Vikings grab win, first place in NFC North

The Vikings avoided a huge early deficit and had a halftime lead they wouldn't surrender. They did it with an all-around effort that featured another big game for Adrian Peterson against the Bears, an impressive goal-line stand and an efficient game from Gus Frerotte.

Welcome to sole possession of first place in the NFC North, Minnesota Vikings.

With a convincing 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears, the Vikings broke the first-place tie for the division lead entering the final month of the season.

They did it behind another 100-yard performance from Adrian Peterson – he now has 554 yards and eight touchdowns against the Bears in four career games – an efficient performance from Gus Frerotte, and a defense that had a critical goal-line stand in addition to giving up only 228 total net yards.

Peterson was the Vikings' workhorse, running 28 times for 131 yards (4.7-yard average), including a 59-yard run and a 1-yard touchdown. After throwing four interceptions against Chicago in the first meeting this year, Frerotte completed 16 of 25 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

But while the offense was trying to find a rhythm in the first half, it was an enormous goal-line stand in the second quarter that helped turn what could have been a 14-3 deficit into a 17-7 Minnesota lead at the half. They did it by forcing one incompletion and stopping three consecutive runs. After taking over on downs, the Vikings went right to the air and hit the biggest offensive play possible in the NFL – a 99-yard touchdown on a pass from Frerotte to former Bear Bernard Berrian.

The win improved the Vikings to 7-5 and put them one game ahead of the 6-6 Bears and two games in front of the 5-7 Packers, with a series split with both of those teams.

The Vikings opened the first drive with a first-down toss to Berrian and got one more before punting away to Devin Hester. With a 60-yard punt into the end zone, Hester's return abilities were rendered moot, and the Vikings did a solid job of containing him on special teams.

The Bears responded with three straight incompletions and nearly the first interception for Kyle Orton in 188 passes, but the Vikings were quickly back on the field with a punt. For the second consecutive drive, the Bears ended it with a third-down sack, the start of an offensive struggle for the Vikings in the early stages of the game.

While the Vikings kept Hester at bay on his first two punt returns, they couldn't stop him on offense. On the second play of Chicago's second drive, Hester took a deep slant and beat Antoine Winfield and juked Darren Sharper to the ground before sprinting 65 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Bears lead midway through the first quarter.

The teams exchanged a combined four punts to take it to the second quarter before Peterson got a chance to make his first big impact on the Vikings' fifth series of the game. On the first play of the drive, Peterson appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage by Lance Briggs, but another hit by Corey Graham broke Peterson free from Briggs and he spun free for a 59-yard run to the 6-yard line. However, a 1-yard run by Peterson was followed by two incompletions, and the Vikings settled for a 23-yard Ryan Longwell field goal to make it 7-3 with 12:45 to play in the first half.

After trading punts, the Bears had the advantage in field position, starting from the Minnesota 46-yard line. The Vikings appeared to have them stopped on third down when a post-play blow to the head by CB Benny Sapp gave the Bears new life. On the next play, Forte broke a 26-yard run to the 1-yard line and Chicago was on the doorstep of taking a 14-3 lead. That is, until the Vikings' goal-line defense stopped all four of the Bears' attempts – one incomplete pass and three runs, two by Forte.

The Vikings took over on downs and immediately took over the lead when Frerotte connected with Bernard Berrian for the longest pass play in Vikings history – a 99-yard bomb that had the crowd cheering before Berrian even corralled it to give the Vikings a 10-7 lead with 4:48 left in the half.

The defense allowed only one first down to Orton, but the Vikings weren't content to settle for a three-point lead. When Chester Taylor converted a first down with an 8-yard reception, the offense started to roll. On the next play, Peterson went for 16 yards on the ground, followed by Frerotte completing passes of 15 and 8 yards to Bobby Wade and Berrian, the last one getting 15 yards tacked on for unnecessary roughness on the tackle. The Vikings continued to keep it in the air and Jim Kleinsasser was the recipient of a completion that was initially ruled a 21-yard touchdown. After review, he was down at the 1-yard line, but on the next play Frerotte sneaked his way into the end zone for a 17-7 Vikings lead going into halftime.

With five minutes left in the half, it looked like the Vikings could go down 14-3. Instead, a huge defensive goal-line stand, an explosive play, and another touchdown drive gave them a 17-7 lead.

However, the Bears made a game of it early in the third quarter, taking advantage of Frerotte's first interception of the game on Minnesota's initial drive of the second half. The quarterback forced a pass to Sidney Rice down the left sideline that was underthrown. Rice swatted to try to keep the ball out of the cornerback's hands and it bounded up in the air and into safety Kevin Payne's hands. Payne returned it to the 4-yard line, and Forte turned the turnover into seven points with a 2-yard second-down reception with 8:53 to play in the third quarter, drawing Chicago within three points, 17-14.

But the Vikings showed they could take advantage of a turnover as well, as Darren Sharper intercepted an underthrown pass intended for Brandon Lloyd and returned it to the 35-yard line. The Vikings picked up one first down before Taylor broke off a 21-yard touchdown run for a 24-14 lead with 4:27 to play in the third quarter.

With a 10-point lead and the Vikings' ability to keep the Bears offense from gaining a first down on their next two drives, Minnesota needed one more big play to seal the game and got it when Ben Leber brought down Orton's second interception of the game and returned it to the 22-yard line before fumbling it out of bounds.

From there, the Vikings ground game did the job. Peterson took the first carry 1 yard before Taylor ripped off runs of 7, 9, and 4 yards on consecutive carries. Peterson returned for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:25 to play to give Minnesota 31-14 lead.

On the very next play from scrimmage, Orton misfired again and this time it was Benny Sapp picking off the deflected pass and returning it 19 yards, a return that had 15 yards added to it with a horse-collar tackle.

With the ball at the 20-yard line, the Vikings picked up one first down and ran the ball six consecutive times to milk the clock and put Longwell on the field for a 27-yard field goal for a 34-14 lead that stood the rest of the game.

After starting the season 1-3, the Vikings have won four of their last five, but most importantly they are alone in first place in the NFC North and finally control their destiny again.


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