- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Teddy Bridgewater doubled his career high for touchdown passes in a game. Minnesota’s defense, still missing three key players to injuries, relentlessly pressured Jay Cutler and kept Chicago’s skill-position players in check.

The Vikings appeared prepared for the postseason. The Bears looked ready for an offseason.

Bridgewater threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score, and the Vikings took a big step toward the playoffs with a 38-17 victory Sunday over the Bears.

“This is the time of year when teams become great,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

Quarterbacks, too. Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards without a turnover, connecting twice with Stefon Diggs for scores. Jerick McKinnon and Zach Line had the other touchdown catches on a remarkably productive afternoon for all of Minnesota’s running backs.

Adrian Peterson missed time because of an injury to his left ankle, but he finished with 63 yards on 18 attempts to maintain his NFL rushing lead as the Vikings (9-5) stopped their two-game losing streak. Zimmer pushed them hard in practice this week, challenging the offense to reach 30 points, and the outcome was obvious.

“The guys were locked in,” Bridgewater said.

The Bears (5-9) lost their third game in a row, giving the Vikings 14 second-half points on a lost fumble and an interception thrown by Jay Cutler.

The Bears surprised the Vikings with an onside kick they recovered to start the second half, but three plays later Brian Robison powered his way past right tackle Kyle Long to slap the ball out of Cutler’s hand during a sack near midfield.

Robison recovered, Cutler gave Long an icy stare on their way off the field and Diggs followed a little later with a 33-yard catch-and-run into the end zone. Diggs was wide open, and he bulled his way into the end zone with nickel back Alan Ball on his back to essentially put the Bears out of reach.

The game hit bottom for the Bears in the fourth quarter when Cutler floated a screen pass to Matt Forte that fell short, allowing backup defensive end Justin Trattou to intercept it at the Chicago 16. Bridgewater followed with the exclamation point, a 12-yard dash up the middle he finished by launching himself into the air at the goal line to make sure he got across.

“It’s not perfect all the time, but he is a winner,” Zimmer said.

Here are some key angles to know about the game:

THE CLINCH

The Vikings will assure themselves of at least a wild-card spot with a win at home next weekend over the New York Giants. Other NFC teams could lose and clinch it for them before they arrive at the stadium for the Sunday night game.

BEATEN BEARS

The Bears were buzzing from an inspired win at Green Bay on Thanksgiving night that gave them legitimate hope for the playoffs, but with three losses to start December they’re already eliminated and will miss the postseason for the eighth time in the last nine years.

“I don’t think anything is different. I just think other teams want it more than we want it,” linebacker Pernell McPhee said.

MCKINNON’S MOMENT

Zimmer told McKinnon before the game he’d have a standout performance, a prediction that turned out to be true. He caught four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown that was his first in the NFL, on a catch and run for 17 yards in the waning seconds before halftime as he managed to keep his knee off the turf just long enough to lunge across the goal line.

“He’s a good kid, a great player. He’s a tough, tough guy,” Zimmer said.

The only drawback was the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, as questionable as it was, on McKinnon for celebrating in the end zone.

“We were going to tell him to act like you’ve been there before, but he’d never been there before. So he couldn’t really act like it,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who made a twisting 34-yard reception on a seam route during that drive.

JEFFERY INJURED, AGAIN

Alshon Jeffery caught one of Cutler’s two touchdown tosses, but that was his only reception. He later aggravated his hamstring, the latest leg muscle issue that has bedeviled the Bears and their premier pass-catcher this season. Jeffery has been limited to nine games, with calf and groin trouble earlier.

Cutler was asked if Jeffery’s absence was deflating.

“It wasn’t inflating,” he said, smiling.

Jeffery wasn’t in much of a mood to talk about the injury or much else afterward.

“I’d say one thing: Next season, it isn’t going to be nothing like this,” he said.

REMEMBER WHEN?

Exactly five years ago, the Bears beat the Vikings here 40-14 when the Metrodome’s damaged roof diverted the game to the University of Minnesota. That was Brett Favre’s final appearance in the NFL. Favre, coincidentally, was the last Vikings player to pass for four touchdowns in a game, on Jan. 17, 2010, in the playoffs.

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Online:

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http:/McKi/www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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