CHICAGO (AP) – Devin Hester raced past the New Orleans Saints and ended their bid for a return to the playoffs.
Hester sprinted 64 yards for a touchdown on a punt return, his NFL-record sixth kick runback for a score this season to break his own mark set a year ago. He also caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton, as the Chicago Bears beat the Saints 33-25 on Sunday.
When the teams met 11 months ago for the NFC championship on the same field, the Bears earned a trip to the Super Bowl with a 39-14 victory. Now they're both going home before the playoffs even start.
New Orleans' slim chances hinged on beating the Bears and hoping for losses later in the day by both the Redskins and Vikings.
Chicago (7-9) was eliminated from the postseason picture two weeks ago. The Bears won their final two games, their only two-game winning streak all year.
The Saints' Drew Brees and Marques Colston hooked up for two first-half touchdown passes, and Brees set a single-season NFL record for completions, passing the previous mark of 418 set by Rich Gannon in 2002. He needed just 11 entering the game.
But Colston, who took several hard shots, hurt his left wrist and spent the second half on the sidelines, taking away the Saints' chief threat. Running back Reggie Bush was out with a knee injury.
Brees was 35-of-60 for 320 yards with three TDs.
After the Saints (7-9) went three-and-out on the first series of the second half, they punted to Hester. He went right and then quickly cut back left, found a seam and easily outraced would-be tacklers to put the Bears ahead 31-17.
Hester now has four punt-return TDs and two on kickoffs this season. Last year he had five total, three on punts and two on kickoffs – not counting one to start the Super Bowl.
Undrafted rookie free agent Pierre Thomas, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and played his college ball at Illinois, gave the Saints a big lift, gaining 105 yards rushing and catching 12 passes for 121 yards.
Hester hauled in Orton's long pass and split two defenders for the 55-yard score with 1:48 to go in the first half – 19 seconds after Brees threw his second TD pass of the game to Colston.
WR Devin Hester
WR Devin Hester/Getty Images
Colston made eight receptions in the first half and broke Joe Horn's club-record of 94 catches in a season. He finished with 98.
Brees found Colston wide open at the 14, and he ran it in for a 21-yard TD that brought the Saints within 17-14 with 2:07 left in the half.
Brees tied the NFL record with his 10th completion, lofting a third-down pass to the end zone that Colston went up and grabbed for a 3-yard TD with 8:35 left in the half. The score cut the Bears lead to 10-7.
Chicago Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, playing in perhaps his final game for the Bears, made a vicious hit on Colston as he tried to catch a third-down pass on the next series. A minor skirmish ensued near the Bears bench.
But Chicago then got the ball on a punt, and Orton drove the Bears 71 yards. He hit Berrian on an 18-yarder, the Saints were called for a personal foul penalty, and Orton zipped a 19-yard TD pass to Mark Bradley.
Orton, hoping to have a shot at the No. 1 spot next season after starting the final three games this year, was 12-for-27 for 190 yards with two TDs and an interception.
The Saints were called for two unnecessary roughness penalties in the first half, and both aided Chicago scoring drives.
When the teams met 11 months ago, they played in sleet and snow. Weather was not a factor Sunday.
All of that plus much more in the February issue of ...
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