Are the Bears and Jets’ defenses overrated?

Here are five quick-hit thoughts on the Bears’ wild 38-34 win over the Jets in Week 16.

1. Are the Bears and Jets’ defenses overrated?
Not to take anything away from Jay Cutler (who has played well for most of the season) or Mark Sanchez (who has played well for most of his last two games), but what happened to the defenses for these two teams? The Bears came into this game with the 30th-ranked offense and Sanchez was playing with torn cartilage in his shoulder. Yet you would have sworn that this was an Arena League game with the way both teams went up and down the field. In the Jets’ embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday night a few weeks ago, their pass rush was non-existent. It was the same case on Sunday, as their front seven failed to lay a hand on Cutler in most situations. New York’s vaunted secondary was brutal in coverage as well, and the entire defense had a poor day tackling. In the past two games, the Jets have allowed 700 total yards, which is a concern to say the least (especially now that they’ve managed to back into the playoffs again). The Bears defense was no better, as it allowed Sanchez to complete 24-for-37 pass attempts for 269 yards and a touchdown. Granted, Chris Harris came up with a huge interception to seal the game for the Bears late in the fourth quarter, but Lovie Smith can’t be too pleased that his defense gave up 393 total yards of offense. With the way both teams played on Sunday, it makes you wonder whether these defenses are living off past reputations.

2. Teams still haven’t learned not to kick to Hester.
It’s amazing how teams foolishly believe week after week that they’ll be the ones to negate what Devin Hester can do in the return game. And I blame the kickers, because no coach that wants to retain his job is ordering his team to kick to the former Miami product. Jets coach Rex Ryan said earlier in the week that the Jets wouldn’t punt to Hester, but Steve Weatherford did it anyway. After successfully playing keep-away in the first half, Weatherford booted a line drive right to Hester in the third quarter, who returned the gift 32 yards to New York’s 32-yard-line. He caught a 25-yard touchdown three plays later to give the Bears a 31-24 lead. Later in the third quarter, he returned a kickoff 40 yards to set up a Cutler touchdown pass to Johnny Knox. The impact that Hester is having this year is eerily similar to the one he had when they went to the Super Bowl in 2006. Given how much more explosive the Bears are offensively than they were back then, teams that could play Chicago in the postseason better figure out a way to keep it out of his hands.

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Thanks to Hester and Cutler’s big nights, the Bears clinch the NFC North

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Brett Favre  of the Minnesota Vikings is attended to after being sacked by the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium on December 20, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Here are five quick-hit observations from the Bears 40-14 rout over the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

1. Sweet home, Chicago.
With their victory, the Bears have clinched the NFC North and are now guaranteed to host at least one game in the playoffs. Regardless of whether you think they’re a dark horse or candidates to be one-and-done, it’s pretty impressive that the Bears one their division this year after everyone predicted the Packers (or the Vikings) to take home the North crown. Granted, Green Bay had a slew of injuries to deal with but Chicago was consistently the better team over the course of the season. The Bears are now the front-runners to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC because they’ve already beaten the Eagles and thus hold the tiebreaker over Philly. That said, Chicago has two difficult tests remaining in the Jets (Week 16) and the Packers (Week 17 at Lambeau).

2. Devin Hester is the man.
As a football fan, I’m glad Devin Hester re-dedicated himself to the return game after trying to focus on his career as a receiver. He’s simply too dangerous a weapon for the Bears not to use on special teams and he proved once again tonight how he can turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye. After staying away from him for most of the night, the Vikings started to kick to Hester in the second half because clearly they wanted to suffer embarrassment (there’s no other realistic explanation). He thanked them by setting the NFL record for kick return touchdowns after returning a punt 64 yards for a score early in the third quarter. This came after he almost brought the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown as well (he was stopped inside the 10-yard-line). Much like he was in 2006 when the Bears went to the Super Bowl, Hester will be a vital piece for Chicago come playoff time.

3. Brett Favre really should call it a career.
I’ll admit, I was excited when I heard Favre was going to play on Monday night. As a football fan, I was glad that he would have one more MNF game to go out on and what a better opponent than the Bears? After he threw a touchdown pass to Percy Harvin on the first drive of the game and did his patented Brett Favre fist pump, my excitement grew because it looked like the Vikings were ready to play. But nothing went right for him after that. He wound up throwing an interception on a batted ball and then a Corey Wootton sack ended his night – if not his career. It was a sad reminder that the game has officially passed Brett by and that it’s probably best that he walk away for good. It’s a sad thing watching a legend go out, but Favre’s time is done. It’s not that he can’t play the game anymore, but his body can’t take any more of the abuse. It’s been one hell of a ride, but this has to be his swan song. This has to be the longest year of his career.

4. It’s frustrating to watch a team give up.
The Vikings have withered away to nothing. The team that took the field on Monday night had zero pride, zero urgency and zero desire to win. Their appearance in the NFC Championship Game last January feels like it was a decade ago. They need a head coach, a quarterback and a new stadium to boot. Their offensive line is pitiful (nice effort, Bryant McKinnie) and their defense has turned to mush (has somebody posted missing person signs yet for Jared Allen?), too. Once Favre went down you could see that the Vikings had checked out and everyone had succumbed to the fact that Joe Webb wasn’t going to be able to move the offense. Their effort was akin to the free win the Cowboys gave the Packers earlier in the year right before Wade Phillips was canned. The way the Vikings have deteriorated over the course of the year has been rather amazing to watch.

5. Jay Cutler can chuck the rock.
His decision-making isn’t always spot on but Jay Cutler can’t certainly throw the football. Granted, he was playing against 11 ghosts but the way he zipped the ball on a cold, nasty night in Minnesota was rather impressive to watch. He looked like he was having some fun out there too, which is kind of ironic given he opposed Brett Favre (the king of “man, does he have fun out there or what!”). Once again, Mike Martz stuck with the short-to-intermediate routs and Cutler only took chances down field when the coverage was right. Otherwise, he took what Minnesota’s pathetic defense gave him and he marched up and down the field the entire night. That version of Jay Cutler can beat anyone.

Hot seat gets warmer for Childress as Bears dump Vikings

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 11: Head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings looks on against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on October 11, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Vikings beat the Rams 38-10.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Zygi Wilf still isn’t considering a coaching change in Minnesota, but he can’t be too pleased with the effort his team gave in Chicago on Sunday.

With their 27-13 loss to the Bears, the Vikings are now 3-6 on the year but Wilf is still reluctant to make a coaching change at the moment. That’s not to say that he won’t change his mind, but Childress’ job seems safe at the moment.

Wilf endured another turnoverfest in Chicago, as the Vikings committed four turnovers in the loss. The Bears let them hang around for a while, but Brett Favre wanted nothing to with the opportunities he was given and Minnesota eventually succumbed to defeat.

Devin Hester had himself a game, as he scored on a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, returned a punt 42 yards later in the quarter and also returned a 68-yard kickoff in the third. He wanted to be more of a factor in the return game this season and he has been.

Somehow Jay Cutler wasn’t sacked the entire game, which is an embarrassment for the Vikings. The Bears’ offensive line has been horrendous all season, but they came up big against a Minnesota pass rush that has suddenly disappeared. Granted, Cutler moved around the pocket well and kept plays alive with his feet, but Chicago’s O-line deserves credit for coming to play.

With the win, the Bears are tied for first place in the division with the Packers, who were idle this week. The two teams will square off in Green Bay on the final week of the season, so things are shaping up for a great finish in the NFC North.

Packers avoid costly mistakes, somehow still lose to the Bears

Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (23) reacts after an incomplete pass during the first quarter of their NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Chicago, September 27, 2010.  REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Two turnovers, 18 penalties (for 152 yards), horrendous special teams play and poor ball security late in the game were just some of the things the Packers accomplished in their 20-17 loss to the Bears on Monday night.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Green Bay wanted to lose tonight.

It was undisciplined football at its best and yet, the Pack still had an opportunity to win the game in the end as long as they continued to move the ball down field (as they had done for most of the night) and not turn it over. But with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the scored tied 17-17, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs knocked the ball out of receiver James Jones’ grasp after a short reception. Then, by the grace of George Halas himself, somehow the ball tight roped down the sideline and Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings was able to recover it at the Green Bay 38.

Thanks to a holding penalty, the Bears were backed up to their own 44-yard line, but soon thereafter Jay Cutler made an outstanding throw to Greg Olsen, who made an even better catch for a 21-yard gain down to the Green Bay 35. Two plays later, Morgan Burnett was called for molesting Earl Bennett on a pass interference penalty and the ball was moved inside the 10-yard line. Four plays later Robbie Gould kicked the 19-yard game-winner to propel Chicago to victory.

You may not witness an uglier loss by a Super Bowl contender all season. And not all the ugliness was due to the players either, as the Green Bay coaching staff shares in the misery too.

Why didn’t the Packers instruct punter Tim Masthay to kick the ball away from Devin Hester? He sent a bullet at him late in the second quarter and Hester almost broke it for a touchdown. Then, with his team only up a field goal early in the fourth quarter, the genius once again tempts fate by kicking it straight to Hester, who promptly returns it 62-yards for the go-ahead score.

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Remember when Devin Hester returned punts? [video]

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