Ricky Manning Jr. and Charles Tillman sat side-by-side in the Bears' locker room with a statistics packet in hand, trying to make sense out of the numbers displayed on Page 2. It wasn't the only time the Bears' defense looked a bit confused Sunday.

Then again, a player as talented as Vikings rookie Adrian Peterson is capable of befuddling the best of them.

"I just wanted to see how bad Peterson torched us," Manning Jr. said.

The Bears might want to invest in a truckload of burn-relief ointment.

To say Peterson ran circles around the Bears' defense during the Vikings' 34-31 win at Soldier Field would be an understatement. Peterson ran diagonals, squares, ovals … you get the idea.

His 224 rushing yards on just 20 carries was not only a single-game team record, it was the most rushing yards the Bears have ever given up to an individual, topping the 216 surrendered to the Dolphins' Ricky Williams in 2002.

Peterson's 361 all-purpose yards was the third-highest total in NFL history. And his 53-yard kickoff return that set up the game-winning field goal left many wondering why the Bears would kick to him in the first place.

"Give him his credit—he's going to be one of the great ones," Manning Jr. said. "But it wasn't all him today. We were missing a lot of tackles."

That's not the only thing missing for the Bears, who dropped to 2-4 and into last place in the NFC North. A team believed to have regained its swagger after last week's come-from-behind win at division-leader Green Bay looked more like the team Brian Urlacher said "stinks" following a loss at Detroit two weeks ago.

Devin Hester's 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and his 81-yard touchdown reception that tied the game with 1 minute 38 seconds left went for naught. Any thoughts of taking a two-game win streak to Philadelphia next Sunday faded when a 55-yard field goal by the Vikings' Ryan Longwell barely cleared the crossbar as time expired.

A big kick it was, right in the Bears' stomach.

"For whatever reason," receiver Muhsin Muhammad said, "we were struggling back and forth in that game."

The struggles began with the defense, which showed vulnerability against the run at the outset of last week's Green Bay game. The Vikings (2-3) must have noticed—they ran for 311 yards, with Peterson breaking loose for touchdown runs of 67, 73 yards and 35 yards.

On the second one, Manning Jr. might have been in position to make a play, but he was sent after quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on a blitz. After the touchdown, Manning Jr. went over to the bench and slammed his helmet in disgust.

"I threw my helmet probably after every series," he said. "On the one play, I had an outside blitz-contain. I have to read it better. I have to make that play. I put that all on me.

"Like I said, we missed a lot of tackles."

Boy, did they. Starting free safety Brandon McGowan whiffed on several. So did strong safety Adam Archuleta until he was pulled after giving up a 60-yard touchdown catch to Troy Williamson while in zone coverage. Even linemen Tommie Harris and Adewale Ogunleye, normally sure tacklers, let some slip away. And they weren't the only ones. The Bears will have to do better with the Eagles' Brian Westbrook to contend with next.

"We couldn't stop them," Harris said, referring to the Vikings in general and Peterson in particular. "If I knew how we correct this, we would have stopped them. All I can do is what I can do. I didn't play well today."

The final numbers would indicate the Bears' offense played well enough to win. Brian Griese threw for 381 yards, the second-highest total of his career, completing 26 of 45 passes. Five different receivers had catches of 31 yards or longer, with Bernard Berrian scoring his first touchdown on a 39-yard sprint and Muhammad hauling in a 33-yarder for a score. Cedric Benson averaged 5.1 yards per carry in a strong first half.

But those numbers were offset by Griese's two interceptions and the fumble he lost, and by Benson's absence on a fourth-and-1 play that resulted in Griese fumbling on a keeper. The receivers also dropped six passes, some of which could be attributed to miscommunication.

"The chemistry hasn't quite clicked," Muhammad said. "I can't really put a finger on it right now."

The Bears better figure out how to before time runs out.

vxmcclure@tribune.com