Still, said linebacker Brian Urlacher: "We won. That's all I care about. Call it what you want to, but you've got to call us division champs."
Bear with Us: 2006Relive the NFC championship season with play-by-play and commentary from Rahula Strohl.
Regular season (by week): | | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
Ask David HaughSend a question to the Tribune's Bears writer.
- 20 questions with (2006)
- Chicago Bears
- Brad Johnson
See more topics »
But the offense was outscored 9-7 by the defense and managed only 117 net yards. Devin Hester's 45-yard punt return outgained Rex Grossman's 34 passing yards and the offense scored just one touchdown off three takeaways when the game mattered.
And as far as being playoff-caliber now, coach Lovie Smith said, "We know we have to play better on the offensive side of the football, and we will."
A succession of sloppy turnovers that never stopped plagued the first quarter.
Rashied Davis fumbled the opening kickoff to give Minnesota field position at the Bears' 31. The Bears gave it to the Vikings again, this time with more dire consequences: Grossman squandered a scoring opportunity with a third-down throw directly to linebacker Napoleon Harris with the Bears at the Minnesota 22.
Grossman's error came a down after Muhsin Muhammad broke off the line against single coverage and waved futilely for the ball, which by then was on its way to a Minnesota breakup on Desmond Clark.
The Bears shared ball-control issues with the Vikings. They wasted a scoring chance when Adewale Ogunleye came in on quarterback Brad Johnson from the left. Ogunleye missed the sack but caused Johnson to scramble enough for Tank Johnson to hit him and force a throw that Danieal Manning easily grabbed for the second interception of his rookie season. But Grossman tossed that chance away with his first interception three plays later.
What went right: The Bears' pass rush was in the Minnesota backfield on most dropbacks. The Vikings managed just 3 yards on 16 plays for the quarter.
What went wrong: Grossman. His reads and decisions were suspect and he appeared to be more tentative as the quarter went on. It set the pattern for his worst day in the NFL.
Audible: "I don't know what to say. I know [Grossman] is not going to lose his confidence. I still believe in him, and I know the team does too."
linebacker Brian Urlacher
Enter Devin Hester. The rookie can start thinking about whether he wants a window or an aisle seat on his flight to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii after he took a Minnesota punt at the Vikings' 45, got around the edge of a cluster of four tacklers and picked his way through blocks and stumbling Vikings for his fourth return touchdown of 2006.
The marvel is that he was able to outrun his pursuers while carrying Grossman and a lot of the offense with him. Grossman's struggles continued on the first play of the quarter. He lofted a prayer toward Bernard Berrian, who was unable to either catch it or break it up, giving the ball to Minnesota at its 7-yard line on Antoine Winfield's interception. If that appeared to be just as good as a punt, it was actually better because of the defense, which forced a three-and-out before Hester's romp.
The defense had few breakdowns in the first half, but one led to Minnesota's only points of the half. Chester Taylor broke through the Bears' right side, breezed past a poor tackling effort by Vasher and picked up 42 yards, the third-longest run against the Bears this season. That gave Minnesota a first down at the 20, which was followed by a phantom roughing-the-passer call against Urlacher. Even with that the Vikings had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell in a 7-3 half.
What went right: The defense helped decide the game with its stops. It forced a punt after the Bears fumbled the opening kickoff, caused an interception deep in the Minnesota end and forced the punt to Hester.