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Lovie Smith, Devin Hester make all the right moves in Bears' victory

Updated: May 9, 2012 9:54AM



A shakeup couldn’t be avoided.

After a listless loss to the Detroit Lions dropped them to 2-3, Bears coach Lovie Smith aimed to highlight accountability in his locker room.

He benched safety Brandon Meriweather and offensive tackle Frank Omiyale, deactivated safety Chris Harris and empowered three young players in the prime-time spotlight: Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte as the starting safeties and Lance Louis as the starting right tackle.

None of those players did anything to disprove Smith, helping the Bears jump out to a 26-3 lead on the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field, en route to a 39-10 victory.

“It was huge to bounce back,” tight end Kellen Davis said. “It was a total team ­effort.”

Now, the 3-3 Bears head abroad, preparing for a game against the 4-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London.

The question is this: Will Harris make the trip?

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon, and it’s hard not to discount all the obvious signs. After trading for him last offseason, Harris turned in an All-Pro season, highlighted by five interceptions. But the Bears haven’t made much of an effort to sign him to a new deal, with his current one set to expire after this season. Harris was sidelined for three games with a hamstring injury, and he — like many defenders — struggled in his return against the Lions. But not only was Harris benched, he was deactivated for Sunday night’s game.

Harris wasn’t available for comment after the game.

It’s unclear how much of a market there is for him, but Harris could be attractive to a playoff-caliber team desperate for safety help. The Bears probably wouldn’t be too picky, since he’ll be a free-agent anyway after this season, and they’ve got decent depth at the position.

Behind starters Wright and Conte is Meriweather, Craig Steltz and undrafted rookie Anthony Walters.

That Conte and Wright were solid against the Vikings certainly doesn’t hurt, if general manager Jerry Angelo wants to trade Harris.

In a game they had to win, the young safeties helped the defense set the tone against the Vikings.

On the opening series of the game, the Bears defense forced a three-and-out, stuffing Adrian Peterson on two runs. They forced another three-and-out and sacked Donovan McNabb for a safety.

In fact, another young player made that play. Second-round pick Stephen Paea, who had been inactive in the first five games, went around a blocker and took McNabb down in the end zone.

For the game, Peterson, who came in leading the NFC in rushing yards, finished with 39 yards on 12 carries.

“That dude is so good, it’s a challenge,” cornerback Charles Tillman. “To stop him, you need to play team defense and that’s what we did today. That’s what made today so special.”

The offense also didn’t waste any time, needing three plays on the opening series to take a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Jay Cutler bombed a 48-yard touchdown to Devin Hester.

In the second half, after Cutler was sacked by Jared Allen — losing a fumble that Allen recovered — the Vikings scored to cut the Bears’ lead to 26-10.

Then it was Hester time.

He returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. It was his 17th return touchdown, tied for second, behind only Deion Sanders, who has 19 total.



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