Teammates have seen it so many times from Devin Hester that they could be immune by now, except they’re not.
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They know something special might happen whenever the ball winds up in his hands and they can’t stop watching, no matter how many times they’ve seen the show that was running again on Sunday night.
Hester hauled in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler on Chicago’s first possession and topped that with a career-long, 98-yard kickoff return for a score that put away the Minnesota Vikings en route to a 39-10 victory.
The only downer was that he left the game with a chest injury, but the Bears can breathe a little easier since it apparently wasn’t serious.
”Every time he gets the ball in his hands he’s a weapon, and he has potential to make a huge play and to get in the end zone,” defensive end Israel Idonije said. ”We all know he’s invaluable and a big part of our offense, special teams, and why this team has that big-play potential.”
Teammate Matt Spaeth had high praise, too.
”It’s exciting when you’ve got a guy back there you know is a difference maker and if you get your block, and if everybody gets their blocks, he can make guys miss and make things happen,” he said. ”It’s exciting to be out there.”
As for the injury?
Coach Lovie Smith basically brushed it off on Monday, saying, ”It shouldn’t be serious. We’re going to put it in the bumps and bruises section.”
That’s good news for the Bears, who at 3-3 are trying to dig themselves out of a big hole in the NFC North. The reigning division champions trail unbeaten Green Bay by three games and Detroit by two with losses to both teams, and the last thing they needed was to fall to the struggling Vikings.
Instead, they’ll go to London this week knowing that a win over Tampa Bay would give them the same record (4-3) they had through seven games last season before going on a run that ended one win shy of the Super Bowl. That’s something Smith has been harping on lately, and he did it again on Monday, although it’s worth mentioning the Bears faced a string of backup quarterbacks during their push last season.
The win over Minnesota was promising, even if it came against a last-place team.
Along with the big game by Hester, Chicago’s blockers held their ground against Jared Allen, and a defense that had been giving up big plays shut down Adrian Peterson. The Bears got big contributions from rookie Stephen Paea, who had a safety on Donovan McNabb, not to mention two sacks from Julius Peppers despite a sprained left knee.
Considering he had been listed as doubtful after sitting out practice all week, that was a bit surprising and it brought back memories of last year when the Vikings ruled out Brett Favre only to have him start on a snowy Monday night. The Bears won that game 40-14 at the University of Minnesota.
If Smith was employing some gamesmanship or going for a little payback, he wasn’t saying.
”Julius was good to go,” Smith said. ”In the future, just so you know, if he can’t go even until Saturday and he wakes up a couple hours before – we have to let someone know a couple hours before the game that he can go – he will be going.”
Hester was constantly on the go against the Vikings, whether he was hauling in a long TD or squeezing through a tiny hole for his first TD return on a kickoff since 2007.
That big burst extended his NFL record for combined kick-return touchdowns to 16, and it came two weeks after he set the league mark against Carolina by returning a punt to the end zone for the 11th time.
He’s done all that even though he went two full seasons without a TD return while trying to adjust to a bigger role on offense. He rediscovered his form last year, running back three punts to the end zone, and Smith insists Hester’s in the right role, that the Bears need to use him on offense.
”Trying to score as many points as we possibly can,” Smith said. ”We feel like we can do it with him on returns, but we feel like we can get him a couple more touches for us, to do something with the football. He wants to do it, also.”