Thursday School: What We Learned

The Chicago Bears kept their fading playoff hopes alive with a win over the Saints, although, in typical fashion, they made it interesting down the stretch. Here are five things we learned about the Midway Monsters after a 27-24 overtime victory over New Orleans at Soldier Field on Thursday night.

1. Hester is apparently capable of being a 1,000-yard receiver one day
Ever since Devin Hester, the Artist Formerly Known as the Greatest Return Man in NFL History, was taken off the kick-return team four games ago, he's reeled in 17 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown. If you extrapolate those numbers over a full 16-game schedule, that's 68 catches for an even 1,000 yards and four scores. While he's far from an elite wideout and still needs a great deal of polishing, Bears fans should be encouraged because he was running all the routes in Thursday's over the Saints and continually got open deep down the field.

Priority No. 1 for the Bears this offseason, at least from an offensive perspective, should be a reliable possession target to line up across from Hester to help move the chains – and Rashied Davis, Mr. Drops himself, needs to be benched immediately.


LB Brian Urlacher
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

2. This is all you're going to get out of Urlacher
It wasn't that long ago when Brian Urlacher was perhaps the most complete linebacker in the league and fully capable of taking over a game by himself on defense, but those days appear to be long gone since he was left off the Pro Bowl roster last year and won't be headed to Hawaii again this year. However, the sports talk radio waves were alive Friday with chatter about how well the one-time Defensive Player of the Year performed against the Saints, when he was credited with 10 tackles and also knocked down a pass. He's on pace for just 97 total tackles this season, which would be by far his lowest output aside from 2004 when he missed seven games to injury.

Urlacher has picked off two passes and will deliver the occasional big hit, but this is about what Bears fans can expect from him the rest of his career: a solid player that will make the plays he's supposed to make, but most of the highlight-reel material is in the rearview mirror.

3. Maybe it's time to see if Manning can also take over on punt returns
Third-year pro Danieal Manning has been the best overall athlete in the locker room from the moment he put that orange C on his helmet, but he's more of an Olympian than a football player and has struggled to find a home. But not only does he appear to be improving as the nickel back in passing situations, he's shown that he can be electric as a return man – his 83-yard kickoff-return touchdown Thursday against the Saints set the tone for the night. While handling both punt- and kick-return duties in addition to being a starting receiver proved to be too much for Hester to handle this season, it's possible Manning could be the full-time returner as well as the nickel man since he'll only be on the field defensively for – at most – half the snaps.

Whether Bears fans like it or not, Hester's future is going to be at the receiver position because of the statistical incentives that were put in his contract extension, so give him the best possible chance to succeed by taking him off special teams entirely.


DT Tommie Harris
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. Idonije is a better player than Harris right now
We all know Tommie Harris is capable of being the best defensive tackle in football when he's operating at full capacity, but reality has to step in and make people realize that the three-time Pro Bowler hasn't been healthy for the better part of two years. Harris has collected 31 tackles, 5.0 sacks and zero passes defensed so far this season, while Israel Idonije has put together 24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and knocked down five passes – and he's done so not getting nearly as many snaps as Harris. The incredibly versatile Idonije is starting to grow into his role as a D-tackle and can play both three technique and nose guard equally well, while Harris continues to frustrate Bears fans since the franchise isn't seeing much return for the $40 million investment it made in him back in July.

There are rumors starting to float around the Windy City that Harris' knee and/or hamstring could be permanently damaged, which would be a devastating blow to a player that was on his way to being the next John Randle.

5. Gould and Maynard continue to get it done with little recognition
Maybe the Bears didn't have to make Robbie Gould the best-paid kicker in league history since there are seemingly always half a dozen on the waiver wire capable of getting the job done, but the former construction worker continues to be as consistent as ever on three-pointers. Gould has connected on 23 of 26 field-goal attempts in 2008, so his 28-yarder on the last play of regulation to tie the game and 35-yarder in overtime to win it Thursday were never in doubt. Brad Maynard just keeps on keeping on at punter, leading the NFL in punts downed inside the 20-yard line (34) while only registering four touchbacks all season long.

If the Bears are only going to be an average offensive unit and the defense just isn't as dominant as it once was, then the kicking game takes on even more importance – both Gould and Maynard are indispensible.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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