CHICAGO -- Offensive line problems forced the Chicago Bears to use two new starters on Sunday, and then two members of the rebuilt line were knocked out of their game against Minnesota because of injuries.
Normally, that would be a big problem. But the Bears actually played a game the way they say they want to play -- leaning on the running game and featuring mostly short passes -- and that was enough to take the heat off the line and dominate the Vikings, 28-10, ending a two-game losing streak and maintaining at least a share of the lead in the NFC North.
Chicago is 8-3. Minnesota fell to 6-5 and now trails by two games.
It helped the Bears that quarterback Jay Cutler was back in the lineup after missing a game and a half due to a concussion. Cutler threw deep only once all day, an incompletion, but completed 23 of his other 30 attempts for 188 yards.
Even with running back Matt Forte going out with an ankle injury, the Bears had 39 rushes during the game, a season high. That-- and a good defensive job against NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson until the game was out of hand -- enabled the Bears to compile a 15-minute edge in time of possession. Chicago converted 10 of its first 13 third down plays into first downs.
"We didn't have a lot of yards (296 including just 113 rushing), but (the offense) kept us where we needed to be," said Lovie Smith, the Bears' coach.
The Bears, who came into the game ranked 30th in the league in protecting their quarterback against sacks, survived the line juggling because of the running of both Forte and Michael Bush -- even though they had no gain longer than 8 yards -- and also a steady diet of rollouts by Cutler that kept him a step ahead of Minnesota's passrushers. Bush scored twice on 1-yard runs.
The rollouts were a new twist in the Chicago offense, and Cutler said, "If we can do it, I love doing it."
Cutler also loves throwing to Brandon Marshall, his former Denver teammate with whom he was reunited this year. Marshall was the target on 17 of Cutler's 31 attempts and caught 12 passes for 92 yards, putting him over 1,000 yards for the sixth straight year -- with his third team.
Asked what it meant to the Bears to have Cutler back in the lineup, Marshall said, "It means the world. It's a quarterback-driven league."
Even the best quarterbacks need protection, however, and Cutler had been sacked on 10 percent of his pass attempts this season entering the game. The Vikings got him only once. He was so in tune with the makeshift line that once, he even got down on the ground to re-tie the shoelace of left tackle J'Marcus Webb.
"There were a lot of boot(leg)s and underneath stuff, not a lot of shots down the field," said Leslie Frazier, the Vikings coach. "You need to credit their quarterback and offensive line. They did a good job of moving the ball around, as far as where they were throwing the football."
After last Monday night's blowout loss to the 49ers, the Bears demoted left guard Chico Rachal and right tackle Gabe Carimi, then, during the game, they lost both guards, Chris Spencer and Lance Louis, to knee injuries. But Carimi, who never before had played guard, and backup center Edwin Williams took over effectively.
"The offensive line did a good job," Cutler said. "Under the circumstances, they played well. The play-calling was good. I think when we stay committed to the run and we block well, we're going to be successful. Whenever you get into pass-happy and divert from the run, it's hard -- especially in November and December."
Good was not the case for Peterson, who had just 25 yards on seven carries in a first half in which the Bears outscored the Vikings, 25-3, and Minnesota made just three first downs. Peterson, who had lost only one fumble in two and a half years, lost two against the Bears -- including one in the first quarter which led to the Bears' first touchdown.
Peterson added a lot of meaningless yardage in the second half, finishing with 108 on 18 carries.
NOTES: Marshall, who exceeded 100 catches in three of his six previous seasons, now has caught 81 passes, 20 shy of the Bears' team record of 100 set by Marty Booker in 2001 . ... Chicago lost five starters to injuries during the game: Forte, Spencer, Louis, wide receiver/returner Devin Hester (concussion) and cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle). "It always about the next guy stepping up," Smith said. ... Minnesota failed to make a first down on any of its first four possessions, finishing the first quarter with just 25 yards on 11 plays. ... Minnesota safety Harrison Smith left in the third quarter with a concussion. ... In the category of strange call, after Chicago's second touchdown, late in the second quarter, holder Adam Podlesh took the snap from center and ran behind the left side of the line for a two-point conversion that put the Bears ahead, 18-3. Makes you wonder why the Bears would waste such a good fake play at that point of the game when they still had a half to go in this game and a rematch with the Vikings in a couple of weeks. ... The Vikings have not beaten the Bears at Soldier Field since 2007.