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Benson to have season-ending leg surgery

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Cedric Benson's season is over.

The Chicago Bears' running back needs surgery after injuring his
left ankle Sunday -- another setback for the team's first-round
draft choice in 2005.

Benson, who took over this season as the Bears' starter after
the trade of Thomas Jones to the Jets, broke free for a 21-yard run
in Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.

But he was hurt as he landed while being tackled by Denver
safety Hamza Abdullah and later had to be carted off the field
following the second-quarter play.

"It's tough when you lose your starting tailback. Cedric went
down with a season-ending injury, which is a tough break," Bears
coach Lovie Smith said Monday, the day after the Bears beat the
Broncos 37-34 in overtime.

"He went out on a good run. He had put together two good weeks.
... We'll miss him."

Veteran Adrian Peterson will now move up to the starter's role
with rookie Garrett Wolfe the backup. Peterson had 45 yards on 17
carries Sunday, including a 4-yard TD run during the Bears'
fourth-quarter comeback from a two-touchdown deficit. He also
caught five passes.

"You could say he's a guy who deserves the opportunity to get
more playing time," Smith said of Peterson. "He's done everything
we've always asked him to do."

Benson gained 47 yards on eight carries before he was hurt
Sunday. He'd rushed for 674 yards this season on 196 carries, an
average of 3.4 yards per carry and had four touchdowns.

Benson had taken his share of criticism for the lackluster
performance of Chicago's running game, one that is averaging only
3.3 per carry. But a week earlier against Seattle, he showed the
form that made him a star at Texas when he broke off a 43-yard TD
run. It was the longest run in a career that has been slowed by
injuries.

"He had a good game against Seattle last week and the run he
went out with was a good run," Smith said. "We rushed over 100
yards yesterday and with him you never know what we would have been
able to do.

"If you look at his play there was definitely improvement that
he's made so that's the light coming on, I guess you would say
that. I just know that he had made improvement and he was feeling
more comfortable in his role by the production he was having."

Asked if the Bears regretted trading Jones -- who had more than
1,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons in Chicago -- Smith
said: "We don't have Thomas Jones here. This is the group we have
and we feel comfortable with it."

A lengthy contract negotiation caused Benson to miss his first
training camp two years ago, and a knee injury knocked him out of
six games that season.

In 2006, Benson sprained his shoulder during training camp. He
went on to become a strong backup to Jones, gaining 647 yards and
averaging 4.1 yards per carry. In the Super Bowl, however, he was
knocked out of the game in the first quarter after hurting his
knee.

Now the Bears will turn to Peterson, who has 189 yards on 52
carries. He also had 33 receptions, tied for second most on the
team.

The Bears' victory Sunday kept their slim wild card chances
alive in the wide open NFC, even at 5-6. They face the Giants this
week at Soldier Field, looking for their first two-game winning
streak.

Devin Hester had a 75-yard punt return and an 88-yard kickoff
return, both in the third quarter against the Broncos.

"Seems like every time we need a boost, he's the guy that steps
up to the plate," Smith said.

In just his second NFL season, Hester broke a club record he
shared with Gale Sayers for kick return touchdowns (eight) with his
ninth and 10th (six on punts, four on kickoffs). Those numbers
don't include a missed field goal he returned 108 yards last season
against the Giants or his return of the Super Bowl's opening
kickoff for a TD against the Colts.