Has it sunk in yet, Bears fans? Your team is NFC North Champions. Last night was a game both bandwagon and long-suffering Bears fans will remember for a long time.
So before we turn our attention to the Bears two-game run for playoff positioning, let’s take one look back at the most memorable images of Monday night…
1. Devin Hester darting down the frozen tundra.
Hester’s record-breaking performance on the field was incredible. But seeing him break into tears in the post-game presser when he started talking about his less heralded special teams blockers was something I’ll never forget. It says a lot about the person underneath the famous #23.
And let’s end the Hall of Fame argument now – if a punter or kicker can make it in, Hester’s record-breaking, game-changing ability should make him a lock for Canton.
2. Seeing Major Wright everywhere.
Wright was flying around the ball all night long. He made the kind of textbook open field tackles your safeties are supposed to make (including one on the elusive Percy Harvin). Oh, and he brought the lumber too…including a hit on Toby Gerhart that will probably result in a fine from the league office.
Major is the closest thing the Bears have had to Mike Brown since Mike Brown.
3. Favre laying face-first on the ground.
I respect Brett Favre the competitor and I hope he fully recovers from any and all injuries he’s suffered over the course of his two decades in the league.
But I’d be lying if I said Monday night wasn’t the realization of a sick fantasy that’s taken up permanent residence in my brain. Surely my fellow Bears fans know the one I’m talking about – where a clean hit by a Bears defender knocks #4 out of a late-season game with playoff implications, essentially sending him into retirement with less-than-fond memories of his time vs. Chicago. I’ve even verbalized this dream to some of my co-workers at the office.
So this picture of Brian Urlacher standing over him (in concern, not as a taunt) as he lay flat on the ground is extremely gratifying…in some sick way.
4. Matt Forte pushing the defensive pile.
On a 4th quarter run, Forte pushed his way – and a pile of would-be Viking tacklers – backwards about 10 yards for a first down when he should’ve had about a yard. Despite running behind a make-shift line most of the season, Forte’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 865 tough rushing yards on the year.
Everyone assumes Jay Cutler holds the keys to a long playoff drive. But without at least a threat of a running game, the Bears won’t see the NFC Championship game.
5. Jay Cutler doing his best Tom Brady impersonation.
Coming into this season, Cutler had not quarterbacked a winning team since high school. But now he can finally put a playoff appearance on his resume.
While he had the advantage of playing with a very good defense this year, he’s had to do more than manage the offense…especially behind an often porous offensive line. Cutler’s actually had to win games with his arm – see the Philly game as an example. And in snowy, frigid conditions last night, he made throws as if he were tossing the pigskin to WRs in 7-on-7 drills in training camp.
While his footwork leaves a lot to be desired, his arm is incredible. Just ask John Gruden…
6. The college-like atmosphere.
As cool as it was to see all the Bears fans in attendance at the University of Minnesota’s stadium, I have to give props to the purple-clad patrons too.
Despite 1) their team already being eliminated from playoff contention, 2) Favre appearing as though he wouldn’t play and 3) snowy, frigid temps, Minnesotans came out strong to support their team. They were loud and they stayed late.
The outdoor game is how football should be played in the NFC North. And if last night was any indication, the folks in Minny wouldn’t have any trouble supporting their team if they were lucky enough to watch a game in a shiny new outdoor stadium.
7. Lovie smiling on the sideline at game’s end.
None of us really want to give Lovie the credit he’s due. It’s easier to toss kudos everywhere else, noting he’s had a talented roster to work with and his experienced assistants compensate for his coaching short-comings.
But the fact is Smith’s won 3 division championships in his 7 seasons, each with a different group of players (including 3 different QBs – Orton, Grossman and Cutler) and coaches.
TV talking heads like to say football teams take on the personality of their coaches. After interviewing Urlacher following last night’s game, ESPN analyst Steve Young said he could tell the Bears have a good locker room made up of solid guys. Like it or not, that’s the byproduct of the guy leading the charge.
Lovie will never achieve Ditka-like status in the eyes of Chicagoans. But Bear Nation should give the guy credit when it’s due.