Devin Hester celebrates his NFL-record-breaking 14th TD return with Devin Aromashodu. | AP
Updated: December 21, 2010 4:32PM
The best thing about the 2010 Bears is that they learn well.
A week after being totally outclassed in handling inclement conditions against the Patriots, the Bears responded with a championship performance — overcoming an early deficit in tough sledding on the road to beat the Vikings 40-14 on Mondy night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It clinched the NFC North title and put the Bears in position for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. And while the breaks keep going their way, they’re making their breaks, too.
This team can make mistakes and still survive, which is key in the playoffs. Julius Peppers nullified an interception with an offsides penalty, then intercepted a pass. Chris Harris missed a tackle on Percy Harvin’s touchdown catch, then made a big hit on Toby Gerhart on third-and-one that forced a punt and added an interception.
The Bears didn’t handle the conditions very well against the Patriots, but had no problems in similar conditions against the Vikings.
Playing in the blizzard against the Patriots made a difference.
‘‘Of course it did,’’ center Olin Kreutz said. ‘‘It made us realize that we weren’t as great as we thought we were and we have to continue to get better. And No. 2, it helped us in that when we walked out on the field, the weather was not that bad.
‘‘When we walked on the field [Monday night], the whole team was saying, It’s warm out here and it’s 20 degrees and snow, because we were in a blizzard last week. And when the sun went down in Chicago and the wind blew it’s like minus 10 on the field. Tonight was nothing for us. Hopefully we keep learning from these games, because we want the weather to be like that in Chicago when we play in the playoffs.’’
And now, 10 other observations from the Bears-Vikings game:
1. The Bears won’t acknowledge it, but there is a direct correllation between Devin Hester’s reemergence as a lethal kick returner and his diminished role on offense.
‘‘I can’t speak to that,’’ teammate Rashied Davis said, ‘‘but I will say, he’s got a different intensity this year. Not that he ever slacked off, but this year he’s running as hard as I’ve ever seen him run — breaking all kinds of tackles and making guys miss and setting up guys’ blocks.’’
2. Another reminder of how the Bears’ fortunes have changed: former Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian was all but invisible Monday night. Berrian started, but did not have a reception. The Bears owe the Vikings a debt of gratitude for overpaying Berrian after the 2007 season and making Jerry Angelo’s decision — signing either Berrian or Lance Briggs — for him.
3. Kudos to the Score’s Lawrence Holmes for pressing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the issue of Brett Favre’s resurrection and the possible abuse of the NFL’s injury report policy. Favre was listed as ‘‘out’’ on the injury report on Saturday, Favre was upgraded to ‘‘questionable’’ on Monday morning and ended up starting.
Even Lovie Smith, in his understated way, expressed dismay at the tactic, acknowledging that the Bears assumed ‘‘out meant out’’ and did not prepare for Favre. ‘‘You learn something every day,’’ Smith said.
Goodell, who takes evasiveness to a new level, refused to acknowledge that despite the legality of the move, it opens the door for abuse. The only surprise is that Bill Belichick didn’t think of it first.
4. The biggest winner of the night was TCF Bank, which got more bang for its naming-rights buck than it ever imagined. Not only was an NFL game played at the stadium bearing its name, but the field-condition controversy put ‘‘TCF Bank Stadium’’ in the news for the entire week.
5. After much consternation during the week, the safety of the playing field suddenly became a non-issue after the game. The Bears weren’t about to acknowledge that it was not as bad as they thought.
‘‘The field is behind us now,’’ was all Lance Briggs said when asked about it.
6. With an NFL-record 14 touchdowns on kick returns in fewer than five seasons, Devin Hester is the best kick returner in NFL history. But you have to wonder what Gale Sayers would have done had special teams been as emphasized in the 1960s as they are today. Sayers still holds the Bears’ records for career kickoff-return average (30.6 yards), single-season average (37.7 in 1967) and career touchdowns (six).
7. The Bears might be the place where quarterbacks and wide receivers got to die, but they’re the best thing to happen to Hester and he acknowledged that, thanking God for putting him in the right place at the right time. As good as he is, there aren’t many special teams units where Hester would be as productive as he is with the Bears.
Asked the best thing he could say about Hester, Rashied Davis had an interesting answer:
‘‘He’s a good dude,’’ Davis said. ‘‘He respects what we do, which makes us play harder, because he doesn’t think it’s all him. He knows we have a huge part of it and gives us credit. So we definitely. appreciate his attutude toward what he does.
8. Lost in the shuffle of a monumental night was Davis’ other contribution, a nine-yard touchdown catch from Jay Cutler that gave the Bears a 34-14 lead with 9:47 left in the third quarter.
It was only his second catch of the season and his first touchdown since Nov. 2, 2008 against the Lions.
‘‘That’s not a big deal,’’ Davis said. But ‘‘It does mean a lot to me. It means a lot to me to be trusted in that situation to make a play when we needed it. I’m thankful for coach Martz and for Jay throwing me the ball. It feels good to be in a position to win a Super Bowl.
9. While it’s true that the Bears have played third-string quarterbacks in three consecutive road games, you have to acknowledge that they were responsible for facing two of them. Julius Peppers knocked out the Lions’ Matthew Stafford in the opener, which led to Drew Stanton starting two weeks ago; and Corey Wootton knocked out Brett Favre on Monday night.
10. Take it for what it’s worth that ESPN analyst Matt Millen enthusiastically endorsed the Bears as Super Bowl contenders, saying they could beat the Saints or the Falcons on the road in a playoff game. Millen was one of the best analysts in the game in his first stint on TV, but his credibility took a hit with the disastrous run as president of the Lions.