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Vikings safety Harrison Smith tugged on the jersey of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler before he threw an incomplete pass in the third quarter Sunday afternoon.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Defense finds ways to fluster Cutler that weren't seen last time

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG and DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • December 10, 2012 - 8:00 AM

Two weeks ago, the Vikings had little success getting after Jay Cutler. They had only one fluke sack in a 28-10 loss.

The Vikings defense knew it had to be more active Sunday, when coach Leslie Frazier asserted that sacks weren't a prerequisite for success but pressure would be.

And the Vikings found ways to fluster Cutler throughout their 21-14 win.

The Vikings' four quarterback hits and two sacks -- one each from Brian Robison and Everson Griffen -- were far from extraordinary. But Cutler never found anywhere near the rhythm he had in the teams' previous meeting.

The Vikings' biggest hit came with 7:27 left when Cutler was sacked by Jared Allen and then hit high by Griffen. Griffen drew an unnecessary-roughness penalty on the play, negating the sack. And Cutler stayed in for the rest of that drive, surviving nine more snaps.

But a neck injury from the Griffen hit finished the quarterback's day, leaving Jason Campbell to engineer the final drive.

"Really stiff," Cutler said. "It started stiffening up more and more."

It was the second time in five games that Cutler was unable to finish a game because of injury. He was knocked out of a Week 10 home loss to Houston with a concussion and had to miss the following week's game in San Francisco.

'That guy is a problem'

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall had another huge day against the Vikings, recording 10 catches for 160 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown grab late in the fourth quarter. That came two weeks after he recorded 12 catches for 92 yards against the Vikings in Chicago.

Marshall has 101 catches this season, a Bears record. He has four 100-catch seasons in the past six years.

Said Vikings corner Antoine Winfield: "In my eyes, he's the best receiver in the game. I put him up there with Calvin Johnson. That guy is a problem."

Man on the spot

Defensive tackle Christian Ballard was arguably the Vikings' most unsung hero Sunday, recovering a kickoff return fumble by A.J. Jefferson late in the first half. Chicago had pulled within 14-7 on an Alshon Jeffery touchdown catch when Jefferson fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Jefferson, who hadn't returned a kick this season, lost his grip on the ball at the Vikings 24 when hit by Craig Steltz. For a moment, players on both teams failed to see the loose football, leaving it sitting free until Ballard scooped it up.

Patching a patch

Players on both teams wore patches to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An exception was Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who used athletic tape to conceal his patch with a message: "Vote Ray Guy." Kluwe believes the gamed punter has been unfairly snubbed by the Hall's selection committee.

This isn't Kluwe's first move in support of Guy. Last month, he wrote a scathing rant for Deadspin.com expressing disdain for Hall of Fame voters who have yet to induct a punter into Canton.

"Why am I going to support the Hall of Fame when there are no punters in?" Kluwe said Sunday. "To me, that's ridiculous. Punting is a facet of the game. And if you're going to be gatekeepers of football and refuse to acknowledge punting as part of the game, you've failed in your duty."

As for the financial punishment the NFL will likely assess for Sunday's jersey altering?

"I'll get fined," said Kluwe. "And I'm cool with that."

Gould hurt

Bears kicker Robbie Gould suffered a left-calf strain during pregame warmups, ceded kickoff duties to punter Adam Podlesh and didn't attempt a field goal. Chicago opted not to try a 53-yarder with 1:12 left in the first quarter, sending Podlesh out to punt instead.

Gould did boot both of the Bears' PATs.

Etc.

• Adrian Peterson's two first-quarter touchdowns gave him 77 for his career. Peterson moved into third place on the Vikings' all-time TD list, slipping past Bill Brown (76). Still ahead of Peterson: Cris Carter (110) and Randy Moss (93).

• Harrison Smith recorded his second interception return for touchdown this season, becoming just the second Vikings rookie all-time two have two pick-sixes in the same year. The other was DeWayne Washington in 1994.

• Interceptions by Smith and Josh Robinson gave the Vikings defense nine picks for the year. In seven home games, the Vikings are plus-one in turnover margin, compared with minus-six on the road.

• After Chicago converted 11 of 19 third downs in its Week 12 win, the Vikings defense fared much better Sunday, holding the Bears to a 41 percent third-down conversion rate (7-for-17).

• Jefferson left the game in the fourth quarter because of a concussion.

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