CHICAGO -- There's quite bit to get to after Chicago’s seizure of the NFC North lead on the heels of its 27-13 shellacking of the reeling Minnesota Vikings.
From here on out, it appears the division race is now between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, who didn’t play on Sunday because of a bye week.
So let’s not waste any time with small talk. Here we go.
What it means: The Bears took advantage of an ideal opportunity -- with Green Bay off because of its bye -- and blasted a desperate Minnesota squad to move atop the division standings, while essentially ending the Vikings’ season. Minnesota isn’t completely out of the hunt, but it won’t be easy to rebound from 3-6. So for the most part, Chicago made the NFC North a two-team race against a team that it has already scored one victory against earlier this season.
Hester’s big day: The Bears cut short Devin Hester’s snaps on offense earlier in the season in an attempt to keep him fresher for returns. Against the Vikings on Sunday, the staff gave Hester more responsibility on both offense and special teams, and the electrifying return man delivered.
Hester caught a 19-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left in first half. Then, Hester turned it on in the second half with a pair of big returns. Hester returned a kickoff in the third quarter 68 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, and followed that with a 42-yard punt return.
In the passing game, Hester caught four passes for 38 yards through the first three quarters.
Windy City blues: Typically money, both kickers in Sunday’s matchup missed first-half field goals they usually make likely because of strong wind gusts at Soldier Field. With wind gusts registering between 17 and 30 miles per hour prior to kickoff, Longwell -- after nailing a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter -- clanged a 39-yard shot off the left upright early in the second quarter.
Bears kicker Gould, meanwhile, missed a 43-yard attempt with six seconds left in the first half wide left. The field goal would have given the Bears a 17-10 advantage at intermission.
Protection served: Chicago’s offensive line continued its steady climb to respectability against arguably its toughest task of the season in trying to protect quarterback Jay Cutler from Minnesota’s formidable front seven.
The unit, playing its second consecutive week with a combination of Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza and J’Marcus Webb, didn’t allow its first sack until the 9:30 mark of the second quarter, and provided Cutler adequate -- often excellent -- protection throughout the game.
Cutler responded to the extra time allotted in the pocket by completing 13 of 20 to six different receivers in the first half for 149 yards and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 99.8. Cutler put the finishing touches on the Vikings with another scoring strike in the fourth quarter, a 19-yarder down the seam to Kellen Davis off a nasty play-action fake.
Oh Henry: Public address announcers for Chicago games haven’t called the name of Bears defensive lineman Henry Melton much since the club drafted him in the fourth round in 2009. But Melton has quietly made strides, including a forced fumble Sunday on Brett Favre -- recovered by Tommie Harris -- that could have led to the Bears extending their lead if not for Gould’s missed 43-yard field-goal attempt.
Melton entered the game coming off three consecutive games in which he has made at least two tackles. He’s not yet a frontline contributor, but Melton appears to be moving in the right direction.
What’s next: A short turnaround for the Bears, who travel to Miami for a Thursday night game against the Dolphins. Chicago’s good health should play big in this crucial outing. The Bears finished the contest relatively injury free.