(SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Vikings will host their long-time rival Chicago for the final time at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
This contest will mark the 32nd time, including playoffs, that the Bears will have played at the Metrodome, the most of any Vikings opponent. Minnesota is moving after the season to TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the University of Minnesota, while its new venue in downtown Minneapolis, which is set to open for the 2016 season, is being built.
The Bears handed the Vikings a heartbreaking 31-30 loss in the teams' first matchup of the season back in Week 2 on a last second TD, a development that foreshadowed Minnesota's disastrous season, which has included four different fourth-quarter collapses, including last's weeks 16-point implosion in Green Bay.
Trailing 23-7 early in the final frame, the Packers scored 16 unanswered points with Matt Flynn under center to send that game into overtime. Green Bay's Mason Crosby and the Vikings' Blair Walsh each made field goals for their respective teams in the extra session, but neither club got much going on offense after that and ended in a 26-26 deadlock, the NFL's first tie since Nov. 11, 2012, when the 49ers and Rams played to a 24-24 stalemate.
For the Vikings, it was the first time they kissed their sister since 1978, also against the Packers.
Christian Ponder connected on 21-of-30 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings, who were coming off a 41-20 loss at Seattle. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 32 times for 146 yards and a score, while bruising backup Toby Gerhart added eight totes for 91 yards.
"We let it get out of our hands," Ponder said. "It's unfortunate we're not walking away with our third victory."
The Bears, meanwhile, lost a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC North when they were drubbed by the St. Louis Rams, 42-21.
Josh McCown was 36-of-47 for 352 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and Brandon Marshall hauled in 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown for Chicago, which remains tied with Detroit for the top spot in the division following the Lions' loss to Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"There are a lot of reasons why you lose, and we didn't do a good job of stopping the run," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said.
The Long brothers, Chicago guard Kyle and St. Louis defensive end Chris, were the focal point of a scuffle in the second quarter. In the skirmish, Kyle Long appeared to kick Rams defensive end William Hayes before Chris Long intervened as he dragged his younger brother away from the fracas.
"He happened to be a body I saw, so I grabbed him," Chris Long said. "I'm sure there's some out there disappointed with it if they were glued to the TV looking for conflict between us."
The Vikings and Bears have played 105 times overall with Minnesota holding a slim 53-50-2 edge. Chicago, however, has won seven of the past eight in the series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
McCown's exceptional play has masked any desire to push the injured Jay Cutler back too quickly from his latest problem, a balky ankle. McCown has been rock solid in five games (three starts) completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,106 yards with seven touchdowns against one interception while compiling a 100.8 rating. In fact, Minnesota would kill for that kind of production from the quarterback position.
McCown will get his third straight start against the Vikings, with Bears coach Marc Trestman targeting the Dec. 9 game against Dallas for a potential Cutler return.
"I'm confident. I think Jay is confident," Trestman said. "You have to leave yourself an opening, but there is no underlying information here. It's week to week with the understanding that at some point in time he'll be back."
McCown should do fine against a Vikings D which has mustered only 14 takeaways and allows an NFL-worst 31.5 points per game.
When healthy the Minnesota defensive backfield is one of the NFL's worst and its down two starters, safety Harrison Smith, the only real difference-maker in the unit, and cornerback Josh Robinson. To make matters even hairier for the Vikings, corner AJ Jefferson was released after a domestic violence arrest earlier this week and the team could be without rookie corner Xavier Rhodes, who suffered a concussion in Green Bay.
That could be an untenable situation against the Bears' dynamic receiving duo of Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, whose 1,805 combined receiving yards are the most of any duo in the NFL entering Week 13.
Ponder had one of his better games in Green Bay last week but at his best, he's a mediocre guy who can't get the ball downfield. At worst, he's a turnover machine and a one-read quarterback with no pocket presence.
"The consistent play is what we're always looking for," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He had a good game, (now) put together another good game. There's no second-guessing about playing him. He earned it the way he played."
The Vikings best and likely only chance in this one is to take advantage of Chicago's NFL- worst rushing defense. The Bears allow 145.2 yards per game on the ground and surrendered 258 rushing yards in last week's loss at St. Louis. Chicago has also given up 14 rushing touchdowns, second-most in football.
"We're going to continue to work at it," Trestman said. "There are a lot of teams working in the same environment in the league. We're not going to give up on it. We're going to continue to press the issue. We're going to work harder on it this week and try to get better. We certainly have to. We know what we're up against this week."
What they are up against is Peterson, the reigning NFL MVP, who hasn't been his explosive self this season due to a nagging groin injury but has been very good nonetheless.
Minnesota rushed for a season-best 232 yards last week against the Packers and Peterson has averaged 107.7 rushing yards per game in 11 career outings against the Bears, the most of any player in history against Chicago. Also, don't sleep on Gerhart, a north-south, downhill nightmare if he gets to the second level.
You see it almost every week. The Vikings are simply behind the curve of the modern day NFL, relying on a run first, game manager-type offense and a Tampa-2 heavy defense which can't hold up consistently in a pass-happy league.
The Bears will figure it out even if it takes them until the fourth quarter.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 34, Vikings 23