Peterson's talent overrides lack of polish
How good is Vikings RB Adrian Peterson? On Monday night, he beat the Bears on a play that appeared to have disaster written all over it, writes John Clayton.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson apparently can do no wrong -- even when he's wrong.
On Monday night, Peterson made all the wrong moves at the right time, helping the Vikings beat the Bears 20-13.
With 11:02 left in regulation, Peterson, who earlier was benched a series because of a fumbled exchange with QB Tarvaris Jackson, crashed into backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger on a third-down handoff from the Bears' 8. That weird version of play-action froze the linebackers and caused safety Brandon McGowan to pursue too far to the inside.
Peterson made a cut to his left and skipped into the end zone for the winning touchdown. He made several blunders, but he's so talented he can still break a tackle or make a cut and outrun everyone to the end zone.
At 8-6, the Vikings have the edge on the final wild-card spot in the NFC and could catch up to the Giants for the No. 5 seed if New York fades even further down the stretch. The Bears, Eagles, Lions and Cardinals were eliminated with the Vikings' win.
Jan. 5-6: Wildcard Weekend
Jan. 12-13: Divisional playoffs
Jan. 20: AFC, NFC championships
Feb 3: Super Bowl (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.)
Bears players stood near their end zone in disbelief. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher could only shake his head.
Bollinger called a "check with me'' play, but Peterson and fullback Tony Richardson couldn't hear his call. Both thought the running play was to the right, and that's the way they ran. Bollinger, thinking Peterson was going left, positioned the ball for the handoff. The players bumped, but Peterson grabbed the ball and let his instincts do the rest.
On the sideline afterward, Peterson got an earful from running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who then smiled.
"He got on me, but he really got excited about the touchdown, so it wasn't too bad,'' Peterson said.
That's the way this game went for the Vikings -- big plays followed mistakes. Jackson threw three interceptions. Peterson drew the wrath of coach Brad Childress in the first quarter when he went the wrong way on a handoff from Jackson, and Chester Taylor went in for him the next series.
"I just didn't think [Adrian] did a great job of giving [Tarvaris] a pocket, getting his elbow up," Childress said.
In other words, the play was botched. The mounting mistakes put the Vikings behind 13-3 by the second quarter, which sent a chill along the sidelines and into the stands. The Vikings have a young offense that doesn't have much experience in coming from behind. In their previous three games, they won 41-17, 42-10 and 27-7.
The Vikings aren't built for comebacks, and Jackson is a work in progress. To simplify the offense, Childress tries to minimize the number of five- and seven-step drops for Jackson and emphasizes play-action passes. He has the league's best 1-2 running back combo in Peterson and Taylor. He has a quarterback with mobility in Jackson. He has big receivers and big tight ends who block well downfield.
The Bears vowed to stop the Vikings' running attack and were winning that battle. Urlacher and other Bears defenders blitzed on numerous first downs and tried to put the Vikings in second-and-long situations. Childress did his best to mix running and passing plays on first downs, but the Bears seemed to have an edge.
But there is something special about this group of Vikings. They may not be a passing team, but the offense is explosive. In the third quarter, Robert Ferguson turned a simple pass across the middle into a 71-yard play to the Bears' 1. It was the Vikings' 19th play of 50 yards or more, breaking a team record set in 1998. Peterson then scored a 1-yard touchdown to cut Chicago's lead to 13-12, but Ryan Longwell missed the extra point.
"In the first half, we just killed ourselves with interceptions and we fumbled the ball,'' Peterson said. "We were just hurting ourselves. We just came back out more focused. We came out to play ball and eventually we were going to get a big play.''
After Minnesota took the lead, the Bears' ensuing drive stalled at midfield. But a Brad Maynard punt put the Vikings on their own 2 with 7:23 left, and gave Bears coach Lovie Smith some optimism. If the Bears could stop Minnesota here, or even take advantage of another mistake, they'd have good field position and a good chance to tie the score.
And once again, Peterson made a mistake, but it didn't cost the Vikings. Jackson, back in the game after receiving a massage and some fluids, turned for the handoff and Peterson broke to his right. He was supposed to go left. Bears defenders figured Peterson would cut to his line, but he ran into open field to the right for 28 yards.
"It was actually a busted play,'' Jackson confessed. "The play was supposed to go left. I guess we didn't communicate well enough. We have to correct those things so we don't have those mistakes because it could have easily have been a fumble. But it happened that way, and we are thankful for it.''
The Vikings have to be thankful for Peterson, who finished his mistake-prone Monday with 78 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. He now has 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
"It's rare that you're able to win a game when you lose the turnover battle, 4-1,'' Childress said.
But the Vikings have a rare back in Peterson. He has the Vikings moving in the right direction, even if he takes a few wrong steps along the way.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.