Offense stumbles, Bears fall to Vikes

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Offense stumbles, Bears fall to Vikes

MINNEAPOLIS Adrian Peterson has his sights set squarely on 2,000 yards. Thanks to his latest jaw-dropping performance and an opportunistic defense, the Minnesota Vikings still have their eyes on the playoffs.
Peterson rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Harrison Smith returned an interception for a score to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 21-14 victory over the free-falling Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Peterson topped 100 yards before the first quarter was over, helping the Vikings (7-6) overcome another lackluster day from quarterback Christian Ponder to get a victory that will keep their playoff hopes alive.
Jay Cutler was 22 for 44 for 260 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and couldn't finish the game for the Bears (8-5), who have lost four of their last five. He took a wicked hit to the head from Everson Griffen in the fourth quarter, remained in the game for the rest of that drive, but was replaced by Jason Campbell with 3 minutes to play.There was no immediate word on Cutler's health, and Campbell threw a 16-yard TD to Brandon Marshall with 1:48 to play, but Kyle Rudolph recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
Marshall had 10 catches for 160 yards, but Chicago's struggling offense couldn't do enough to overcome the two turnovers and Peterson's relentless effort.
Peterson's remarkable comeback from a torn ACL late last season seems to get more impressive every week. Not even a year removed from that major injury in Washington, he broke the 100-yard mark for the seventh straight game. He has 1,600 yards with three games to play, putting a hallowed 2,000-yard season within reach. He ran for 51 yards on the opening play of the game and continued to gash the broken-down Bears the rest of the way.
No one was happier to see it than Ponder, who continued to look skittish in the pocket and out of whack with his mechanics. He finished 11 of 17 for 91 yards, including an ugly interception off his back foot late in the first half.
For once, his performance didn't doom the Vikings.
Vikings fans trudged through a snow storm to get to the Metrodome, and they were ornery and ready to give Ponder all the grief they could. They booed him in pregame introductions, then Peterson touched the ball on five of six plays in the opening drive. He also ripped off a 16-yard run and finished it with a 1-yard TD.
Josh Robinson intercepted Cutler on the next possession, returning the ball to the Chicago 5 to set up Peterson's second touchdown. The Vikings were off and running, exactly what they were hoping to do.
Cutler responded, hitting Alshon Jeffery with a 23-yard TD pass that got a healthy contingent of Chicago fans chanting "Let's Go Bears!'"
Just as the Bears appeared to seize momentum, Cutler floated a pass over Marshall's head right into the arms of Smith, who headed down the Chicago sideline for a 56-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and a 21-7 lead.
The Vikings haven't made big plays in the passing game ever since Percy Harvin was lost for the season with a severely sprained left ankle against Seattle on Nov. 4. They finally did it Sunday, but it was the defense that made it happen.
Robinson and Smith combined for 100 return yards, more than the Vikings' passing game had through the air.
Now the Bears must try to hold off another December malaise under coach Lovie Smith. They started 7-1, but Smith tried to ratchet up the intensity this week, saying the Bears had to win out to get into the playoffs.
Cornerback Tim Jennings was out with an injured shoulder and linebacker Brian Urlacher, the man in the middle of the proud veteran defense, could be out for the rest of the season with an injured hamstring. Defensive tackle Henry Melton hurt his shoulder in the first half and kicker Robbie Gould was limited by a strained left calf that he suffered in pregame warm-ups.
Through six games, the Bears gave up an average of 71 yards rushing. But they had given up 136 yards per game on the ground in the previous six games.

Looking at the Brett Anderson deal and what the future holds for Cubs' pitching

Looking at the Brett Anderson deal and what the future holds for Cubs' pitching

The Cubs already have a clear vision for their 2021 Opening Day lineup, when the images of superstars like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant can be plastered next to the iconic marquee at a fully renovated Wrigley Field. 
 
But the Cubs don't really have a five-year window for pitching, given all the medical risks, the weaker spots in their farm system and a team built around big-name hitters. It's more survival mode, getting through a spring training lengthened by the World Baseball Classic, past the All-Star break and into October.
 
A blurry picture is coming into focus for 2017 – an industry source confirmed that Brett Anderson was in Chicago on Tuesday to undergo a physical – yet this uncertainty is still the fastest way to derail the next championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.
 
If healthy, Anderson would be a relatively low-risk, high-reward gamble for the defending World Series champs. Yahoo! Sports reported that the $3.5 million agreement includes incentives that could boost the deal's overall value to $10 million. 
 
The Cubs need a sixth starter as a hedge against Mike Montgomery stalling during his first full season in a big-league rotation, or John Lackey feeling his age this year (38) or the stress from throwing almost 3,000 innings in The Show.  
 
The Cubs know the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers is littered with bad investments, and Jon Lester's left arm has already made it through 14 playoff rounds and accounted for nine straight seasons with at least 190 innings. Kyle Hendricks is a cerebral Cy Young Award finalist who doesn't have that much margin for error and will need to keep making adjustments and being unpredictable. 
 
As much as Jake Arrieta tries to meditate and stay in the moment, every pitch he fires this year can be viewed through the prism of his looming free agency. 
 
"We love Jake," team president Theo Epstein said after the Cubs settled on Arrieta's one-year, $15.6375 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing with the Scott Boras client. "We'd love for him to be around for a long time. But it's not the first time a talented core player has gone into the last year of his deal. It won't be the last time. It doesn't always mean the player's leaving. 
 
"I'm sure at the appropriate time we'll have confidential conversations and see if now is the time to get something done, or we put it off until later. He knows how we feel about him. Years and dollars are always complicated. But I'm sure we'll take a stab at it."
 
The bottom line is the Cubs could be looking to replace 60 percent of their rotation next winter. Maybe Tyson Ross recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, returns to his All-Star form at some point during a one-year pillow contract with the Texas Rangers and proves worthy of a long-term commitment. 
 
Perhaps the Cubs again target the star pitchers they once tried to lure out of Japan, with Yu Darvish positioned to become a free agent after this season and Masahiro Tanaka able to opt out of the final three years ($67 million) of his megadeal with the New York Yankees.       
 
All along, the Cubs planned to flip young hitters for pitching. The same aggressive mentality that pushed Epstein's front office to send an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres) to the Yankees for rental closer Aroldis Chapman – and secure one season of Wade Davis without worrying about Jorge Soler living up to his enormous potential for the Kansas City Royals – will be in play if the team needs a rotation upgrade at the trade deadline this summer. 
 
"We were in that phase for three-plus years where we were really single-minded about acquiring young talent," Epstein said during Cubs Convention in mid-January. "I remember at this very panel we'd talk about that and some of the questions were: Why are you trading all these players that we've heard of for guys we've never heard of?
 
"That was tough in one way, but those trades are a little bit easier for us to quote-unquote ‘win' those deals, because you're trading players who are at the end of their contracts. You're getting young prospects. We went out of our way to work really hard to make sure we hit on those trades – and luckily we did. 
 
"But now we're in a phase where we have such a good team, when we have holes – and we're going to have holes, last year to get Chapman midseason, going forward we really have to address starting pitching – we're going to be on the other end of some of those trades.       
 
"We're going to aggressively try to get really talented major-league players. It's always extremely painful for us to make some of those trades where we send prospects for established players. Those trades are hard to win. You're more likely to quote-unquote ‘lose' those trades. 
 
"But the bottom line is we're not up here to pad our resume and make trades that we can look back on and say that we ‘won' those trades. We're up here to win World Series. And if those deals help us win World Series, that's what it's all about."
 
Maybe Anderson helps the Cubs get back to the postseason for the third straight season, something this franchise hasn't done since the 1907 and 1908 teams won back-to-back World Series titles.    
 
Anderson will turn 29 on Feb. 1 and led the majors with a 66.3 groundball percentage in 2015, when he went 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 31 starts and still accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  
 
Anderson's medical file includes: Tommy John surgery on his left elbow (2011); a strained right oblique (2012); disabled-list stints for a stress fracture in his right foot (2013) and a broken left index finger (2014); plus surgical procedures on his back (2014 and last March).    
 
Anderson also has perspective as someone who grew up around the game. His father, Frank, is the University of Houston pitching coach and former head coach at Oklahoma State University.  
 
Whether or not Anderson stays healthy, the Cubs are at a point where they will have to keep thinking bigger and bigger.
 
"We're always going to be committed to young players," Epstein said. "It's in our DNA to trust young players, to grow with young payers. But as painful as it is…you sometimes have to move those guys to make sure your major-league team has a legitimate chance to win the World Series.
 
"We're not doing it recklessly. It's not something that we want to do. But when you have a team that's really good – and you have a chance to win the whole thing – we think it's our obligation to make those deals from time to time."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What's Dwyane Wade's future with the Bulls?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: What's Dwyane Wade's future with the Bulls?

Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Brian Hedger (nhl.com) join Kap on the panel.  Dwyane Wade talks about his future with the Bulls. Will he exercise his player option and return next year if the Bulls’ struggle continue? The guys talk NBA with CSNChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill.

How can Stan Bowman help Jonathan Toews at the deadline? And Dabo Swinney compares Deshaun Watson to Michael Jordan.