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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Bears a cut above in win over Vikings


Monday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings gave the Chicago Bears their third division title under Lovie Smith and the fourth title since the legendary Mike Ditka left. The Bears are now 5-0 in divisional games and could become the 1st NFC North team to finish undefeated in the division since realignment in 2002.

While Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson may have dominated the pregame headlines, it was Jay Cutler and Devin Hester who had the last word.

Hester's 64-yard punt return TD in the third quarter gave him an NFL-record 14 career punt/kick return touchdowns. His 10 career punt return touchdowns are tied with Eric Metcalf for most in NFL history. Needless to say, after witnessing the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson put a hole in the Giants playoff hopes, it was fitting to see Hester do the same for the Vikings.

While Hester might have marked the most exciting performance in the game, it was Cutler’s return-to-form that is most significant for the Bears fortunes moving forward. Entering last week’s contest with the New England Patriots, it seemed like everything was clicking for Cutler; over the previous two games, he’d averaged 240.5 passing yards per game to go along with 74.5 percent completion rate and five touchdowns against zero interceptions.

And then the Patriots game happened, when Cutler threw two interceptions, no touchdowns and posted a 46.2 percent completion rate, his second-worst this season.

But Monday, Cutler looked much more like the guy who had so easily dismantled the Eagles and Lions. Cutler limited his interceptions -- just one -- while throwing three touchdowns. It was quite a turnaround in unfavorable conditions for Cutler. He struggled last Sunday in the elements when the Patriots used packages of five-or-more defensive backs on the field. Cutler turned it around on Monday when the Vikings went small, throwing all three of his touchdown passes.

If you take out the Patriots game, Cutler has tossed eight touchdowns and one interception since the game against the Eagles, completing passes at a 69 percent rate. That’s the sort of play that results in 40 points scored -- their most in a road game against the Vikings since scoring 45 in 1965.

And if Cutler is playing under control, there’s no telling how far the Bears can go.