MINNEAPOLIS -- The schedule said Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings, but it was more like Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall vs. Adrian Peterson.
Peterson won 21-14.
Now the Vikings (7-6) are just a game behind the Bears (8-5), who are showing signs of collapse.
And, oh, by the way, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, who both won Sunday, also are just 1 game behind the Bears in what could become a mad scramble for the sixth and final NFC playoff spot.
The Seattle Seahawks (8-5) won to move into sole possession of the No. 5 spot.
The Bears -- in their injury-ravaged postgame locker room that included Cutler (neck), who was unable to finish the game -- tried to ignore the obvious deterioration of a season that started 7-1.
But the realities are these:
The Bears have dropped four of their last five games. In the 4 losses, they've scored a total of 44 points. They've lost six straight December games, including last season's late collapse.
Early on, Peterson vs. 11 Bears defenders looked like a mismatch -- in favor of the Vikings' running back.
The NFL rushing leader (1,600 yards) went 51 yards on the first play of the game, swatting away safety Chris Conte with a stiff-arm just past the line of scrimmage and then outrunning and juking defenders all the way to the Bears' 29-yard line.
Peterson's 16-yard run then left the Vikings a yard short of the end zone, and he walked in on the next snap.
Five plays later Jay Cutler's third pass became his first of 2 interceptions.
Josh Robinson made the pick after intended rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery fell down. Robinson returned 43 yards setting up Peterson's second 1-yard TD run just 6:18 in for a 14-0 lead was more than a dysfunctional Bears offense could overcome.
"We didn't have a good start to the game," said Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. "But other than that I feel pretty good about what we were able to do today."
Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how'd you like the play?
Coach Lovie Smith clearly didn't care for Sunday's start.
"We knew we needed to play our best football, especially going on the road," he said. "We talked an awful lot about starting fast. (But) that opening drive really put us on our heels, and we never really recovered."
In the first quarter alone Peterson piled up a team-record 104 yards on 12 carries (8.7-yard average), breaking the team record of 96 he set earlier this season.
After that the Bears did a much better job on Peterson, holding him to 50 yards on 19 carries. But with an offense that was plagued by an epidemic of drops and several wild-high throws by Cutler, it didn't matter.
For much of the day the Bears' offense was its usual: Cutler to Brandon Marshall (10 catches, 160 yards, 1 TD) and not much else.
Completions of 11 and 12 yards to Marshall set up Cutler's perfectly placed 23-yard TD pass to Jeffery just before halftime.
But the Bears didn't score again until just 1:48 remained when Marshall's 16-yard TD grab from reliever Jason Campbell gave them hope but only until the Vikings recovered the ensuing onside kick.
In between, drops killed the Bears, who wasted 438 yards of total offense. But after Cutler gingerly approached the podium, he said drops weren't the only negative factor.
"There were a lot of problems," he said. "Offensively, I didn't play well. Interceptions, however they happened, they still happened."
With just less than five minutes left and chasing a 21-7 deficit, the Bears reached the Vikings' 23. But Devin Hester and Marshall dropped back-to-back passes, and the Vikings took over on downs.
"I let a play go that I can't get back," said Hester, who added that he could have scored on the play. "It's just frustrating. We're not finishing plays."
Earlier Jeffery couldn't hold on to a ball in the end zone that would have been a 39-yard TD and his second score of the day.
"I just flat out dropped it," Jeffery said. "I have just got to make that catch."
Despite the late-season swoon, Peppers said there were no worries, even with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers coming to Soldier Field next Sunday.
"We have three games left, and we're going to have to win these last three and that's fine. We can do that," Peppers said, although there are countless ways in which the Bears can make the postseason without running the table.
"We have a team full of veterans that understand where we're at, and the confidence is not wavering. We're fully confident that we can do it. We can pull them out."
It was pointed out to Peppers that the Packers have dominated the Bears recently, winning five straight games and seven of the last eight.
"Right, and these guys (the Vikings) hadn't beaten us in six games either, so it can be done," he said. "Streaks can be broken. We don't have to do anything heroic or superhuman to beat Green Bay.
"We just have to go out and execute our game plan and play well from the start."