MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings' 21-14 victory over Chicago at Mall of America Field Sunday answered the question: How do you win an NFL game, within your division, without anything resembling a productive passing game?
With continued brilliance by Adrian Peterson and big plays on defense.
Peterson's amazing season, less than a year removed from knee surgery, continued with 31 rushes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He exceeded 100 yards for the seventh straight game, excelling at a level few could have imagined.
Peterson did have some help, but not from quarterback Christian Ponder and a poor passing game. Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson's 44-yard interception return to the Bears' five set up Minnesota's second score and rookie safety Harrison Smith's 56-yard pick six in third produced the team's third.
Together that made up for a mediocre, much-booed performance by Ponder. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 91 yards and an interception, failing to reach 100 passing yards for the third time this season.
The victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Vikings (7-6), who handed the fast-fading Bears (8-5) their second straight loss and the fourth in five games. This despite Minnesota being outgained 438 yards to 248.
Give great credit to Peterson, who finished with 31 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns against an injury-ravaged defense that was playing without leader Brian Urlacher. Over the last seven games Peterson has not run for less than 108 yards, totaling 1,101 yards in that time. With a franchise-record 104 first-quarter yards he was over the century mark before some fans had made their way in from the snow that caused a weather emergency outside the dome in Minneapolis.
Peterson now has 1,600 yards through 13 games, needing to average 133.3 yards per game over the final three games to become the seventh 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history.
That plus the big plays was more than enough to make up for a 10-catch, 160-yard performance from Bears receiver Brandon Marshall. Jay Cutler completed 22 of 44 yards for 260 yards and a score, but he had too costly interceptions. Cutler left the game late in the fourth quarter not long after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen.
Jason Campbell hit Brandon Marshall with a 15-yard TD pass with 1:48 left in the game, but the Bears were unable to execute the on-side kick.
Talk about getting started early. On the Vikings' first play from scrimmage, Peterson took the handoff, ran off right guard, broke to the right, stiff-armed safety Chris Conte to the ground and was off for 51 yards to the Bears 29. Three plays later Ponder hit Jenkins for 11 on third-and-9. On the next play Peterson ran off left tackle for 16 yards to the Bears' one-yard line. Peterson scored on the next play, giving him 69 yards on five carries in the 80-yard drive.
On the ensuing drive, on third-and-4 from the Bears' 33, receiver Alshon Jeffery fell down on his route, and Cutler's pass was intercepted by cornerback Josh Robinson and returned 44 yards to the five.
Three plays later Peterson scored from one yard out, his second TD of the day.
But that was it for Minnesota's first-half scoring, in large part because the Bears contained Peterson and Vikings QB Christian Ponder again struggled.
Finally, late in the half, the Bears finally put together a drive. Quarterback Jay Cutler was 4-of-4 for 54 yards in a 69-yard drive that ended with his 23-yard pass to Brandon Marshall with 1:58 left in the half.
The Bears were in position to get closer, but another interception doomed Chicago. On third-and-2 late in the third quarter, Cutler threw high to Marshall. Smith, a rookie, made his third interception and returned it for his second pick six, 56 yards down the sidelines to give the Vikings a 21-0 lead.
Notes: Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed six of the last seven games because of knee surgery and a broken right hand, started opposite Brandon Marshall Sunday. Jeffery replaced Earl Bennett, who has a concussion, as the starter. ... Bears kicker Robbie Gould (left calf strain) was unable to handle kickoffs Sunday after getting injured in warmups. ... Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a back injury -- he is also playing with a shoulder injury -- was active and started. ... As expected, the Bears were also without cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) and linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring). ... Cornerback A.J. Jefferson was the kickoff return man for the Vikings.