Anyone who tells you they have a good handle on what's going on in the NFL right now is lying to you.
The Minnesota Vikings played ugly football Sunday afternoon, but ugly football is what was needed in grinding out a 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears at Mall of America Field to keep clinging to their playoff hopes in the topsy-turvy world that is the NFL in 2012.
Go figure, but Adrian Peterson was once again the main cog for the refuse-to-die Vikings, running for 154 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 31 carries.
The Vikings improved to 6-1 at home and 7-6 overall and kept their faint playoff hopes alive in the NFC Wild Card race. Meanwhile, the Bears dropped their fourth game in their last five. Jay Cutler, who missed two games with a concussion, had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit from the Vikings' Everson Griffen.
The Vikings head to St. Louis next week in what will amount to an elimination game against the Rams.
We take a look at the winners and losers for Minnesota in their victory over the Bears.
Same story, different week for Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings running back continued his MVP-worthy stretch of games, running for two touchdowns and 154 yards on a career-high 31 carries to lead the Vikings to a win over the Bears.
Peterson, whose remarkable season is on the heels of tearing up his knee at the end of last December, is probably suffering a from sore back, as he's single-handedly carrying the Minnesota offense right now.
Peterson set the tone early Sunday, taking the first play from scrimmage 51 yards to the Bears' 29-yard line. After another 16-yard burst, Peterson took it in to the end zone from a yard out to stake the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead.
In the blink of an eye later, Josh Robinson had picked off Jay Cutler, and Peterson scored another one-yard touchdown to put the Vikings up 14-0 before Vikings fans even had a chance to grumble anything negative about quarterback Christian Ponder.
Peterson would soldier on for the rest of the afternoon, but that was pretty much it for the Vikings offense, as it wouldn't even return to the Bears side of the field until halfway through the fourth quarter and wouldn't put any more points on the board.
Sometimes, having Adrian Peterson is all you need.
This is where we're at with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder right now: He just threw for under 100 yards and had a passer rating of 53.8, and the general consensus from Vikings fans is probably going to be along the lines of, "well, I guess he wasn't THAT bad."
Winning does a good job of hiding your warts.
If you heard that the Bears out-gained the Vikings 438-248, you'd probably guess that the Bears won. If you also heard that the Bears out-passed the Vikings 324-91, you'd be almost positive that the Bears won.
If I told you that an NFL quarterback had thrown for under 150 yards five times in 13 games but his team was still alive for a wild-card berth, you'd probably guess that it was 1955.
Nobody learned anything more about Christian Ponder on Sunday afternoon. He was 11-for-17 for 91 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He threw some nice passes, and he threw some terrible passes. He continued to float balls into crowds as if he had Yao Ming posting up in the paint.
The Vikings didn't need Christian Ponder to win on Sunday afternoon. The win buys Ponder more time to prove he can be a serviceable starter in the NFL.
Sometimes, when coaching in the NFL, the best thing you can do is just stay the hell out of your own way.
The Minnesota Vikings' 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday was one of those days. Just hand the ball to Adrian Peterson and grind it out. The Bears were beat up and struggling, and when the Vikings jumped out to a two-touchdown lead, the Vikings coaches went into "just don't blow it" mode, and it worked like a charm.
The best thing that could happen for the Vikings coaching staff was getting a win without needing their struggling quarterback to play well to do it. Things went the Vikings' way early, and the coaches were smart enough to just keep handing the ball to Adrian Peterson.
Peterson had a career-high 31 carries and gave the Vikings offense just enough production to get far enough ahead that the lifeless Bears couldn't make a game of it.
The Vikings defensive backs will be happy to know that they don't have to see No. 15 on the Chicago Bears again until 2013.
Brandon Marshall killed the Vikings all day long, catching 10 balls for 165 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown.
The Vikings' coverage of Marshall was pretty good for the most part, but there is nobody better in the NFL at boxing out and going up and getting the ball in coverage. Marshall is an elite athlete, and at 6'4", 230 pounds, he's a complete nightmare for defensive backs.
He's a big body, and he knows how to use it. The Vikings secondary took a lot of blows from Marshall, but won the game anyway. A win is a win.
The Vikings dominated in the all-important field position category in Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears, and the No. 1 reason for that was punter Chris Kluwe.
Kluwe has had a couple of off games of late, but bounced back in a big way at home, consistently getting big, high kicks that pinned the Bears with long fields that proved to be too much for them to navigate.
After scoring the first two times they had the ball, the Vikings punted seven out of their next eight possessions, and Kluwe was phenomenal. The Bears started four of those seven drives inside their own 15-yard line. The Bears would score on just one of those drives, as the Vikings defense, while certainly bending at times, never broke and did what they needed to do to get the win.
After Peterson, you could make a good argument that Kluwe was the most valuable Viking on Sunday afternoon.
As the much-maligned Vikings receiving corps continues to struggle week after week, the bottom line is that several of them are playing for their football futures.
With Percy Harvin done for the year, nobody can argue that opportunity is not at hand for the likes of Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton. It's likely that none of the three will be back with the club in 2013, but it's also likely that stepping forward and proving yourself over the last four games of the season will at least give the Vikings coaching staff something to think about.
The Vikings' passing offense was putrid again on Sunday, and thankfully, they weren't needed to get a victory. The big loser on Sunday was Devin Aromashodu, who was only targeted once, and in what would have been a huge play for the Vikings, he just couldn't make a play on the ball.
The chicken/egg debate in Minnesota over who's worse, the quarterback or the receivers, certainly wasn't resolved in the win over the Bears, but on that play, it was certainly Aromashodu.
NFL receivers make that play. Aromashodu didn't.
The Vikings traded up to get back into the first round in order to draft safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame. Smith was the starting free safety the second Roger Goodell announced his name in New York, and the Vikings haven't regretted it for a second.
When Smith was a senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, he rushed for 1,340 yards and 19 touchdowns as a running back. He's now picked off three passes in the NFL, and he's taken two of the three to the house, including Sunday's 56-yarder that proved to be the difference in the win over the Bears.
Smith was playing center field for the Vikings and was in the right spot at the right time when Jay Cutler overthrew Brandon Marshall. Smith put a move on Alshon Jeffery that Adrian Peterson would have been proud of before weaving through the rest of the Bears offense on his way to the end zone.
Smith pitched in seven tackles on the afternoon, and although the Vikings gave up two touchdown passes, they did a good job of keeping the Bears receivers in front of them. Smith also corralled Jay Cutler on a blitz, and although he didn't finish off the sack, he forced Cutler to throw the ball away on a key down.
Phil Loadholt was called for three false starts in Sunday's win over the Bears. While he had a host of his buddies jumping with him on one of them, there just has to be a little more discipline from the big guy.
Loadholt looked to be extremely frustrated after the third one and was chatting with center John Sullivan, as the two clearly weren't on the same page.
Thankfully for the Vikings, it all happened in a win, which makes things much easier to live with, but the Vikings offense has zero room for error right now, so the offensive line jumping offsides is not something that Minnesota can live with.
Loadholt has had a pretty decent bounce-back year after a disappointing 2011, so the hope is that Sunday's miscues were just one of those days. The Vikings can't afford to have any more of them.
The Vikings defense played the "bend-but-don't-break" game to perfection on Sunday.
Brandon Marshall got his. Matt Forte had his moments. The bottom line though, is that the Vikings defense held them to seven points until Chicago tacked on a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Jasper Brinkley led the way for a Vikings defense that all deserve to take some bows after Sunday's performance. Josh Robinson had a great interception and a nice return. Everson Griffen and Erin Henderson made some plays. Jared Allen took a questionable personal foul penalty at one point, but the takeaway from the play was that Jared freaking Allen was 40 yards downfield making a hit on Matt Forte.
At a time when the Vikings offense is as one-dimensional as it's ever been, the defense has manned up time and time again. Nobody has bitched about the offense, and everyone on the defensive side of the ball has pitched in. They haven't always been perfect, but the turnaround from last year's crew has been remarkable.
Brinkley gets the nod as the top representative from the group against the Bears, leading the team with 12 tackles, including nine solos.
You know they're out there. There's a large segment of Vikings fans who are looking at the future and don't want any part of it to include the likes of Ponder, Frazier and Spielman.
Sunday's game could have been pretty combustible if the Vikings would have laid an egg.
The schadenfreudists may have their day, but it wasn't Sunday. No, it wasn't pretty, but the Vikings won and kept their small playoff hopes alive for at least another week.
Christian Ponder did nothing to calm down his critics, but the win will keep the foaming at the mouth to a minimum this week.
If the Vikings go to St. Louis next week and Ponder plays well and the Vikings get a win, well, then everything will be fine for another week. If it goes the other way next week then all bets are off.