CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned following the Bears' 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
1. Julius Peppers' "doubtful" classification was a ruse: The players all knew Peppers was playing Sunday night, even though he officially missed practice the entire week. There was absolutely no chance the Bears were going to keep Peppers out of the most important game of the season, especially since he was able to finish the Monday night affair in Detroit. That meant after resting the knee for most of the week, Peppers was going to start versus Minnesota, no matter what. Teammates joke that Peppers is such a freak he doesn't even need to stretch before games, so he certainly can play without the benefit of practice, plus, you're talking about a 10-year veteran who's been selected to six Pro Bowls. That being said, I don't take issue with Lovie Smith's attempt at misdirection. He was clearly operating within the NFL rules when he listed Peppers as doubtful. But when was the last time the Bears were forthcoming about injuries? It was almost too much information, which is suspicious. Peppers should have been "questionable" on the report. That would have been a more effective to try and throw the Vikings off, in my opinion.
2. Minnesota failed to learn its lesson: Please tell me against why the Vikings kicked to Devin Hester. Anybody? All Hester did was return a kickoff 98-yards for a touchdown and barely miss running back at punt for a score. Hester is, after all, the NFL's all-time leader in kick return touchdowns. Not to mention, he set the record last year versus these very same Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. In his career, Hester has four kick return touchdowns (three punt and one kickoff) against Minnesota. What else does Hester have to accomplish before Leslie Frazier demands his kicker puts the ball out of bounds or away from Hester every single time? That's either bad execution, bad coaching or a combination of both.
3. Smith is done with Chris Harris: Special teams, really? Harris had 96 tackles and five interceptions last year, and you're going to tell me he goes from starter to inactive in the span of one week because he doesn't play special teams. Give me a break. So it was no surprise to see Michael C. Wright's story Monday morning that Harris will be seeking a trade. I think Harris can still play. Smith obviously feels differently. Barring injury, I don't see how Harris finds his way back into the Bears' mix, which is a shame. The decision to start Major Wright and Chris Conte at safety worked out OK versus Minnesota. But let's see what happens when the Bears face a good team.
4. The Bears aren't the worst team in the NFC North: That my friends, would be the Vikings. Maybe the passing game will improve if Christian Ponder takes over at quarterback, but Donovan McNabb simply has no chemistry with those receivers or tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. If it wasn't a bootleg or a crossing route straight at the sideline, the Vikings couldn't complete a pass. McNabb, a Chicago native, has authored an illustrious 13-year career, but his starting days might be over. Maybe the Redskins were right. But you can't pin all the Vikings' woes on the quarterback; the secondary is brutal. How does Hester get that wide open on a 48-yard first-quarter touchdown reception. Too bad the Bears can't face Minnesota more than twice this year.
5. Stephen Paea deserves another shot: It was troubling when Paea, a player the Bears moved up to select in the second round, failed to dress the first five games of the regular season. But the rookie made a nice impression in his NFL debut when he sacked McNabb in the end zone. Paea always seemed to be around the ball Sunday night, an encouraging sign when you consider how poor the Bears have been defending the run this year. Paea deserves to be on the field next week against Tampa, and then maybe he'll find a permanent spot in the defensive line rotation even after Matt Toeaina returns from a knee injury. It was a pleasant first step for Paea.