1. Devin Hester, PR, WR: Arguably the most dangerous scoring threat in the NFL right now, Hester generated two big returns (38 yards on a punt and 40 yards on a kickoff) that led to Bears touchdowns, including a 25-yard TD reception as part of the team’s three-touchdown third quarter. Hester hasn’t yet developed into a top-flight receiver, but probably deserves more credit than he’s been given for his development at the position. The mere threat of Hester lined up at receiver changes the way teams defend the Bears, and he’s justifying that with his growing production.
2. Johnny Knox, WR: Knox hadn’t caught more than three balls in a game in four weeks headed into Sunday’s win over the Jets. But he hauled in four passes against the Jets for two touchdowns, averaging 23 yards per reception. In just his second season, Knox seems to be developing rapidly. Knox needs 40 yards receiving to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career, and might just be peaking at the perfect time. He’s averaging 28.3 yards per catch over the past two games, and paired with Hester, Knox stretches the field, and opens up the underneath passing game for Matt Forte and the tight ends.
3. Chris Harris, S: Quarterback Jay Cutler could just as easily be in this spot. But Harris deserves recognition for the stability he’s brought to the safety position, in addition to the game-changing takeaways. Harris recovered a fumble and nabbed the game-sealing interception Sunday in the win over the Jets. Harris has produced six takeaways in his past eight games (five interceptions and a fumble recovery), and now has seven on the season, which registers as a career high. Harris also tied a season high with 11 tackles against the Jets (including a stop for lost yardage), in addition to adding a pass breakup.
1. Robbie Gould, K: Part of what makes Gould special are his critical self evaluations, which the kicker offered Sunday after missing a 35-yard field goal wide right in the fourth quarter, and having a 37-yarder -- which he made -- partially blocked in the first quarter. On the kick that was blocked, Gould said he needed to get the ball up higher, and the kicker offered no excuses on the miss. One of the NFL’s most accurate kickers of all time (despite kicking in often horrid conditions at Soldier Field), Gould’s off day against the Jets won’t be a concern moving forward. Gould is too good for that, and his body of work doesn't indicate a sustained slump.
2. Chester Taylor, RB: The Bears signed Taylor in the offseason as a complement to Matt Forte, who would keep the starting running back fresh for the stretch run (which is now). Taylor finally ran for as many yards (4) as carries (four) he received, after finishing four of the past five games with more attempts than yards. But that’s not the type of production the Bears envisioned when making the decision to pay Taylor $7 million guaranteed. Taylor has been a decent addition in pass protection, but hasn’t caught a pass in two games. The bottom line is Taylor needs to increase his production as a runner. Opportunities are limited, but that’s not a legitimate excuse.
3. Julius Peppers, DE: The Jets deserve some credit for the blocking schemes employed to limit Peppers to his worst day of production as a Bear. The Jets neutralized Peppers with double tight-end formations, limiting the defensive end to a season-low one tackle. The game on Sunday could serve as the blueprint for slowing down Peppers, who is likely to be named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. But don’t count on it. Peppers has been a dominating force (eight sacks) for the better part of the season, and that’s not likely to change Sunday against the Green Bay Packers or in the playoffs.