- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers has put together arguably his three strongest performances of the season in consecutive games dating back to Dec. 9, and has generated 4.5 sacks in those outings, including three against the Cardinals. Peppers played through plantar fasciitis earlier in the season, and based on his recent production the pain from that injury must be subsiding. Peppers contributed six tackles, knocked down a pass, and forced a fumble on Sunday, in addition to being credited for three quarterback pressures. With Henry Melton out of action the Bears needed more production from Peppers. He certainly stepped up to the challenge.
2. Charles Tillman, CB: Tillman ran back his third interception return for a touchdown against the Cardinals, and now has eight return TDs, which is a franchise record. Tillman also contributed eight tackles in 74 snaps on defense. Arizona targeted Tillman in coverage 13 times, according to Pro Football Focus, and the cornerback gave up eight receptions for 97 yards and an opponent passer rating of 52.4. It was the most Tillman has been targeted all season, and he rose to the occasion with the INT return TD that basically put away the game for the Bears.
3. Gabe Carimi, OT: Carimi didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch, considering he was responsible for two quarterback pressures in his first start at right tackle since Nov. 19. He actually performed better as a pass blocker in this game than he did as a run blocker. But Carimi deserves some credit for showing resilience through what’s been a trying season. He’s been benched as a tackle and as a guard, but rebounded when the team needed him to play a prominent role, and showed he’s still talented enough to be a starter on Chicago’s offensive line.
1. Jay Cutler, QB: The Bears quarterback completed less than 50 percent of his throws in the win over Arizona and started the day off completing 1 of 11 for just 30 yards. Cutler caught fire just before halftime and completed five consecutive passes, including an 11-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall that gave the Bears a 21-6 lead at intermission. One positive coming from Cutler’s performance was the fact he didn’t throw an interception in the game for just the fifth time all season. Cutler’s current completion percentage (58.9) is hovering below his career completion percentage (60.9).
2. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Coming off a game in which officials flagged him three times for offensive pass interference, Jeffery caught only one of the four passes thrown his direction against the Cardinals. Cutler shows faith in Jeffery and continues to throw his way, but the rookie needs to validate the quarterback’s belief in him by bringing in catchable balls. Jeffery dropped a pass against the Cardinals and finished the day with 35 yards. When teams focus on taking away Brandon Marshall, the Bears need secondary options such as Jeffery to pick up the slack. So far Jeffery hasn’t done that consistently enough.
3. Devin Hester, KR: Hester followed a strong showing against the Packers with a mediocre day on punt returns in the win over the Cardinals. Hester averaged six yards on punt returns, and was responsible for a turnover when he didn’t call off D.J. Moore before a ball ricocheted off him and into the hands of an Arizona defender. Hester provided a bright spot in the kickoff return game, by bringing back his only one of the day 40 yards. For the second consecutive game Hester wasn’t given any opportunities to contribute as a receiver. He hasn’t caught a ball now in three of his last four games.