MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -This has been a humbling season for the Chicago Bears and their proud history of fierce defense. There was no moment lower for them than the slow walk off Soldier Field on the afternoon of Oct. 14.
Adrian Peterson had just won the game for the Minnesota Vikings, basically all by himself, by bursting through the line and slicing through the secondary for 224 yards rushing and three backbreaking touchdowns. Oh, and he returned a kickoff 53 yards to set up the winning field goal in the closing seconds.
As amazing as Peterson has been in his first year in the NFL, this defense that ranked fifth in the league the previous season for fewest yards allowed and second the year before was clearly disgraced.
``We were embarrassed,'' defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. ``He's a rookie, and you never want a rookie to run as much as he did on us.''
The defending conference champion Bears (5-8) have become a long shot to make the playoffs after losing three of their last four games to NFC contenders: the Seahawks, Giants, and Redskins. Even with a victory over the Vikings (7-6) at the Metrodome on Monday night, they would need plenty of help to qualify.
``We just got to get a lot better effort,'' Ogunleye said. ``And for the young guys, they got to understand everybody is watching. From management down to coaches, and all the guys got to know the same thing. It's a crucial time for a lot of guys on this team, and whether they are going to be back next year or not, it depends on how they play the last three games.''
Peterson's previous performance, though, surely provides the ultimate source of motivation.
``You always want to repay someone that does that to you,'' defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. ``He had a heck of game against us, and I don't feel like we played our best game, but we get our chance to do it again. So hopefully we can contain him more.''
They've obviously been watching video from last week's win by Minnesota at San Francisco. Though the Vikings were 27-7 victors, the 49ers used a constant stream of cornerback blitzes to stuff Peterson for a net gain of only 3 yards on 14 carries.
Harris pointed to poor tackling as the primary reason for Peterson's success on that October day.
``I believe the scheme has been drawn up well, but we just haven't been executing it properly,'' he said. ``Like I said, we get another chance to do it again, and hopefully we can finish this time.''
Injuries have played a major part in all this. Two starters, safety Mike Brown and tackle Dusty Dvoracek, suffered season-ending injuries in the opener. Harris has been playing with a bum knee all year, and he didn't practice Thursday. Cornerback Nathan Vasher has played in only three games because of a groin problem, and safety Adam Archuleta has been ineffective all season following a broken hand he suffered earlier. Even All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher has not been himself, playing with a bad back.
On offense, featured running back Cedric Benson is done for the year with a sprained ankle, as is perennial Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown following shoulder surgery.
``The guys have been stepping up and trying, but it's been a tough year,'' Ogunleye said.
Not coincidentally, Minnesota has not had nearly this many health problems. With four victories in a row, the Vikings control the last wild-card spot in the NFC and don't have any teams with winning records left on their schedule.
To stretch the streak to five, they'll have to avoid danger with Bears speedster Devin Hester, who returned a punt 89 yards for a score and caught an 81-yard touchdown pass in the last meeting with Minnesota.
``I am not going to give you our game plan, of course, but suffice it to say that he is extraordinary and history will tell whether he's the best of all time,'' coach Brad Childress said, dodging a question about whether the Vikings would kick to Hester or boot it out of bounds.
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Troy Williamson in the last game, another sign at the time that the Bears were having a rough season. But after bottoming out halfway through the season and then missing 1 1/2 games because of a concussion, Jackson has rebounded remarkably and played with the poise the team was desperately lacking from him in September and October.
``Tarvaris is gaining more confidence, and we're gaining more confidence in him,'' wide receiver Robert Ferguson said. ``People think we have a good running game, and we do. But we show that we are not one-dimensional. Tarvaris has been making huge strides.''

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