MINNEAPOLIS - Inches from an 11-point edge late in the first half, Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears hit the wall. The Minnesota Vikings turned around and quickly took the lead — in the game and in the division.
With a gutty goal-line stand and one big heave by Gus Frerotte, the Vikings grabbed control of the NFC North and sent Kyle Orton and the Bears home with a 34-14 loss Sunday night.
“If you’re going to win these tough games, you’ve got to make plays and you’ve got to capitalize,” Orton said. “Against a defense like this, you’re not going to have too many opportunities down there.”
Seconds after the Bears were stopped four times at the 1, Bernard Berrian was wide open up the sideline for a 99-yard touchdown pass from Frerotte.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a 99-yard play, and I’ve been playing football since I was 8 years old,” said Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who had three sacks. “That right there, that’s just a dagger in your chest. Defensively, if that happened to us, I’d be like, ’Holy smokes.”’
Orton’s team-record streak of 206 attempts without an interception ended with a thud. He threw three of them, and Minnesota (7-5) turned them into 17 second-half points. Orton finished 11-for-29 for 153 yards and, despite two touchdowns, suddenly looked more like the lost rookie who struggled through the 2005 season.
“With any quarterback, you put pressure on ’em and they rush their throws a little bit,” defensive end Ray Edwards said. “He didn’t have time back there to make the plays that needed to be made.”
Adrian Peterson had 100 yards by halftime and finished with 131 yards and a late score for the Vikings, who enjoyed their largest winning margin this year.
“When you have a balanced offense, it’s wonderful. Especially for a running back,” Peterson said.
When the afternoon scores were given over the loudspeaker before the game, Green Bay’s 35-31 loss to Carolina got a hearty cheer. The Packers (5-7) fell two games behind after a brutal November, and the Vikings sailed into the fourth quarter of the season with a critical lead over the Bears (6-6).
The possibility of four-game suspensions for star defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams looms for Minnesota, and Chicago plays three straight weeks at home. Clearly, this was one the Vikings had to have.
After surrendering 283 yards and two touchdowns passing last month in a 48-41 loss at Soldier Field to Orton, one of the best games of his breakthrough season, the Vikings tightened up. They yielded a 65-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester in the first quarter, but that was their only lapse.
The Bears, leading 7-3, reached the 1 after a 26-yard scamper by Matt Forte up the sideline with 5 minutes left in the second.
The Williams wall didn’t budge, though, helping stuff three straight-ahead runs in a row after an overthrow by Orton. Ben Leber and Pat Williams smacked Forte, the league’s leading rookie rusher, on fourth down to send the defense rollicking off the field. Chicago coach Lovie Smith looked as if he was about to lose his lunch.
Momentum to Minnesota.
Frerotte dropped back in the end zone and found Berrian blowing by former teammate Charles Tillman, who had ducked inside to cut off tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Frerotte thought to himself, “Why is he so wide open? What’s going on?”
The pass was perfect, Berrian caught it in stride, and the result — the 11th pass covering that distance in NFL history and the longest offensive play in Minnesota history by 10 yards — had the home crowd roaring.
“It was the luckiest touchdown I ever had,” Berrian said, adding: “I was actually surprised how open I was.”
Said Tillman: “No excuses. It was a good play, and a good call.”
The stunned Bears punted it back, and Frerotte went 4-for-4 for 52 yards on an 86-yard drive he finished with a 1-yard sneak that made it 17-7 right before the half.
“It’s amazing what a shift in momentum can do,” Smith said.
Notes: Former Vikings DT John Randle, who ranks third on the franchise’s career sacks list, was inducted into the team’s “Ring of Honor” in a halftime ceremony. ... The previous record offensive play by the Vikings came in their second season, an 89-yard pass from Fran Tarkenton to Charley Ferguson on Nov. 11, 1962. ... The home team has won 12 of the last 14 games in the series. ... Forte finished with 96 yards on 22 carries. ... The Bears had a plus-8 turnover margin entering the game.
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