Hester, Bears show old winning form

Devin Hester turned up the right sideline, hurdled a lunging

defender and jumped into the first row of fans after his 62-yard

punt return for a touchdown.

With each stride, it sure felt more and more like 2006

again.

Hester was up to his old tricks with his first touchdown return

in three years, and the Chicago Bears were back to looking like

contenders with a 20-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers on

Monday night.

”We know it’s a long season,” Hester said. ”We know what can

happen. We can go out and lose four or five games straight. We

can’t really dwell on this win.”

The Bears had insisted all along they were good enough to

contend after three straight playoff misses. If they were looking

for confirmation, the last two weeks should help.

Never mind that narrow season-opening win over Detroit, when the

Lions’ go-ahead touchdown was erased by a rule call in the end

zone.

A week later, the Bears beat Dallas on the road.

And then?

They stopped the high-powered Packers, a popular pick to win the

NFC. Now, the Bears are 3-0 for the first time since the 2006 Super

Bowl team won its first seven, and they are the only remaining

unbeaten team in the NFC thanks to a defense led by Julius Peppers

and Brian Urlacher and an offense that’s adjusting to Mike Martz’s

system even if it was a bit out of sync Monday.

”We didn’t play our best game and we won,” said Cutler, who

threw for 221 yards and a touchdown. ”That’s got to be a good

sign. Offensively, we’ve got to get a lot better. I need to get a

lot better. Our defense did a good job keeping us in it.”

There were times when Cutler threw to one spot and the receivers

went to another. On the ground, Chicago managed just 77 yards,

although the Bears averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

That the Packers wound up with a team-record 18 penalties for

152 yards certainly helped the Bears, but they also helped

themselves with enough big plays to come away with what could be a

defining win.

Urlacher forced a fumble by James Jones in the closing minutes

and Robbie Gould booted the winning 19-yard field goal with 4

seconds left after Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett was called for pass

interference on Earl Bennett.

Late in the third quarter, with the Packers leading by three,

Peppers blocked Mason Crosby’s 37-yard field-goal attempt.

And in the fourth, Hester’s TD return arguably bailed out coach

Lovie Smith after he again decided to go for the touchdown rather

than an easy field goal on fourth down at the goal line.

That happened after the Bears drove from their 28 to the 1

following Peppers’ block. Desmond Clark dropped a pass in the end

zone, and Chicago came away empty-handed again, just as it did in a

similar spot against Detroit two weeks earlier.

In both cases, the Bears won and Smith held his ground.

His rationale is that the Bears created a short field and put

pressure on the opponent by going for the touchdown rather than a

chip-shot field goal, never mind that they were trailing in both

cases.

This time, the Packers were forced to punt on the next

possession, and in a flash, Hester gave the Bears a short-lived

14-10 lead early in the fourth.

”Basically what they were doing is they really stayed on their

man and when the guys are on their man it gives me an opportunity

to feel where the rest of the guys are,” Hester said. ”I saw a

couple holes. Those guys opened up a lot of holes on that play.

There was like two or three holes I could have hit. I just chose

one and was free into the end zone.”

It was the 12th time he had returned a punt or kickoff for a

touchdown, tying him for second on the NFL’s career list, but he

hadn’t broken one since the final game of the 2007 season. For more

than two years, the once dominant return specialist had looked

nothing more than ordinary after the Bears expanded his role on

offense.

He lost his kickoff return duties. On punts, he wasn’t breaking

free, either.

”We like Devin Hester as our punt return all along,” Smith

said. ”We haven’t been pleased with the production we’ve gotten

from there, but you have to stay patient with him sometimes. If you

talk to most opponents, they’ll still tell you they are scared when

Devin goes back there. You just have to stay with him. The guys did

a good job blocking for him, but again, he’s back and we like

seeing him back there.”