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.

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