Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Vikings (12.20.10)

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The Bears prepared all of last week to face unknown third-string quarterback Joe Webb, who provides the Vikings with some mobility but not much else. The Vikings on Monday morning then tried to pull a fast one when they upgraded Brett Favre’s status for Monday night’s game from “out” to “questionable.” Anyone familiar with the geriatric quarterback’s antics of the past five years knew that “questionable” actually meant that he was going to play.

Suddenly, everything became about Favre. ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew scrambled to get their notes prepared to talk about Favre as God’s gift to the world. The whole pregame show was about him. Not only before the game but after the game as well, Mike Tirico talked about Favre being the headline of the game. With every throw he would make, the crew would gush about how few quarterbacks could match him. Jon Gruden went so far as to say before the game:

“We’ve seen this guy play with the flu, I’ve seen him play with internal injuries, he’s had all kinds of broken bones and different things happen. But Brett Favre loves to play quarterback, he loves to compete and be with his teammates. But most of all, I think Brett Favre wants one more shot at the Chicago Bears, his long time rivals.”

Sorry to disappoint you, ESPN and all other national media outlets that love a good story, but your chance to raise Favre into immortality by seeing him “fight back from an injury to beat his rivals” just wasn’t meant to be.

Favre and the Vikings jumped on the Bears quickly as they took the opening drive 60 yards for a touchdown. Vikings fans tossed snow in the air in celebration as they were hoping to do to the Bears this year what the Bears did to the Vikings at the end of last year.

That, however, was the high point of the game for the Vikings as it all went downhill from there.

On the Vikings’ second series of the game, a Tim Jennings interception was nullified because Julius Peppers had jumped offsides. Peppers would atone for his mistake, however, when two plays later Henry Melton tipped a Favre pass in the air that Peppers corralled for an interception. The Bears took advantage of the pick and tacked on a field goal.

The Bears then took the lead — a lead that they would not relinquish — on their third series when Jay Cutler connected with Johnny Knox for a 67-yard touchdown. Cutler did a great job of slipping the pass behind the safety and Knox made a great knee-level catch in stride.

At the beginning of the second quarter, defensive end Corey Wootton put an end to the Favre love fest and eliminated any chance Favre had of being a hero when the rookie from Northwestern slammed Favre to the turf for the first sack of his career. Favre left the game and did not return. He may not ever play again, which would be a great memory for Bears fans, but especially for Wootton.

On the ensuing possession for the Bears following the Wootton sack, Cutler drove the Bears offense 70 yards and the drive ended with a Devin Hester 15-yard touchdown reception. Hester made a great catch with a defender draped over his shoulder and did a good job of hanging on to the ball. Hester flexed his muscles after the catch, which offered a great foreshadowing of what was to come later.

The game was already getting out of hand at that point, but the Bears almost put it away completely on their next possession when Cutler found a wide-open Devin Aromashodu in the end zone for an apparent 32-yard touchdown strike, but offsetting penalties on J’Marcus Webb (for holding) and Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards (offsides) took the points off the board. On the next play, Cutler was intercepted while going deep to Knox and the drive stalled.

The Bears would not fall into a trap and allow the Vikings to mount a comeback. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Hester fielded the ball at the 15-yard line and dashed 79 yards to the Vikings’ 6-yard line, falling just six yards short of breaking the return touchdown record. The offense could not put the ball in the end zone and instead settled for three points from Robbie Gould.

On the next possession, the Vikings went three and out — which included a strip sack from Israel Idonije on third down — and the Vikings were forced to punt. Out trotted Hester and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who made headlines this week for tweeting that the playing surface at TCF Bank Stadium was unsafe and unplayable and that the game would be a trainwreck.

Well, Kluwe, you were right. The trainwreck was your team’s performance and you’ll be known — if you’re lucky enough to be remembered — as the punter who allowed Hester to break the return touchdown record. Hester caught Kluwe’s punt at the Bears’ 36-yard line and returned it 64 yards to hit the record book. He wasn’t even touched on the return — a major credit to his blockers on the field — and aside from one diving defender who swiped at his legs, nobody came within 3-5 yards of him.

The Vikings came right back on the next series and moved the ball into scoring position when Major Wright was flagged for pass interference — despite clear video evidence that Vikings receiver Sidney Rice inadvertently tripped when his and Wright’s legs got tangled. Three plays later, Webb showed his elusiveness when he rolled out of the pocket to his right and broke containment en route to a 13-yard touchdown run. The Vikings did not score for the rest of the game.

The Bears quickly answered right back with a 53-yard drive that ended when Cutler found Rashied Davis for a 9-yard touchdown strike, Cutler’s third touchdown pass of the game. The Bears tacked on two more Robbie Gould field goals to finish the rout.

Cutler again finished with an efficient performance, completing 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Matt Forte rushed for 92 yards on 17 carries (5.4 average) and the offensive line did a great job creating running lanes for him and protecting Cutler. Knox had two receptions for 78 yards and a score, Earl Bennett hauled in three passes for 37 yards, and Greg Olsen had four catches for 28 yards. Hester had two catches, one of which went for a score and a multiple-touchdown game.

Brian Urlacher led the Bears with eight tackles, Lance Briggs had seven tackles and a sack, and Idonije picked up four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Peppers, Charles Tillman, and Chris Harris all had interceptions. Matt Toeaina added a sack.

I think it speaks volumes about the character of the Bears to get back on track after last week’s derailment to the New England Patriots. The Vikings did not have explosive Adrian Peterson in the backfield, but he would not have significantly narrowed the 26-point margin of victory. This was a Bears team that was focused on the task at hand and executed a terrific game plan. The fact that Brad Maynard had just three punts and the offense scored on 7 of its 11 possessions — excluding the final two when Garrett Wolfe was in the backfield and they were just trying to run out the clock — shows how good this Bears team can be when the offense plays up to the level of the defense.

The Bears may have clinched the division title and a home playoff game, but their next goal should be securing the second seed in the playoffs so they can get a first round bye. Because they beat the Eagles in a head to head matchup a few weeks ago, they currently sit in that No. 2 spot, but they have a tough home game against the Jets followed by an even tougher road game against the Packers to close out the regular season.

But, man, it feels good to be back in the postseason.

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