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Hester returns plus takeaways is winning formula for Bears

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



If you’ve been listening to the people calling in to sports-talk radio shows this week, you know it’s not a matter of if the Bears will win Sunday but when during the game the Packers will begin therapy for dangerously low self-esteem levels.

Bears fans are an optimistic bunch to begin with, but the combination of the tailgating-readiness drills already under way and the thought of being one step from the Super Bowl have relieved them of their senses.

They should be excited about the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field, but there should be room for some clear, sober thinking, don’t you agree? No, I don’t suppose you do.

It’s not as if there are a ­million ways for the Bears to win ­Sunday’s game. It would help if the ­Packers’ Aaron Rodgers suddenly started doing an imitation of a human ­quarterback instead of that ­superhero thing he has been ­doing of late. And if teammate Clay ­Matthews suddenly felt a twinge in his hammy, very few people around here would be complaining.

Let’s go to the tape

But the best and most realistic ways for the Bears to earn a trip to Dallas can be found in their Week 3 victory over the Packers at home. Get out the game tape, folks.

Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a fourth-quarter ­touchdown.

Brian Urlacher forced a fumble in the final minutes of the game to help set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.

Oh, and the Packers were called for 18 penalties. Can we agree that’s probably not going to happen again?

To sum up the Bears’ to-do list this time around:

Pray to a higher power that, if Packers maximum leader Mike McCarthy decides to punt to Hester, nobody on the Green Bay sideline will have brought jumper cables to restart the coach’s brain.

Recover a fumble or two.

As far as punting to Hester, the Packers aren’t going to do that, are they? The best return man in NFL history? A guy who, if he gets a line-drive punt, can go from zero to six points in a blink?

Nah, they wouldn’t do that. Would they? Um, yes they would. They’re going to try to kick it to areas where the punt team can tackle him.

“Especially against a guy like Hester, ball placement is going to be [key],’’ Packers punter Tim Masthay told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m kind of mentally gearing up for that.”

Wow. Hester is going to get his chances.

If the Packers punt to him, they deserve to lose. It’s beyond all comprehension why teams still kick to him, but they do. He is in such a comfort zone right now and opponents are in such a discomfort zone when he’s on the field that giving him a chance to run with the ball defies all logic.

Logic, I’d like to introduce you to the Packers.

“I definitely like being on the team with a guy like Devin Hester,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “I can see how opposing coaches would feel trying to figure out what to do with him, whether to kick it to him. Eventually, you have to kick it to him. I just don’t see how you can go an entire game without it.”

That was a combination prayer/wish/deepest yearning from Smith. He’d also like some Packers’ turnovers. Is that asking too much?

I’ve spent most of Smith’s tenure in Chicago complaining about his emphasis on stripping the football rather than tackling the person with the ball. It has always seemed to me the game was tackle football, not strip football, though enough players have gotten into trouble in adult-entertainment clubs to give me pause.

Go for the ball

Forget all that. The Bears need to try to knock the ball loose at every opportunity.

We can safely assume that ­Rodgers is going to be as efficient as an ATM on Sunday because he ­almost always is. The Bears’ ­defense is set up to not allow the long gain. It’s set up to bend and make the offense break with a fumble or an interception.

It’s almost a given that Rodgers is going to be able to pick apart the secondary with smart passes. But it’s time for Charles Tillman to do his thing and rip the ball loose after one or two of those completions. The Bears have a blueprint of how to beat the Packers, and they need to attempt to follow it. They won that September game 20-17. They took advantage of a fumble and some stupidity.

Smith won’t have to go far ­looking for ways to motivate his players. Most experts are picking the Pack to win. He’ll be able to hold up the front page of Monday’s Green Bay Press-Gazette and point out that in a bold headline, the paper spelled “Chicago’’ as “Chicaco.” Such disrespect!

And he can tell his players that if they win Sunday, President Obama plans on attending the Super Bowl.

Me? I’d just tell them the Packers plan on punting to Hester. That should fire them up enough.



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