Bears back in business

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:04 PM ET

Give the Chicago Bears a pat on the back, give them their due.

By virtue of their 40-10 crush job of the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, they locked up the NFC North Division title and guaranteed they would finish no worse than the No. 3 seed in the conference.

So kudos to the Bears. They got it done.

They could climb as high as the No. 2 seed and get a first-round bye in the playoffs depending on how they finish compared to the team that wins the NFC East -- Philadelphia or the Giants.

But even though they sit with the NFC East crown and a 10-4 record, it's kind of hard to rate this Bears team.

Are they a team that is capable of journeying deep into the playoffs or will they be life and death every game?

One thing for certain is the fact that few picked the Bears at the start of the season to prevail over the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

Those two teams, along with the Super Bowl champion Saints, were ranked as they top three teams in the conference, the best bets to make it into the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 6 in Arlington, Tex.

The Bears?

A third-place finish and an 8-8 record seemed to be in their future, the best that could be hoped for.

They didn't pick up any steam, momentum or fanfare in the pre-season when they went 0-4 and failed to score more than 10 points in three of their losses.

Even though everybody knows that NFL pre-season games are of no account, doom and gloom was all that greeted their season opener while the countless critics of coach Lovie Smith were already sharpening their knives.

But then something goofy started. The Bears started winning.

They won their opener over Detroit and then raised a few eyebrows with a 27-20 victory against Dallas before everybody knew the Cowboys were bums.

They followed that up by shading the Packers 20-17 and at 3-0 they became a team of note.

They had their bumps and bruises as well as losses in weeks six and seven to Seattle and Washington no less, brought calls for Smith's head to once again be placed on the chopping block.

But now they've won six of their past seven, including a convincing win over the Philadelphia Eagles, and are division champs

"To come in this environment, with everything we had on the line, in these conditions and play the way we did is a tribute to what kind of team we've got," tight end Greg Olsen gushed after the win on Monday night. "This was a huge goal for us. Now, we just have to get as high a seed as we possibly can."

The Bears built their record on the backs of a tough, aggressive defence that received a boost by the off-season acquisition of defensive end Julius Peppers and the second coming of the highly inconsistent Jay Cutler, who appears to be thriving at the quarterback position under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

"We haven't peaked yet," Smith said after Monday's win with an eye towards the playoffs.

"It's been a rough couple of years," added Olsen. "Guys in this room knew what we were capable of, and this says a lot for the coaches and the people we have in the organization. This is a pretty good time for everyone in the city."

The Bears are in but it's still to early to say that the Monsters of the Midway are truly back.

One big reason to cheer for the Bears is the presence of kick returner Devin Hester, a player who is worth the ticket price of each and every Chicago game all by himself.

When running back kickoffs or punts, he is simply the most electrifying player in the game.

In the division-clinching win, Hester returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter -- the 14th kick return touchdown of his career which is an NFL record.

There is absolutely nothing that lifts a team like a great returner and if you don't believe that statement, just ask the Eagles and Giants players.

One of Hester's biggest fans is Deion Sanders.

"I think right now he's a Hall of Famer," Sanders told ESPN Radio in Chicago. "He spent a couple years without barely getting the ball kicked to him. I can't think of a returner ever playing the game with the impact he has. There is none. He's phenomenal. Not only that, he's a great kid.

"I tweeted last week that he's the greatest returner of all time, hands down."

What Neon Deion tweets, you can take to the bank.


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