MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after a championship night in the NFC North with the Bears winning 40-14:
What it means: This season began with questions about the Chicago Bears' long-term direction under general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith. It will end with nothing less than the NFC North title. Monday night's victory clinched the division championship and left the Bears on track for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which comes along with a first-round bye. At 10-4, they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the 10-4 Philadelphia Eagles. And according to ESPN's Playoff Machine, there is a scenario where the Bears could clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win their final two games and the Atlanta Falcons lose their final two games.
FavreWatch: I would call Monday night the swan song of Brett Favre's career, but we already did that earlier this month. The day began with Favre listed as "out" on the injury report and accelerated into bizarre territory when he was upgraded to questionable. It became downright stunning when he started after sitting out two weeks of practice because of a sprained SC joint and recurring numbness near his right shoulder. Favre took the Vikings to a touchdown on their opening drive and threw with stunning zip throughout his five series. But his night ended with a head injury after Bears rookie Corey Wootton slammed him to the unforgiving turf at TCF Bank Stadium with 11 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Favre lay motionless for several moments before walking slowly to the sidelines.
CutlerWatch: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is heading to the playoffs for the first time in his NFL career. He threw three touchdown passes Monday night, including a beautiful 67-yard pass to receiver Johnny Knox that gave the Bears a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
HesterWatch: As we noted earlier, Bears returner Devin Hester returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, setting a new NFL record with 14 career kickoff or punt returns.
TCF BankWatch: It didn't go unnoticed that Favre suffered the injury when his head bounced off the turf at TCF Bank Stadium. Field conditions were far from ideal, as players slipped at increasing rates as the game went on. It's impossible to know how much of that was based on Monday's unavoidable snow fall and how much could be attributed to the lack of heating coils under the field itself. After a week's worth of consternation about the change of venue, the crowd totaled 40,504. Most important, it offered the Vikings no perceptible home-field advantage and their margin of defeat was actually greater than last week's loss at Ford Field to the New York Giants.
My favorite play: Bears safety Chris Harris stood up and slammed Vikings tailback Toby Gerhart on third-and-2 in the second quarter. It was the kind of hit that told you the Bears came to play. I'm not sure I can say the same about the Vikings.
What's next: The Bears will host the New York Jets and the Vikings will travel to the Philadelphia Eagles, both on Sunday.