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Peterson gets Vikings out quick in win over Bears

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Peterson gets Vikings out quick in win over Bears

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Metrodome roof held up just fine during Minnesota's latest heavy snowstorm.

It's the Chicago Bears who seem to be collapsing under the weight of December football.

Adrian Peterson rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Harrison Smith returned an interception for a score to lead the Vikings to a 21-14 victory over the freefalling Bears on Sunday.

Almost two years to the day that a huge snowstorm felled the big white dome and forced the Bears-Vikings game to move across town to the University of Minnesota's stadium, another dose of wet snow came down as the Vikings prepared to host their division rivals. No problem this time around, for the roof or Peterson. The resilient running back ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play of the game and got the Vikings (7-6) out to a 14-0 lead before the first quarter was half over en route to a desperately needed victory.

``I think they'll look at the standings tomorrow and see that we're still right in the thick of it, just like we were when this week began,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. ``For us, every game following will be like a playoff game.''

When the Bears (8-5) look at the standings on Monday, they will be a game behind the Packers, who beat Detroit, but still be ahead of Minnesota. It just didn't feel that way when they hobbled out of the stadium on Sunday afternoon. They were 7-1 and in prime position to win the NFC North at the season's midpoint, but have lost four of their last five games and seem to get a different key player injured every week.

This time it was quarterback Jay Cutler, who was crunched on a high-low hit by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen in the fourth quarter. He finished the drive, but did not return for the final four minutes because of a neck injury. He was 22 of 44 for 260 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

With Brian Urlacher out indefinitely with an injured right hamstring and cornerback Tim Jennings missing the game because of a shoulder injury, the Bears are bruised and battered, to go along with beaten.

``Everybody has injuries. That's part of this league,'' defensive end Julius Peppers said. ``We're going to have to play through that. But obviously some of our better players are down. We need guys to step up and play.''

Few have rebounded from an injury the way Peterson has. The relentless runner tore the ACL in his left knee late last season, yet somehow has been able to comeback better than ever. He topped 100 yards for the seventh straight game to give him 1,600 yards this season - putting that hallowed 2,000 yard mark well within reach with three games to go.

More importantly for the Vikings, he carried the ball a season-high 31 times, the kind of broad-shouldered performance the offense desperately needed with quarterback Christian Ponder continuing to struggle in the passing game. Ponder was 11 of 17 for just 91 yards and one ugly interception, a back-footed throw into triple coverage that Major Wright easily snagged just before halftime.

No matter. The beleaguered quarterback had Peterson and an opportunistic defense to lean on. Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson picked off Cutler in the first quarter and returned it 44 yards to set up Peterson's second touchdown of the day. Smith gave them some much-needed breathing room in the third quarter when Cutler floated a pass over Brandon Marshall's head and into Smith's arms. The rookie took it back 56 yards for a 21-7 lead that held up.

``In the situation we're in, we have to win out,'' said Peterson, whose Vikings finish up with games at St. Louis, at Houston and home against Green Bay. ``That's the focus we have.

Jason Campbell came on in relief of Cutler and threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall late in the game, but it was a little too late for the Bears, who trail the Packers by a game heading into a showdown with the division leaders in Chicago next week. The Bears then finish up on the road at Arizona and Detroit. Their margin for error is getting smaller by the day.

``It's frustrating,'' safety Chris Conte said. ``We've had some injuries, but ultimately we have to come out and play better.''

Marshall had 10 catches for 160 yards, Alshon Jeffery had three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown and Matt Forte rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries for the Bears.

The late-season swoon is a familiar one under coach Lovie Smith, who fell to 15-18 in the final four games of a season. Last season, they lost five straight games after a 7-3 start and finished 8-8 to miss the playoffs.

``I'm just thinking about us getting back on a winning streak next week,'' Smith said. ``We're disappointed in how some of those games have gone, all of the games, really. We're disappointed in this game, but when you're disappointed like that and you have your rival coming up back at home, we have to rally. We'll feel bad, but then it's all on Green Bay.''

NOTES: Jennings, the NFL leader in interceptions, said he thinks there's a chance he can play against the Packers. ``Later in the week, it was getting better each and every day,'' he said, ``but the coaches decided to let it heal, which is smart because I still have a little soreness.'' ... The Vikings had more yards from interception returns (100), than they did in passing offense (91). ... Adam Podlesh handled the kickoff duties for K Robbie Gould, who strained his left calf in warm-ups. Gould did kick the two extra points.

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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USA TODAY Sports

With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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