By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:36 PM EST, December 30, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS — An hour after his team had slid into the playoffs — and eliminated the Bears — with a 37-34 triumph over the Packers on Sunday, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier offered his support of Lovie Smith.
"Lovie's a great coach in our league," Frazier told the Tribune. "He did a terrific job this season. Lovie Smith is just one of the best coaches in the NFL.
"Things are going to work out for him. I believe that. He's the right guy for the job in Chicago."
Frazier, the starting right cornerback on the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl champion team, knows a little about the scrutiny Smith faces in Chicago. Skeptics see a Bears team that has missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons. Optimists see a player-friendly coach who has been handcuffed by poor draft classes and untimely injuries.
Vikings defensive back Antoine Winfield played at Ohio State when Smith was an assistant there.
"He was my position coach my freshman year of college, and he taught me a lot," Winfield said. "I have so much respect for that guy. He taught me my technique. He stayed on me. He set me straight. He's just a great coach."
Some of the talk about Smith's immediate future might have subsided had the Vikings not pulled out their fourth straight win over the NFC North champs. Adrian Peterson electrified 64,134 spectators with 199 rushing yards, although he fell nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season NFL mark.
"It's a bittersweet feeling inside," Peterson said. "The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that I was nine yards short was, 'It is what it is.' It wasn't meant to happen. Not to say it doesn't hurt, because it does."
Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder showed some maturity in throwing for three touchdowns without an interception while posting a 120.2 passer rating. And rookie kicker Blair Walsh continued his phenomenal season with three field goals, including a 54-yarder and the 29-yard game-winner.
"None of that stuff is automatic," Walsh said. "You've got to make sure you've got great execution all the way around, and we did. We had great blocking, and we just put the ball up."
The game was a toss-up coming in, with the Packers playing for the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye and the Vikings fighting for their playoff lives. The home team established a 13-0 lead that forced Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to play from behind.
Rodgers threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns but was sacked five times. Green Bay's defense surrendered too many big plays, including a 25-yard pass play from Ponder to Michael Jenkins that helped set up the game-winning field goal. Such defensive lapses might spell an early playoff exit for the Packers.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," Rodgers said. "We played a team who was desperate. They had an MVP-caliber player running the ball real well on that side."
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen playfully snickered when asked about eliminating the Bears from the playoff picture.
"It's always good to knock a division rival out of the playoffs," he said. "Especially when my man (teammate Fred Evans) is from the Chi. We've got bragging rights, so see y'all next year."