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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.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.