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(Monday, December 20th)
Final Score: Chicago 40, Minnesota 14
Minneapolis, MN (Sports Network) - Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes to help the Chicago Bears clinch the NFC North with a 40-14 pasting of the Vikings in their first outdoor home game in 29 years.
Chicago (10-4) clinched its division for the first time since 2006, when the Bears eventually lost to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl, thanks to the win and Green Bay's loss to New England on Sunday night. Chicago is the first team in the NFL to wrap up its division.
"They're all special, they're hard to get," said Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher on clinching the division. "You always think you're going to get them. But it's nice to be back on top."
Several other stories cropped up during the game, including Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre suffering a concussion and Chicago's Devin Hester setting an NFL record for combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns.
Favre was not expected to play but was upgraded to questionable on Monday, then given the go-ahead to start. He missed last week's loss to the Giants, ending his record for consecutive starts at 297.
"I woke up this morning and sent (Minnesota head coach) Leslie (Frazier) a message that, crazy as it may sound, that I was considering playing," said Favre. "I didn't get a message back from him 'til this morning. It was, 'Hey, if we can work it out we'll work it out'."
But he didn't finish the game against Chicago. In the second quarter, Favre dropped back to pass and was wrapped up by lineman Corey Wootton, who slammed the quarterback to the ground for his first NFL sack.
Favre landed on his left shoulder while his head bounced off the frozen ground.
Medical staff came out, but Favre walked off the field under his own power before Minnesota punted the ball. Rookie Joe Webb finished the game under center for the Vikings (5-9).
"It's one of the few times I kinda went blank there for a while, in my career," said Favre. "Just the way I was slung around on the turf, I wouldn't say it was necessarily the hit."
Later in the post-game press conference, Favre was asked whether he'll play again.
"You know, I don't know with this concussion. Based on the time and based on my decision making, I probably shouldn't tell you one way or the other right now."
Hester came into the game with 13 touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns. In the third quarter, he fielded a punt and ran down the right sideline 64 yards into the end zone for No. 14, which broke the record he shared with Brian Mitchell.
It was Hester's 10th career punt return for a touchdown, tying a record set by Eric Metcalf.
"I want to give credit to all them guys cause without them I'm not here today talking to you," said Hester. "The return felt great and it's a big load off my back."
The first outdoor game in Minnesota since December 20, 1981 happened because the Metrodome is still undergoing repairs after the roof collapsed last week due to a heavy snowstorm.
Minnesota played last week at Detroit's Ford Field, while this game was held at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
It snowed lightly throughout the contest, while the game-time temperature was 19 degrees -- with the wind chill bringing that figure down to nine degrees.
Cutler went 14-for-24 with 194 yards and an interception while Hester added a receiving touchdown as the Bears bounced back from last week's 36-7 loss to New England.
Matt Forte totaled 17 carries for 92 yards, Johnny Knox had a 67-yard touchdown reception and Robbie Gould kicked four field goals in the win.
"This was a great job by our football team all week," said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. "I'm really proud of them to be the first team to clinch the division. The game didn't start off the way we wanted to, but we settled down."
Favre was 5-for-7 with 63 yards, one score and one interception before leaving the game. Webb, who came into the game with five career pass attempts, was picked off twice while completing 15-of-26 throws for 129 yards. He added 38 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
Minnesota played without star running back Adrian Peterson, who was out with ankle and knee injuries.
The Vikings started the game with the ball and needed just 3 1/2 minutes to take the lead. Favre made a quick toss to the left and Percy Harvin took it in from 23 yards out to cap the six-play, 60-yard drive for a 7-0 lead.
After punting on their first possession, the Bears caused a turnover when Henry Melton tipped Favre's pass at the line of scrimmage and Julius Peppers came down with the ball.
Chicago took over at the Minnesota 14 but moved only three yards and settled for a 29-yard field goal from Gould.
Chicago then forced a three-and-out, but incurred consecutive 10-yard penalties to face a 1st-and-30. Cutler, though, tossed it down the right sideline for Knox, who came down with the ball near the 30 and reached the end zone untouched. The 67-yard play gave the Bears a 10-7 lead with 1:55 to play in the first.
After Favre went down and Minnesota punted, Cutler marched his team down the field, covering 70 yards in eight plays. Hester's 15-yard catch made it 17-7 with under seven minutes to play in the half.
Hester nearly broke the record on the opening kickoff of the second half, but was tackled at the Minnesota six-yard line after a 79-yard return. Chicago, though, was unable to move the ball and Gould kicked a 23-yarder.
Hester did break the record on the next punt, as his 64-yard return made it a 27-7 game less than three minutes into the third.
Minnesota answered on its next touch, when Webb scrambled to the right and stretched the ball into the end zone on a 13-yard score. The play finished a 68-yard drive just over five minutes into the third.
Chicago, though, came right back with a seven-play, 53-yard march. Cutler hit Rashied Davis in the end zone from nine yards out for a 34-14 advantage with 5:16 left in the third.
Gould added a 34-yard field goal later in the quarter and a 20-yarder in the fourth to account for the final score.
Chicago recorded its third division title in the past six years...Minnesota went 4-4 at home this season. The Vikings play in Philadelphia next week, then wrap up their season up in Detroit...Chicago won both games against Minnesota this season and has won four of the past six...Chicago plays its final home game of the regular season next Sunday against the Jets...Despite the lopsided score, the Bears outgained the Vikings by only 20 yards, 293-273...Toby Gerhart started in place of Peterson and finished with 77 yards on 16 carries.
12/21 01:43:24 ET
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