Bears move to 8-3 after rout of Vikes

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Bears move to 8-3 after rout of Vikes

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears will be just fine if they keep playing like this -- and don't lose any more players to injuries.
Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards and a touchdown after missing a game because of a concussion, and the Chicago Bears broke it open early in a 28-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Injuries to Devin Hester, Matt Forte and Charles Tillman, however, tempered some of the good feelings this win created.
Tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead and just a game ahead of Minnesota (6-5) coming in, the Bears (8-3) grabbed a 25-3 halftime lead with Cutler connecting on just about every pass. The defense held Adrian Peterson in check early on, although he did finish with 108 yards rushing. Chicago also came away with three more takeaways to increase its league-leading total to 30.
The rather easy win came after back-to-back losses to Houston and San Francisco that left many questioning how good this team really is.
But it also came with a heavy price.
The Bears lost Hester early to a concussion and watched as Forte hobbled off the field midway through the third quarter with an ankle injury. Coach Lovie Smith said Tillman also hurt his ankle.
Besides those three, the Bears lost both starting guards in the third quarter to knee injuries, with Lance Louis and Chris Spencer going down. Louis' injury forced Chicago to go with Gabe Carimi after he lost the right tackle job to Jonathan Scott.
As for Cutler, he sure looked sharp after missing Monday's blowout loss at San Francisco.Back after being knocked out of the Texans game on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Tim Dobbins, he got off to a scorching start and completed 23 of 31 passes with an interception to go with that touchdown.
Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes for 108 yards and became the first Bears receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 to go over 1,000 yards. On defense, Henry Melton set the tone by sacking Christian Ponder on the first play from scrimmage. Nick Roach set up the first touchdown by knocking the ball out of Peterson's hands. Chris Conte set another TD with a 35-yard interception return, and Julius Peppers blocked a field goal.
The league's leading rusher, Peterson tied Robert Smith's club record with a 100-yard performance for the fifth straight game even though he managed just 25 in the first half. He also lost two fumbles.
Ponder wasn't much help, going 22 of 43 with 159 yards and a touchdown along with an interception. His favorite target, Percy Harvin, sat out his second straight game with a sprained left ankle, and the Vikings lost for the third time in four games.
Cutler completed 15 of 17 passes for 117 yards in the first half, and the Bears jumped out a big lead after a shaky start on offense.
Forte fumbled on Chicago's first play from scrimmage, leading to a 40-yard field goal by Blair Walsh -- all the scoring the Vikings did in the half.
The Bears quickly turned this one around, starting with Roach's forced fumble. They took over on the Minnesota 34, and Michael Bush ran it in from the 1.
Chris Kluwe then shanked a 22-yard punt, giving Chicago possession near midfield before Robbie Gould kicked a 47-yard field goal. And the Bears stopped the Vikings again early in the second quarter when Peppers knocked down Walsh's 30-yard field goal, the 13th block of his career.
Bush, in for Forte, converted on a fourth-down run to keep a drive going and Antoine Winfield shoved Brandon Marshall to the ground as he attempted to catch a pass in the end zone. Bush then scored from the 1, and holder Adam Podlesh ran in for a 2-point conversion that made it 18-3.
Ponder got picked off by Conte and he returned it 35 yards to the Minnesota 13. That led to a scoring strike from Cutler to a lunging Matt Spaeth on the next play. It might have been more had Kevin Williams not blocked Gould's 39-yard field goal as the half expired.

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

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It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it. 

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Everyone who took part in the recently-held fifth annual Franklin Middle School Dodgeball Madness charity tournament played for various charitable reasons. The Lake Park Lancers football team chose to honor a person who embodied the true meaning of service and sacrifice.

Lake Park junior linebacker Gino Romano took a few minutes to explain why they decided to play in honor of fallen Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrel, the first ever officer who died in the line of duty for the village.

Romano also discussed the Lancers’ offseason and the team’s overall preparation for the upcoming 2017 football slate.

I caught up with Romano at the tournament in Wheaton. Proceeds benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the following video above.