sistaff
Monday October 17th, 2011

Devin Hester was unstoppable for the Bears, catching 5 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, and adding another score on a kick return. (ZUMAPRESS.com)

If you're looking for someone to declare the Bears back after they bullied the Vikings Sunday night, keep searching. Sunday night's 39-10 rout was as much about Minnesota being just downright, eye-gougingly awful, from quarterback Donovan McNabb on down.

The Vikings even made the QB switch they'd been standing so firm against, replacing McNabb with rookie Christian Ponder. By the time that happened, it was 39-10 Chicago. Even though Ponder sparked the offense a bit, the outcome was in the bag.

Nevertheless, against a wounded and unmotivated opponent, the Bears did what they were supposed to do.

Scratch that. The Bears did what they had to do.

Chicago came into Week 6 with a 2-3 record, off a loss to Detroit, three games back in the NFC North. If anything positive was going to come out of this season for the Bears, the defending division champions, it had to start Sunday.

So far, Chicago has not veered from the script -- the three opponents the Bears have beaten are a combined 5-13; the three they've lost to are 15-3. Until Chicago wins a game it's not supposed to or loses one it shouldn't, it will stay right on course for an 8-8 season.

Awful opponent or not, Sunday was perfect for the Bears. Jay Cutler had time to throw and looked confident all night, kicking off the whitewash was a gorgeous 48-yard bomb to Devin Hester on Chicago's first possession. Speaking of Hester, he just kept doing his thing, taking another kickoff to the house and looking like one of the most dangerous players in the league. Matt Forte ran well, the defensive line dominated -- it was a complete effort.

It was also the type of effort that makes Chicago so hard to figure out this season.

Just like in a Week 1 domination of Atlanta, the Bears could do no wrong. But that perfection has been nowhere near consistent. Which maybe tells us what the Bears are this year: a middle-of-the-road team, better than the Minnesotas of the world but not ready to compete again for a Super Bowl.

Maybe they can still flip the switch, though. When we see the Bears play like this, on a national-TV stage in prime time, dismissing them completely seems foolish.

Hester, Forte, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher -- all the names are still there.

So, why can't this team play like this every week? Why does it keep folding in the face of tough competition?

Here's the Bears' upcoming schedule: vs. Tampa Bay in London; at Philly; against Detroit and San Diego, back-to-back in Chicago; at Oakland.

If what Chicago showed Sunday night is really going to be the turning point for its 2011 season, then the Bears will have to earn it. There are no more opportunities to get healthy against bottom-feeders there.

Sadly, that's what Minnesota has become. Last year, the Vikings tried to milk one more year out of Brett Favre, and it turned into a joke. Minnesota finished 6-10; Favre finished in street clothes, inactive for three of the final four games.

The Vikings went out and drafted Christian Ponder in April, in the hope of finding their new franchise quarterback. But to bridge the gap, they turned to McNabb, who looked over the hill in Washington.

And guess what? He's done. If there was any doubt coming out of 2010, it's been squashed to start 2011. Minnesota's trouble are not all due to McNabb's failings -- heck, the Vikings' offensive line was like a turnstile for the Bears' pass rush Sunday night -- but he has not brought anything worthwhile to the table.

That's why Ponder got a shot late against the Bears, and why he may get a more permanent one going forward.

Sunday night, though, it didn't matter who the Vikings ran out there. They were outclassed by Chicago in every possible way.

This was a pride game for the Bears. Just six days ago, they looked ragged and undisciplined in their loss to Detroit. Everything seemingly wrong with Chicago's roster popped up that day -- the defense looked old, the offensive line awful and Jay Cutler mediocre.

The visit from the Vikings was just what the doctor ordered. But unless Chicago can turn Sunday's cruise-control victory into a substantial run, we might simply remember this one as McNabb's last stand and nothing more.

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