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.

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.

And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.

Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.

Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.

Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.

Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.

Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.

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Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.

Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.

Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.

Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.

Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.

Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)

Bears cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

Bears cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

The Bears have until Tuesday to move their roster down to 75, and they began Sunday by cutting 10 players.

The following players were waived: DL Keith Browner, WR Kieran Duncan, WR Derek Keaton, OL John Kling, RB Senorise Perry, WR Darrin Peterson, DB Joel Ross, TE Gannon Sinclair, OL Martin Wallace, FB Darrell Young

The Bears' roster currently sits at 80 players. After getting the roster down to 75 on Tuesday, the team will then cut down to 53 for the start of the regular season.

The Bears open their regular season on Sept. 4 in Houston against the Texans.

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”