Five things we learned vs. Vikings

CHICAGO – Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears31-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

1. Jay Cutler led in crunch time. Cutler made his share of mistakes on Sunday, but he managed to shake them off and guide the Bears 66 yards down the field in 3:05 to score the game-winning touchdown on a 16-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett. Cutler went 7 for 10 on the drive, but keep in mind he had to spike the ball to kill the clock and that his first pass of the drive bounced off an official standing in the middle of the field in front of intended target Alshon Jeffery (another incomplete pass to Jeffery got wiped out by a holding penalty). This is why the Bears traded for Cutler four years ago: to win games. When the chips were down, the quarterback stayed calm, put the team on his shoulders and led them to a come-from-behind victory in the closing minutes of an important game. What an encouraging start to the season for Cutler in a contract year.

2. Turnovers keep inferior teams in games. Now for the bad part: The Bears almost handed the game to Minnesota -- literally. It’s hard to win when a team commits four turnovers. The Bears were able to survive versus the Vikings, but next time they probably won’t be so lucky. In the span of a little more than three minutes in the second quarter, Cutler was sacked and fumbled the ball, which Minnesota returned for a touchdown, and threw an interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the Vikings’ 1-yard line that killed a prime scoring chance. Cutler later tossed a pick on a deep ball to Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte had the ball ripped away at the end of a run. Both of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter. Throw in a special-teams breakdown on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 105-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, and the Bears have plenty of mistakes to correct going into their Week 3 game at Pittsburgh. That should prevent the team from feeling too good about themselves this week in practice.

3. Devin Hester is again ridiculous. People snickered at the positive reviews Hester received from observers during training camp, but even the most anti-Hester fans have to admit he ran with a purpose on Sunday, returning five kickoffs for a career-high 249 yards, with long runs of 76 and 80 yards. The decision to limit Hester to strictly special teams was a brilliant one. He has fresh legs. That’s been obvious since the preseason. But the most important thing with Hester is always his confidence. Ever since he got over the whole ‘I want to retire’ drama at the end of last season, Hester has been walking tall with his head held high. When Hester feels good about himself, he’s dangerous. Don’t be surprised to see his success in the return game snowball over the next couple of weeks. That’s how it goes with Hester.

4. Defense is still searching for an identity. The Bears continue to take the ball away on defense, which is good, but they are simply not generating enough pressure up front. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder attempted 30 passes and was sacked just once. That’s not good enough. For the second straight week, Pro Bowl defensive linemen Julius Peppers and Henry Melton were non-factors, with a combined three tackles (before the coaches review the film). What’s going on up front? Overall, the Bears surrendered six plays of 20-plus yards against Minnesota after being torched repeatedly by Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green in Week 1. To be fair, the Vikings scored 14 points on Sunday on a fumble return and a kickoff return. But I think we would all agree the defense looks very un-Bears-like to open the regular season.

5. Ponder better than expected. Ponder is still the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC North, but he deserves some credit for almost leading the Vikings to their first win in Chicago since 2007. Ponder completed some key throws late to finish with 227 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception, while also showing no fear running with the football. He took a heck of a hit from Bears linebacker James Anderson near the home team’s sideline in the second half, but at no point did Ponder shy away from the contact. Minnesota is still 0-2 and in deep trouble already with two loses to NFC North teams, but I don’t think Vikings fans will be clamoring for Matt Cassel to start anytime soon. Or at least they shouldn’t be.