CHICAGO - Rain fell unexpectedly Sunday morning by the lakefront, creating a setting that so often has felled the Vikings at Soldier Field. The grass was damp enough that placekicker Ryan Longwell never bothered to test his range. The wind was blowing harder than normal for a mid-October day.
And so it was natural to sense a vulnerable team -- one poised to slip, slide, stumble and bumble its way to another day of 3-yard passes, false-start penalties and turnovers.
To the surprise of many, that team materialized in the form of the Chicago Bears, while the Vikings turned in an offensive performance for the ages. Knocking the Bears all over the field -- and, in some cases, off it -- the Vikings also lit 'em up for the highest-scoring game of the Brad Childress era. The Vikings stormed to 311 rushing yards, with rookie Adrian Peterson amassing a team-record 224 yards on his own, in a 34-31 victory.
Proving that football is a game of fortunate bounces as much as beating up your opponent, the Vikings did not secure the victory until Longwell coaxed a 55-yard field goal just over the crossbar on the game's final play. The kick was a career-high at any level for Longwell, adding to the mystique of an historic day.
"I would say that game should have been pretty entertaining for our fans," said cornerback Antoine Winfield, perhaps alluding to longstanding criticism of Childress' previously low-output offense.
Sunday, however, the Vikings:
Doubled their season total of offensive touchdowns by scoring four. Their 34-point total, meanwhile, was a 21-game high.
Scored on three offensive plays of at least 60 yards for the first time in team history. After receiver Troy Williamson's 60-yard reception in the first quarter, Peterson scored on runs of 67 yards in the second and 73 in the third. Slowing down as the game went on (HA!), Peterson seemingly iced the game with a 35-yard scamper in the fourth.
Came within 3 yards of breaking the team record of 313 rushing yards in a game. Actually, the Vikings would have finished with 324 yards had they not lost yardage on three of their final four runs. The performance came against an opponent that regularly stacked eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson.
Committed a season-low two penalties and won the turnover battle 4-0 against the Bears.
"When it's a high-scoring game like that, it's just fun to play," Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "You're motivated to just keep scoring."
Childress appeared only mildly enthused by the output, pointing out that the Vikings left two other likely scores on the field. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, making his first start in a month, overthrew fullback Tony Richardson (second quarter) and Williamson (fourth quarter) after noticing them get behind the Bears defense.
What brought a smile to Childress' face was how aggressively his players took it to the Bears. They forced two fumbles, drilled quarterback Brian Griese multiple times and -- most notably -- celebrated when linebacker E.J. Henderson walloped fullback Jason McKie on the final play before halftime.
The hit left McKie dazed and on his back until almost midway through halftime.
With the score tied 14-14, Childress sprinted to the locker room and told players: "The only difference at 14-14 is that we had set a tempo. E.J. set the tempo right there at the end of the half."
Fullback Tony Richardson said the hit "gave us a lot of energy in our locker room," spurring the Vikings to outscore the Bears 17-3 over the next 26 minutes to take a 31-17 lead.
"They always say this about the NFC North, but it's a hit- or-be-hit division," Richardson said. "If you want to win a game, you have to be more physical than they are. You have to impose your will."
The Bears scored two touchdowns in the less than a minute, the second an 81-yard touchdown pass to return man Devin Hester, to tie the score. But Peterson's 53-yard kickoff return set up the Vikings at Chicago's 38-yard line, enabling a miracle day to end well.
The Vikings' postgame locker room was a mixture of astonishment and celebration. Few could remember a more productive offensive day (the Vikings last scored 34 points on Jan. 1, 2006). And only two players -- center Matt Birk and tight end Jim Kleinsasser -- remain from the last team to win in the state of Illinois.
The Vikings hadn't won at Solider Field since 2000, and while the Bears didn't help their cause, a hope emerged that Peterson and company had helped the franchise turn a corner.
"You think about it," Winfield said. "All of our games have been close. We've just had some unlucky bounces. Today we got them. What it could lead to? No one knows.
"That could be a good thing."
Kevin Seifert firstname.lastname@example.org