Bears’ Hester Wreaking Havoc Again

LAKE FOREST, Ill. Once again, the Chicago Bears are getting many happy returns from Devin Hester.

The specialist who set records running back kickoffs and punts in his first two seasons seems reborn on special teams after struggling the past few years while trying to adapt to a bigger role on offense.

“Devin has it going right now,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Guys are doing a great job blocking for him. He’s feeling it, of course.”

Hester did a little bit of everything against Minnesota on Sunday.

He handled kickoffs for the first time this season and wound up returning two for a total of 100 yards. He was effective again on punts, running one back 42 yards. Throw in a 19-yard touchdown catch, and it was a good afternoon all around for Hester.

The 27-13 win over the put the Bears (6-3) in a tie with for the NFC North lead with a tougher schedule looming.

Five of the Bears’ six wins are against teams with three wins or less at the moment, including two with 2-7 records (Detroit, Dallas) and a pair that are 1-8 (Carolina, Buffalo). The exception was Green Bay in September.

Now, they’re in a short week with Thursday’s game at Miami, although Chicago might be catching the at a good time. Tyler Thigpen most likely will start at quarterback after suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and Chad Henne injured his knee in Sunday’s win over Tennessee. Coach Tony Sparano said Henne might be available, but the Dolphins signed veteran Patrick Ramsey on Monday.

For the Bears, there are few breaks after this week, with home games looming against Philadelphia, New England and the along with a trip at Green Bay.

It would help if Hester keeps this up.

No one has more combined punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns than Hester, who shares the league’s career record with Brian Mitchell with 13. They are also tied for second with nine punt returns for TDs, one behind Eric Metcalf, but it was a long time between big plays.

He went two seasons without returning a punt or kickoff for a touchdown and was taken off kickoff returns last year. The TD drought ended when he ran a punt back 62 yards in a win over Green Bay in September. He had a 50-yard return against Carolina in October and returned another punt 89 yards for a touchdown against Seattle the following week.

Now, he and Dez Bryant are tied for the league lead with two punt returns for touchdowns. His five returns for 20 or more yards are tops in the NFL.

And he just showed he can still be dangerous on kickoffs, too.

That’s an opportunity Hester welcomed and he got it against Minnesota, even though the Bears have two solid options in Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox.

“It’s a team effort thing, and whenever I get the opportunity to make plays I want to be a part of it and so my teammates have faith in me, let them know that you can always count on me,” Hester said. “I’m going to go out and bust my tail and help them get the job done.”

Seeing Hester on kickoffs was a welcome sight for Knox, too.

“When you’ve got the best returner in the world on your team, you want to put him back there at any time because he’s going to make something happen,” Knox said.

While Washington and Buffalo avoided him previous two weeks, Minnesota went at Hester and paid for it.

His 32-yard kickoff return following a first-quarter field goal seemed to set off some alarms on the Vikings sideline. They sent a low kick at Rashied Davis, the front man, after ‘s 53-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin. The result was a 32-yard return for Davis.

That gave the Bears possession on the Minnesota 49 and set up a 19-yard TD pass from Cutler to Hester in the closing minute of the half.

After that, the Vikings seemed to go back to their original plan. And it didn’t work out well for them.

Hester broke off a 68-yard kickoff return from the end zone along the right sideline in the third quarter, setting up a field goal by Robbie Gould that made it 20-13, but his most impressive play came when the Vikings punted on the following possession.

Pinned along the right sideline, Hester somehow burst through a crowd of defenders and wound up with a 42-yard return after breaking about five tackles along the way.

“I just like getting the ball in my hands,” Hester said. “I feel like I can do great things with the great talent that God blessed me with. I feel like I can help my team in any way that I can. Kickoff returns are just another opportunity for me to get my hands on the ball.”

Cutler, Bears Beat Vikings 27-13

CHICAGO Brett Favre understood there were no guarantees, that the storybook ending he was seeking might not come, when he decided to play this season.

He’s still clinging to hope, though, no matter how little is left.

Chicago just about knocked the Minnesota Vikings out of playoff contention, with Jay Cutler throwing for 237 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bears to a 27-13 win that put them in a tie with Green Bay for the NFC North lead on Sunday.

It was a devastating blow for the Vikings (3-6), who needed to win this game and beat the Packers next week to get back in the race. Can they make the playoffs anyway?

“I have no idea,” Favre said. “If I had to gauge today, I would say no. I’m not writing us off, but guys are in that locker room after the game saying, ‘We’ve got to find a way to turn it around’ and all the other cliches you might expect. … Can this team make the playoffs? I say yes to that. Will we make the playoffs? I have no idea.”

Favre threw for just 170 yards after going for a career-best 446 the previous week against Arizona, when Minnesota wiped out a late 14-point deficit and beat the Cardinals in overtime.

This time, there were no late rallies. And with the Vikings well back in the playoff chase after Sunday’s loss, Favre was asked if he would keep playing this season if they’re mathematically eliminated.

“Let’s not worry about that,” he said. “Don’t push it. … I think there’s still a little hope left. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I do know the consensus seemed to be afterward that there is life still left.”

The loss also could prompt more calls for coach Brad Childress to be fired.

“You deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something you’re happy to deal with. … My name is behind the Vikings team. It all starts with me.”

Asked if he’ll be coaching next week, Childress said, “Until I get any word differently, yeah.”

It didn’t help that Favre threw three interceptions in the second half — two late in the game — that wiped out whatever chance the Vikings had at a comeback.

Chicago (6-3) also held Adrian Peterson to 51 yards rushing. Making matters worse was that receiver Bernard Berrian sat out after aggravating his groin in warmups and center John Sullivan left with a calf injury on the Vikings’ first possession.

Percy Harvin, who was questionable with a migraine headache, limped off the field late in the game after aggravating an ankle problem.

“Honestly, it’s a gut-check time,” Jared Allen said. “It’s getting old. Same song and dance, different game. We’re just inconsistent.”

As for the Bears?

“It was a big game for the whole team,” Cutler said.

Cutler completed 22 of 35 passes and got picked off twice, but his 19-yard TD to Kellen Davis on play action made it 27-13 in the fourth quarter.

“He was in a groove,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “After we settled those first couple drives I think the whole offense got in a pretty good groove where we had a lot of confidence. It’s easy when you’re standing on the sidelines and our defense is shutting them down with the guys they have on that side of the ball and we had the big returns.”

Devin Hester had a 68-yard kickoff return to set up a third-quarter field goal by Robbie Gould that made it 20-13 after being used solely on punts through the first eight games. Hester wasn’t bad in that area, either, running a punt back 42 yards.

For the Vikings, it was another bad afternoon in a tumultuous season that looked promising at the start. Instead there’s been nonstop drama, with the acquired-and-departed Randy Moss, Childress and Favre all playing starring roles at various points.

“As I said when I came here last year, my first press conference — if it ended then, if it ended today, if it ends at the end of this year, if it ended before the start of this year, it’s been a wonderful career,” Favre said.