Monday, December 20, 2010
Rapid Reaction: Bears 40, Vikings 14
By Michael C. Wright
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bears complained about potentially iffy conditions at TCF Bank Stadium throughout the week.
Yet the team never stumbled in navigating the frozen turf while demolishing the Minnesota Vikings 40-14 to clinch their first NFC North championship since 2006.
Chicago knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the game, and reeled off 40 points for the first time since a 48-24 pasting of the Detroit Lions in October 2009.
The Bears find themselves in ideal position with two games remaining. So let’s get to what transpired on the field.
What it means: The Bears clinched their first division title since 2006, and seized control of the NFC’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Tied with Philadelphia at 10-4, the Bears own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 31-26 win on Nov. 28 over the Eagles.
If the Bears keep the momentum going, and hold onto their No. 2 seed, they assure themselves a bye for the first round of the playoffs.
Quick work: Bears return man Devin Hester broke the NFL record for return touchdowns with his 14th during Monday night’s win over the Vikings. Hester’s 64-yard punt return in the third quarter allowed him to pass Brian Mitchell for the record.
Hester broke the record in his 74th game, and 286th return. It took Mitchell 223 games and 1,073 returns to get to 13 touchdowns.
Hester now has 10 punt returns for touchdowns and four kickoff-return TDs. Mitchell has nine punt-return TDs and three on kickoffs.
Rookie makes impact: The Bears activated rookie defensive end Corey Wootton for just the fourth time this season, and the former Northwestern standout came up with arguably the biggest play of his young career.
Beating left tackle Bryant McKinnie off the edge, Wootton posted his first career sack when he dropped Brett Favre for a 12-yard loss with 11:27 left in the first quarter. Wootton’s hit on Favre left the quarterback shaken, causing athletic trainers to help him off the field.
After halftime, Vikings officials announced Favre would be out for the duration with a head injury.
There’s a good possibility the play makes Wootton’s list of career highlights. Coming into the game, Wooton had produced just four tackles on the season.
Fine coming?: Antoine Winfield is likely to be the next victim in the NFL’s crackdown on punishing hits.
Although the play didn’t look especially vicious, Winfield -- coming on a corner blitz -- hit Jay Cutler under the chin, causing the quarterback to throw an interception to Asher Allen on a pass intended for Johnny Knox. Immediately after the play, Cutler appeared to call out to an official for a penalty.
Cutler was later seen on the sidelines getting his bleeding chin bandaged by the team’s athletic training staff. While the hit wasn’t devastating (Winfield held up Cutler to keep him from falling after the initial impact), there’s a chance he’ll be fined by the NFL.
What’s next: The Bears host the New York Jets on a short week Sunday at Soldier Field. The Jets are coming off an important victory on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but quarterback Mark Sanchez is nursing a sore shoulder.