In what was their most impressive and well-rounded effort of the season in a 27-13 victory over the Vikings, the 6-3 Bears ran the ball well enough to set up some big play-action passes by Jay Cutler. They also got a vintage Devin Hester performance on special teams and another stout effort from the defense that forced a flock of Brett Favre turnovers.
Good defense and great Hester returns are expected, but a viable running game could make the Bears' playoff hopes come true as they face a short turnaround before Thursday night's game in South Florida against the Dolphins.
The Bears had given up a league-worst 31 sacks through eight weeks, but they have allowed just one in each of the past two games. Part of the solution was running the ball 38 times against the Vikings and 31 times a week earlier against the Bills.
"It's fun to be able to go after some people and run the football," said Roberto Garza, whose return to right guard two weeks ago after arthroscopic knee surgery has helped solidify the line. "Our running backs did a great job of hitting those holes and is playing exceptionally well. He's doing a great job of getting rid of the ball, moving in the pocket when we kind of break down a little bit, and he's creating those big plays."
It's been almost two years since Hester was the Bears' regular kickoff returner, as he focused more on playing wide receiver.
But they considered Sunday's game against the Vikings pivotal in their quest to make the playoffs. It was obvious Hester hasn't lost his touch, with 100 yards on two attempts.
His 42-yard punt return down the sideline included three broken tackles but also some key blocks, especially one by Rashied Davis. With Hester handling both kickoff and punt returns, his snaps at wide receiver have diminished, but he's still tied for fourth on the team with 24 receptions and there are no plans to phase him out.
But the Bears aren't writing Hester out of the offense.
"We're just trying to get everybody involved, Johnny as much as anything," coach Lovie Smith said. "Just spreading some of the plays around a little bit, keeping everybody fresh. Believe me, [Hester] will get his touches one way or another."
BY THE NUMBERS
It seems like that now.
"That's definitely our mindset and his, too," Smith said. "You can kind of feel now every time he goes back there, he's thinking about going the distance."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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