Bears claim NFC North title; Hester is best ever

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Bears claim NFC North title; Hester is best ever

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
Posted 10:47 PM Updated 12:53 AM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

MINNEAPOLIS The pregame and first several minutes of Monday nights game belonged to Brett Favre. The rest of the game belonged to Jay Cutler, Devin Hester and the now-NFC North division champion Bears.

The Bears shook off a 60-yard Minnesota drive on the games opening possession to score 17 unanswered first-half points and 10 more in the opening minutes of the third quarter to bury the Vikings 40-14 and assure themselves a first trip to the playoffs in the four seasons since their Super Bowl run in 2006.

The victory, coupled with Green Bays loss at New England Sunday, gave the Bears (10-4) their first division championship since their Super Bowl season of 2006. It was the Bears highest point total since they put up 48 against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 4, 2009 and made the Bears the first team in 2010 to clinch a division championship.

It feels good to win it, said defensive end Julius Peppers, who intercepted his second pass of the season, deflected two others and added five tackles. But that is just one of our goals. There are other things that we want to accomplish. We are going to celebrate but at the same time we have to stay focused on the main prize.

Indeed, it was a relatively subdued locker room in the aftermath of a convincing blowout of a division rival. But as someone in here said, center Olin Kreutz said, this is when the real work begins.

Work underway

Cutler threw touchdown passes to Johnny Knox and Hester in the first half and another to Rashied Davis in the third quarter. In a game played in severe weather conditions and which placed a premium on avoiding turnovers, Cutler completed 14 of 24 passes, was sacked once, threw one interception and posted a passer rating of 106.6.

Cutlers teams are now 20-0 in his career when he registers a rating of 100 or more.

Hester broke returns totaling 143 yards in the third quarter as the Bears put the game and the division title comfortably away. Hester returned the second-half kickoff 79 yards to set up a field goal, then broke a punt return 64 yards to set the NFL record for return touchdowns.

Weve been getting closer and closer every week, said Hester, and for it to come down to clinching a division championship, that just makes it all the better.

Favre, a surprise starter after being listed as out last week, lasted until he suffered a concussion and shoulder injury on the first career sack of rookie Corey Wootton midway through the second quarter. It may well have been the final play of Favres long and distinguished career.
Star power

But the players of the night were Hester and Cutler, who was largely unaffected by conditions that began as snow and degenerated into freezing rain with a minus-2 wind chill sweeping across the artificial turf of TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. It wasnt enough to discourage a hearty crowd of 40,504 but it appeared to be more than the Vikings cared to deal with on top of the Bears.

Cutler threw for the two scores and a passer rating of 103.3 through the first two quarters. He suffered a cut chin when he was struck by the helmet of blitzing cornerback Antoine Winfield and had a third touchdown pass in the closing minutes of the first half called back due to offsetting penalties. In one of his few blunders on the night he then badly underthrew Knox to squander the scoring opportunity but the Bears had effectively taken control of the game.

Cutler added a third TD pass late in the third quarter when he found wideout Rashied Davis matched against middle linebacker E.J. Henderson for a 20-yard touchdown that bumped the Bears lead to 34-14.

The Bears put up 207 yards in the first half and sacked Minnesota quarterbacks three times. After the Vikings 60-yard drive to open the game, the Bears limited Minnesota to 80 net yards for the rest of the half.

The defense had five takeaways, on interceptions by Peppers, Chris Harris and Charles Tillman, and two fumbles recovered.

Hester half

The Bears nearly matched that on the opening kickoff after halftime when Hester dashed 79 yards to the Minnesota 6, not quite enough to get him the NFL record for return touchdowns but enough to position the Bears for a 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

Hester then secured the record with his 14th scoring runback when he sprinted through coverage almost untouched and cruised for the score.

He is at the point now, said coach Lovie Smith, where every time they kick him the ball, you think he can score.

Stumbling start
Initially it was the Vikings coming out and playing like a team with something to play for. Favre directed a six-play drive that covered 60 yards, the last 23 on a swing pass to wide receiver Percy Harvin who breezed through poor tackling in the Chicago secondary for a 7-0 lead.

We settled down after that, Smith said.

The Bears had a chance to deliver a decisive response when defensive tackle Henry Melton pressured Favre and tipped a pass that Peppers intercepted to give the ball to the Bears at the Minnesota 14.

That turnover produced three points but also some concern as the Vikings held the Bears to 3 yards in three plays to force a 29-yard field goal by Gould.

The offense made its' own opportunity a series later when Cutler spotted a crease in coverage and threw to Knox for the 67-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead for the first quarter.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Back in 1992 the Dallas Cowboys were in draft deliberations around the No. 17 spot of the first round, looking for upgrades on defense. A scout made a suggestion that they target Ohio State defensive end Alonzo Spellman, one of the most physically imposing (6-4, 280 pounds) players and best athletes in that draft.
 
Coach Jimmy Johnson responded, "Tell me about the production."
 
Came back the answer: Three years at OSU, nine total sacks.
 
"Oh, please!" Johnson scoffed, calling in cornerback Kevin Smith and leaving Spellman to the Bears at No. 22. Spellman had several respectable seasons but never more than 8.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons.
 
As investment advisers counsel, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results. But past performance can be, and an axiom in NFL personnel rooms is, look at the film.
 
CSNChicago.com is doing that as the NFL Scouting Combine approaches (Feb. 29) along with free agency and the start of the league year and its trading window. It becomes an increasingly relevant exercise to look at the intricacies behind some of the key players and positions the Bears will be addressing through the upcoming weeks. CSNChicago.com previously looked at the need to evaluate quarterbacks from the intangible standpoints first, then the measurables.
 
Using Jay Cutler as an object lesson for how immense physical skills have questionable correlations to immense NFL performance, a look at one aspect of quarterback "film" warrants more attention than the measurables that command a disproportionate share of attention and scrutiny.
 
Ball security.
 
It has been Cutler's single biggest issue through his eight Bears seasons, was a reason why coaches once wanted to stay with Josh McCown instead of returning to Cutler following a Cutler injury absence, and why Brian Hoyer played his way into prominence in the discussion of 2017 Bears plans. Adam Gase went from offensive coordinator to hottest head-coach prospect in no small measure because he managed Cutler into better ball security.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear right here]
 
But the point here is less Cutler – expected to be traded or released within the near future – than the level of ball security in the available options beyond Hoyer.
 
So, look at the film:
 
The widespread drooling over a possible trade with New England for Jimmy Garoppolo. The best thing in Garoppolo's favor is that he has been a Patriots backup to Tom Brady. Garoppolo, drawing distant comparisons to a Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel and other past experience-lite quarterback options, has thrown 94 NFL passes without an interception, which is impressive until matched against Hoyer's 200 last season without an interception, for comparison purposes.
 
But evaluating Garoppolo against the coming chief draft competition – DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson – suggests comparing apples to apples, meaning college ball security, since that's all the kids have to this point.
 
Garoppolo vaulted up draft boards (to New England's second round) on the strength of an Eastern Illinois senior season with 53 touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions, against chiefly FCS opposition. But in his first three seasons Garoppolo threw for 65 touchdowns and was intercepted 42 times.
 
Kizer? In his two Notre Dame seasons, 47 touchdowns, 19 interceptions.
 
Trubisky? 30 touchdowns last season, six interceptions. Including his two years as a North Carolina backup, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
 
Watson? 90 touchdowns, 32 interceptions in three Clemson seasons, the last two as Tigers starter.
 
Observations:
 
Garoppolo put in four college seasons, but has a little of the Trubisky/Flynn/Cassel, one-year-wonder feel. 
 
Kizer and Watson have more starting seasons, but the Watson intangible of getting his team to two national-championship games speaks to another level of "intangible."
 
GM Ryan Pace will incorporate heavy input from coach John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. Coaches love ball security. Garoppolo? Watson? Trubisky? Kizer?
 
Look at the film.

BearsTalk Podcast: The risk and reward for Bears in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo

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USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: The risk and reward for Bears in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo

In this edition of the BearsTalk podcast, CSN's Chris Boden, Sun-Times Bears beat writer Patrick Finley, and CSNChicago.com's Scott Krinch discuss the Bears' approach to the two-week window opening to franchise-tag Alshon Jeffery again, the risk/reward in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo or drafting a QB (and how high to draft one), Scott's 2.0 mock draft, plus the workers' compensation controversy the team found itself in last week and the club's decision to raise ticket prices.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: