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.

Bears release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

Bears release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

The Bears released a player who was expected to be a special teams contributor next season and signed a player who officially retired from the NFL on Friday.

After signing Charles Tillman to a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Bears, the team terminated the contract of defensive back Omar Bolden.

Bolden originally signed a one-year deal with the Bears last March after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos, including the first three years under current Bears head coach John Fox and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The 27-year-old Bolden, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, has amassed 27 special teams tackles and 24 defensive tackles in 56 career games. Bolden has also added 1,085 yards on 44 kickoff returns and 123 yards and a touchdown on five punt returns.

The Bears 90-man roster currently sits at 89.

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

When Charles Tillman arrived at Halas Hall Friday morning, after a season in Carolina as a Panther but now retiring from the game, Bears President Ted Phillips was there to bring Tillman back where he and the Bears knew he belonged.

“Welcome back home,” Phillips said to Tillman.

For Tillman, it was a 13-year love affair with a passion of his – football – that officially ended on Friday, with the 2003 second-round draft choice of the Bears signing a one-day contract that allowed him to retire as a Chicago Bear.

“I think I’ve done OK,” Tillman reflected as his family and members of the Bears organization looked on.

But Tillman, named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013, was also clear beyond the “I” part of his observation: “I didn’t do this all by myself,” he said, repeatedly remembering Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Chris Harris and a litany of teammates he credited with much of what he was able to do.

[RELATED - Athletes react to Tillman's retirement]

Bears Chairman George McCaskey spoke of Tillman in terms beyond football.

“Every once in a while a player comes along with uncommon ability and tenacity on the field and unsurpassed compassion and charitable spirit off the field, the kind that makes us grateful as fans and proud as an organization,” McCaskey said. “Charles Tillman was such a player and is such a person.

“For 12 seasons, he made life miserable for Bears opponents, revolutionizing his position and adding ‘Peanut Punch’ to the football vernacular. In the community, in countless hospital rooms, he counseled the worried parents with a 'been there' perspective and a sympathetic ear and offered them hope. He also supported the brave men and women who defend our great country.”

The decision to leave the game after starting 12 games last season with the Carolina Panthers was not difficult in the end for Tillman.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘I’m done,’” said Tillman, who’d been talked out of several retirement impulses by his wife over recent years, the last three of which ended with him on injured reserve.

A career marked by myriad highlights contained a couple that were the most notable. The first one that Tillman mentioned was the game in 2003 when he got the better of legendary wideout Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings, including out-fighting Moss in the end zone for a game-saving interception.

“It showed the world I could play with anybody,” said Tillman, acknowledging that he carried a chip on his shoulder, coming out of a small unknown college (Louisiana-Lafayette) and working to overcome doubters.

Tillman also cited the 2006 season, which ended in the Super Bowl in no small part because of efforts like Tillman’s in the comeback win at Arizona, in which he returned a fumble for one of the Bears’ second-half touchdowns in the 24-23 win over the Cardinals.

But it was less the highlights than one specific off-the-field part of his football life that will miss. Asked what he in fact would miss the most, Tillman’s answer was immediate:

“The locker room. The locker room, more than anything. Not the games, not the… just the locker room in general. The games that we played in there: the ‘box ‘em up,’ the ‘4-square’…

“You know, we’d have a 10-minute break out a meeting and we would literally, I called it ‘Team Got Boredom.’ You get bored so you just make up a game. And we would make up some of the craziest games. We had a soccer game that we used to play. I think the most volleys we had off this little soccer ball was like 90 and the entire team was playing. So more than anything that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tillman has been hired by FOX to be part of their NFL coverage. But as for staying involved in the game as, say, a coach?

“Absolutely not,” Tillman declared.

He will be coaching his kids in their various activities, but overall, “I’m going to try to enjoy retirement, being the dad, I drive all my kids around, so I call myself the ‘d’uber guy. I’m a duber. Really, just be a family guy. I’ve got the Fox gig, so I’m one of [the media] now. So I guess I’m a journalist. I’m a black anchorman. That’s what I’m going to do. The black anchorman. We’re going to get into fights. We can meet up at like Jackson Park. I’ll have my crew. You’ll have your crew. We can get down. Get a little anchorman fight going on. Something like that. But we’ll keep it casual, respectful.”

Former NFL, Northwestern coach Dennis Green - famous for Bears rant - dies

Former NFL, Northwestern coach Dennis Green - famous for Bears rant - dies

Former NFL coach Dennis Green passed away Friday morning, according to Adam Schefter:

Green was the head coach for Northwestern from 1981-85, his first head coaching position. 

He later went on to become head coach for the Minnesota Vikings for 10 years from 1992-2001 and held the same position with the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-06.

It was in 2006 when Green really became a household name.

Following a loss to the Bears, Green delivered maybe the most memorable postgame press conference tirades in the last couple decades, if not ever:

In that game on Oct. 16, 2006, the Bears clawed back from a 20-point deficit to beat Green's Cardinals 24-23.

The Bears committed six turnovers and were trailing 23-3 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter when safety Mike Brown recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

From there, Charles Tillman also recorded a fumble return TD and then Devin Hester put the finishing touches on the comeback with an 83-yard punt return TD. 

During his time at Northestern, Green was named the Big Ten Coach of the year in 1982. He was also the second African-American head coach in Division I-A history.