It has gotten to the point where Adrian Peterson's teammates are wondering. Can this really be happening? Or, more simply, as Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said after Sunday's 21-14 victory over Chicago at Mall of America Field: "I don't know if he's human or not."
He would be running back Adrian Peterson, who continued his march towards history, running 31 times for 154 yards and two first-quarter scores, surpassing the 100-yard mark for his seventh straight game, continuing to rack up yards when everyone in the universe knows he's going to get the ball.
"It's just will power," he said with a smile.
It's more than that. It was Peterson's will that gave Minnesota a way to end a two-game losing streak, to hand the Bears their fourth loss in five games, to keep playoff hopes alive. Well, that and two huge defensive plays by rookie defensive backs Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith.
Both picked off Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who, in the face of pressure, had another difficult day, eventually leaving the game with a stiff neck. Robison returned his interception to the Bears' 5, setting up Minnesota's second score. Smith returned his 56 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put the Vikings up 21-7.
That plus Peterson's play allowed the Vikings (7-6) to jump out to a 14-0 lead and win despite another humdrum day by quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder completed 11 of 17 passes for 91 yards and an interception, his third game this season with less than 100 passing yards. Indeed, after having played the Bears a couple weeks ago, the Vikings went into this game determined, apparently, not to let Ponder lose it.
"In this game, what was required from us was to be able to run the football," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The big thing for us is being able to limit the turnovers. We had a game plan today, and Christian did a great job of executing that."
The Bears, meanwhile, dropped to 8-5 and are now clinging to playoff position. "With an 8-5 record, now it's all about this three-game season," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "And the next game. That's going to dictate what happens to us. We're still in position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out for early on."
But Sunday it was the Vikings who did the dictating. Knowing how banged up the Bears defense was -- starting with linebacker Brian Urlacher being out -- the Vikings were determined to run, and they did. On the game's first play from scrimmage Peterson burst off the right side for 51 yards. A few plays later he ran for 16 yards to the Chicago 1. On the next play he scored.
On the fifth play of the ensuing possession Cutler's pass for Alshon Jeffery was picked off by Robinson and returned 44 yards to the five. Three plays later Peterson had his second TD. By the time the first quarter ended Peterson had 104 yards. By the time the game ended Peterson had an even 1,600 yards, which means he will need to average 133.3 yards per game over the final three contests to become the seventh player in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards in a season. And this after coming back from knee ligament surgery.
"Yeah, I think about it," Peterson said of the 2,000-yard barrier. "I don't try to think about it too much. I feel like it will happen. I feel we're going to continue to run the ball so I feel the chip will fall where they may."
The Bears got 260 passing yards from Cutler, who threw two TDs as well as two picks. Receiver Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that provided the final score of the game.
But the Bears couldn't get things going for most of the game, thanks to a lot of long third-down plays and good pressure from the Vikings' front four. "There were a lot of problems," Cutler said. "I didn't play well. Interceptions, however they happened, they still happened. We've just got to play better."
Not many could play better than Peterson, who has 1,811 total yards from scrimmage this year and is only the second running back in NFL history to score 10 or more touchdowns in each of his first six seasons.
Human? Maybe not.