Minnesota will attempt to create more separation from the pack next Monday when they play host to the Chicago Bears. The Vikings already beat the Bears, 34-31, in Week 6 and are a much better team right now.
A 27-7 victory over the 49ers moved the Vikings (7-6) above the .500 mark for the first time since a Week 1 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. While the victory was convincing it came with barely any contribution from rookie phenom Adrian Peterson.
In his second game back since suffering a slightly torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, Peterson rushed for a career-low three yards on 14 carries and had a long gain of four yards. Veteran Chester Taylor had six fewer attempts than Peterson but finished with 101 yards rushing, including an 84-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
The fact the Vikings could win a game with such a limited contribution from Peterson speaks volumes about how far this franchise has come since falling to 3-6 after an embarrassing 34-0 loss against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 11.
Minnesota has now put itself in a position to grab a wild card spot in the NFC North if it can win its remaining games against Chicago, Washington and Denver.
The Vikings will face the Bears and Redskins at the Metrodome before closing the season on the road against the Broncos. The Vikings entered Sunday with the NFL's top rushing offense and there is little question opponents are putting plenty of energy into stopping Minnesota's ground attack.
The problem for foes is that as quarterback Tarvaris Jackson continues to mature he is now putting himself in a spot to help the Vikings win games. Jackson had a very respectable 95.9 passer rating and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Robert Ferguson on Sunday against San Francisco.
"The air game is going to help us out tremendously coming through these last three games and it's just going to open up the run game," Taylor said. "If you have a pass game you have two threats, so the defense has to prepare harder."
Peterson, meanwhile, likely won't take his lack of success in San Francisco very well. A fiery competitor, Peterson has already had success against the Bears this season rushing for a then team-record 224 yards at Soldier Field. He topped that three games later by running for an NFL record 296 yards against San Diego.
There is no doubt the Bears will be looking for revenge against Peterson, but given the rookie's talent that might not matter. Peterson, for one, was asked if he expects games like his performance against San Francisco every now and then.
"Every now and then," he said, grinning. "I just have to keep my head up and just look forward to next weekend. Come out and do something different."
Consider the Bears warned.