At least until it really counted.
Peterson’s 8-yard touchdown run, his second of the night started by a shoulder-shake to fake Urlacher at the line of scrimmage, sent the Vikings past the Bears 20-13 on Monday for their fifth straight victory.
“Couldn’t finish,” said Urlacher, who kept his sparse postgame comments to grouchy sentence fragments.
The Vikings (8-6) stayed in control of the NFC’s last wild-card spot, despite four turnovers and a missed extra point. Tarvaris Jackson’s career-high 249 yards passing were overshadowed by three interceptions, mistakes that led to a 13-3 Bears advantage until Peterson’s first score early in the third.
“It just shows people and shows ourself that we can win all kinds of ways,” said Jackson, who completed 18 of his 29 throws.
Peterson finished with 78 yards on 20 carries, just enough to keep Minnesota one game in front of New Orleans and Washington in the conference race. Defending NFC champion Chicago (5-9) was officially eliminated from contention.
“We know you have to play a complete game, and in the end those same guys who made plays early have to step up there in the fourth quarter,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith, who winced while his team was whistled for 11 penalties totaling 95 yards.
Coming off the self-declared worst game of his career, just 3 yards on 14 carries against the San Francisco 49ers, Peterson had trouble finding room to run again for most of the night and took the blame from coaches for a fumble on a botched first-half handoff.
Then in the fourth quarter, with Jackson sidelined temporarily by a cramp in his calf muscle, Peterson added another clip to his rookie highlight video.
On third-and-goal, after brushing backup Brooks Bollinger during a bad handoff, Peterson stutter-stepped to freeze Urlacher before darting left and scurrying over the goal line. Urlacher just shook his head, while Peterson hammed it up with teammates in the end zone.
“It was a communication error, but I was able to make a big play out of it,” Peterson said.
Bollinger’s dive forward on a draw play gave the Vikings the 2-point conversion and a 20-13 lead with 10:56 left, plenty of time for Chicago to come back.
Kyle Orton, though, didn’t have it in him. In his first start in two years, the Bears quarterback avoided turnovers until the very end. His long pass to the end zone just after the 2-minute warning was intercepted by Darren Sharper.
Too many of Orton’s throws were way off target, though. He completed 22 of 36 passes for 184 yards.
“The more you play the more comfortable you get, but I didn’t make enough plays to win,” Orton said. “I felt comfortable in the game. We just didn’t make enough plays. Put that on me.”
The throw that hurt Orton the most came near the end of the third quarter, on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 35. On a curious call, Orton lofted a swing pass to fullback Jason McKie that sailed over his head. After the exchange, Peterson got going and led the drive for the winning score.
The Vikings have come a long way since Nov. 11, when they were whipped on the road by the rival Packers by a humbling score of 34-0.
So what’s different about this team?
“It’s really not any of the bodies,” coach Brad Childress said. “I think it’s mind-set, more than anything.”
The Vikings wore purple from head to foot after pulling their dark pants from the back of the closet. This game had the look of one of those Black-and-Blue Division clashes with the Bears from 20 years prior.
Urlacher played like the six-time Pro Bowl pick that he is, harassing Jackson often, recording two sacks, and twice taking the ball from Minnesota.
He was angry and embarrassed two months ago when Peterson shredded the Bears defense for 224 yards and three touchdowns to send the Vikings to a 34-31 victory at Soldier Field. Never in the history of the franchise had an opposing player gained so much on the ground.
Well, they didn’t forget that game, and the return of starting cornerback Nathan Vasher—after nearly two months due to nagging groin injury—gave the Bears’ beat-up defense another boost.
Though they moved the ball well at times in the first half, six points were all the Vikings managed, and they were lucky to get the last three.
Jackson’s first throw was on target to Robert Ferguson, but the ball bounced off his chest and into Urlacher’s hands and he returned it to the Minnesota 14. Two false-start penalties on the Bears forced them to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
Minnesota drove to the Chicago 22 on its next possession, but Peterson didn’t handle Jackson’s handoff cleanly, and Urlacher grabbed the errant ball for another turnover.
Chester Taylor dropped a third-down pass in the second quarter that would have put Minnesota in field-goal range, and with less than 1 minute left before halftime Jackson made his worst throw in more than a month by forcing a ball over Bobby Wade’s head that Vasher picked off and took 34 yards to the 12.
McKie’s short touchdown run came next, and the Bears had a 10-point lead. The Vikings used an 18-yard scramble by Jackson and a 15-yard late-hit penalty on Charles Tillman to sneak into range for Longwell to kick a 48-yard field goal at the gun.
Minnesota was without top cornerback Antoine Winfield for the second half due to a left shoulder injury. … Chicago converted only one of 14 third-down conversions.