Sunday, October 16, 2011 Updated: October 17, 3:01 PM ET
'Hopefully that's who we are'
By Melissa Isaacson ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO -- It was a win, which is all Bears coach Lovie Smith ever professes to want. Just get to 3-3, he said. Then worry about 4-3, which, he pointed out, is where the Bears were last season before winning their next five in a row.
Devin Hester made the most of his chance at the Vikings, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and catching five passes for 91 yards and a TD.
He made it sound almost easy. And the Minnesota Vikings surely helped the Bears make it look easy Sunday night, with a poorly played, poorly coached and lackluster effort. Spotting the Bears' a 16-0 lead, the now 1-5 Vikings trailed by 17 at the half and never came close to digging out in the eventual 39-10 blowout.
It was a useful victory for the Bears in that it rinsed the sour aftertaste of last week's dreadful Monday night loss to Detroit, combining as it did all three phases of play as they prepare for another abbreviated week of work leading up to their trip to London and a meeting with the 4-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We know what we're capable of doing and it's embarrassing when we don't do that," said center Roberto Garza.
It has been a common theme all season and continued Sunday night.
"We know we're a good team," echoed Matt Forte, who finished with 87 yards on 17 carries and a combined 123 all-purpose yards. "It's reassuring that we can go out and get a win after working hard all week."
Their confidence is admirable, supported as it is by some flimsy evidence this season.
But right now, as necessary as Sunday's victory was -- with the Packers and Lions both two games ahead of the Bears in divisional play going into the weekend -- all we know for sure is that they have lost to three good teams and have defeated three bad-to-mediocre teams.
The Bears are what they appear to be after six games -- a .500 team no matter how they spin it.
The good news, obviously, is that they avoided penalties, protected Jay Cutler and maintained much better discipline on defense in controlling the running game and avoiding the big play. They also had consistently superior field position thanks to the aforementioned defense, solid special teams and some really dense play by the Vikings.
"Hopefully that's who we are -- the team that you saw tonight," Smith said.
He has to also be hoping he will be able to field the same team next week, after Devin Hester left the game in the fourth quarter with a chest injury. Hester, who returned a kickoff 98 yards for a third-quarter touchdown and had the third-best receiving day of his career with 91 yards (on five catches, including a 48-yard TD) joined tight end Kellen Davis (elbow) on the sideline.
Smith was lucky it wasn't worse. Why the Bears coach left Cutler, Forte and Julius Peppers (hobbled all week with a sprained MCL) in the game deep into the fourth quarter with a 29-point lead, even as Peppers limped around Vikings' left tackle Charlie Johnson, is anyone's guess.
"Did I want to stay in?" Peppers said of his eventual exit for the Bears' last series with 4:06 remaining. "I don't know. I wanted to play, but the smart thing to do is get everybody out of the game and not risk injury in a blowout."
But Sunday was still a positive, what with the Bears' five sacks, including Peppers' pair, along with Hester's heroics, Robbie Gould's 51-yard field goal, Cutler's 115.9 passer rating and allowing just one Vikes' sack.
J'Marcus Webb even held off Jared Allen, he of the league-leading eight and a half sacks, and the Bears reduced one of the best running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson to 39 yards on 12 carries.
And if you're the Bears, you are grateful and move on.
"It's great, it's big for us. We needed this to get us back to .500," Peppers said. "We're a long ways from being where we want to be, but this is a step in the right direction."
It will be interesting to see how the Bears perform Sunday in London against a Tampa team that is more familiar with the difficulties an overseas trip presents, playing at Wembley Stadium for what will be the second time in three seasons. The Bucs are even more an enigma than the Bears, with a victory over New Orleans on Sunday but a 45-point loss to San Francisco preceding that, as well as narrow victories over the winless Colts and these very Vikings.
Of course, the Bears were concerned with none of it Sunday night.
"This definitely makes for a good nine hours of travel," Charles Tillman said.
Just one game at a time. If the cliché fits, you wear it.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.