MINNEAPOLIS – The Metrodome roof held up just fine during Minnesota's latest heavy snowstorm.
It's the Chicago Bears who seem to be collapsing under the weight of December football.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Harrison Smith returned an interception for a score to lead the Vikings to a 21-14 victory over the freefalling Bears on Sunday.
Almost two years to the day that a huge snowstorm felled the big white dome and forced the Bears-Vikings game to move across town to the University of Minnesota's stadium, another dose of wet snow came down as the Vikings prepared to host their division rivals. No problem this time around, for the roof or Peterson. The resilient running back ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play of the game and got the Vikings (7-6) out to a 14-0 lead before the first quarter was half over en route to a desperately needed victory.
"I think they'll look at the standings tomorrow and see that we're still right in the thick of it, just like we were when this week began," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "For us, every game following will be like a playoff game."
When the Bears (8-5) look at the standings on Monday, they will be a game behind the Packers, who beat Detroit, but still be ahead of Minnesota. It just didn't feel that way when they hobbled out of the stadium on Sunday afternoon. They were 7-1 and in prime position to win the NFC North at the season's midpoint, but have lost four of their last five games and seem to get a different key player injured every week.
This time it was quarterback Jay Cutler, who was crunched on a high-low hit by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen in the fourth quarter. He finished the drive, but did not return for the final four minutes because of a neck injury. He was 22 of 44 for 260 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
With Brian Urlacher out indefinitely with an injured right hamstring and cornerback Tim Jennings missing the game because of a shoulder injury, the Bears are bruised and battered, to go along with beaten.
"Everybody has injuries. That's part of this league," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We're going to have to play through that. But obviously some of our better players are down. We need guys to step up and play."
Few have rebounded from an injury the way Peterson has. The relentless runner tore the ACL in his left knee late last season, yet somehow has been able to comeback better than ever. He topped 100 yards for the seventh straight game to give him 1,600 yards this season — putting that hallowed 2,000 yard mark well within reach with three games to go.
More importantly for the Vikings, he carried the ball a season-high 31 times, the kind of broad-shouldered performance the offense desperately needed with quarterback Christian Ponder continuing to struggle in the passing game. Ponder was 11 of 17 for just 91 yards and one ugly interception, a back-footed throw into triple coverage that Major Wright easily snagged just before halftime.
No matter. The beleaguered quarterback had Peterson and an opportunistic defense to lean on. Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson picked off Cutler in the first quarter and returned it 44 yards to set up Peterson's second touchdown of the day. Smith gave them some much-needed breathing room in the third quarter when Cutler floated a pass over Brandon Marshall's head and into Smith's arms. The rookie took it back 56 yards for a 21-7 lead that held up.
"In the situation we're in, we have to win out," said Peterson, whose Vikings finish up with games at St. Louis, at Houston and home against Green Bay. "That's the focus we have.
Jason Campbell came on in relief of Cutler and threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall late in the game, but it was a little too late for the Bears, who trail the Packers by a game heading into a showdown with the division leaders in Chicago next week. The Bears then finish up on the road at Arizona and Detroit. Their margin for error is getting smaller by the day.
"It's frustrating," safety Chris Conte said. "We've had some injuries, but ultimately we have to come out and play better."
Marshall had 10 catches for 160 yards, Alshon Jeffery had three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown and Matt Forte rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries for the Bears.
The late-season swoon is a familiar one under coach Lovie Smith, who fell to 15-18 in the final four games of a season. Last season, they lost five straight games after a 7-3 start and finished 8-8 to miss the playoffs.
"I'm just thinking about us getting back on a winning streak next week," Smith said. "We're disappointed in how some of those games have gone, all of the games, really. We're disappointed in this game, but when you're disappointed like that and you have your rival coming up back at home, we have to rally. We'll feel bad, but then it's all on Green Bay."
NOTES: Jennings, the NFL leader in interceptions, said he thinks there's a chance he can play against the Packers. "Later in the week, it was getting better each and every day," he said, "but the coaches decided to let it heal, which is smart because I still have a little soreness." ... The Vikings had more yards from interception returns (100), than they did in passing offense (91). ... Adam Podlesh handled the kickoff duties for K Robbie Gould, who strained his left calf in warm-ups. Gould did kick the two extra points.
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