown pass to Bobby Wade before finding Troy Williamson behind the coverage for a 60-yard touchdown to tie the game at the end of the first quarter.
However, the Bears found their own passing groove on their first possession of the second quarter. After starting the drive with a heavy dose of Benson for two first downs to start the drive, Chicago moved the chains again on a third-down penalty for illegal contact on E.J. Henderson. But it was a lack of balance that gave the Bears another touchdown when Antoine Winfield fell down, leaving Berrian uncovered for an easy 39-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 11:45 to play in the first half.
After three touchdowns in 5:11 of play, the game settled down for an exchange of four punts between the two teams before the Vikings' most explosive player broke free again. Facing second-and-10, Peterson took a handoff off left tackle and found an initial wall before breaking free to the second level, reversing direction and using his speed and blocks by Robert Ferguson and Wade to win the race to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 with 2:19 to play in the second quarter, a score that held up until halftime despite fumbles by each team within the last two minutes.
The second half started much like the middle of the first half with an exchange of four punts between the two teams, but once again it was Peterson who broke the spurt of monotony. On first-and-10, Peterson took a handoff and found a crease in the defensive front and then made the last line of defense miss on his way to a 73-yard touchdown, giving the Vikings a 21-14 lead with 2:31 to play in the third quarter.
Chicago's ensuing drive brought its offense to midfield, but Ben Leber ended that forward surge with a diving interception that helped set up the Vikings offense with decent field position. Sidney Rice's diving catch on third-and-10 moved the ball near midfield and a 14-yard run by Taylor helped push the ball into Longwell's field goal range. He nailed the 48-yarder with 11:31 to play and gave the Vikings a 24-14 lead.
A short, high kickoff and a 20-yard return by Rashied Davis put the Bears on the 42-yard line to start their next drive, and when Olsen beat Greenway for 31 yards, Chicago was in position for a 32-yard field goal to draw within a touchdown at 24-17 with 8:37 to play.
But the Vikings appeared to close the deal in the coming minutes.
Jackson converted third-and-8 with a 9-yard pass to Wade, and runs of 13 yards by Peterson and 12 by Taylor put the Vikings in scoring position. On second-and-13, Peterson found the crease he needed once again and took the ball 35 yards to the end zone for a 31-17 lead with 4:10 to play.
When Dwight Smith intercepted Griese on the next play, the game should have been in Minnesota's grasp, but a three-and-out offensive series and two inexplicable quick-strike touchdowns from the Bears evaporated the lead.
Griese took over with 2:56 to play and started with a 20-yard pass to Berrian. One play later, Muhammad exploited the smallest open area in the zone between three defenders and took a crossing route 33 yards for a touchdown with 2:36 to play.
Darren Sharper recovered the Bears' onside kick attempt, but another three-and-out series left the Bears with 1:53 to play while trailing 31-24. Following an incompletion, Hester somehow was allowed to get behind Smith for an 81-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 31-31 with 1:38 remaining in regulation.
While Williamson returned the previous kickoff, this time the Vikings re-inserted Peterson in the game for that duty and he hit the crease in the wedge with authority. Only a saving tackle by Ricky Manning, Jr. kept Peterson from reaching the end zone, but his 53-yard return to the 38-yard line gave Longwell a shot. Without any Chicago timeouts remaining to freeze him, Longwell's career-long 55-yarder had just enough distance to split the uprights and save the Vikings' victory as time expired.
So much for that defensive grudge match.
Peterson's Playmaking Paces Vikings Victory
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