Sports

Bears clinch division title

MINNEAPOLIS — Bundled up on the sideline in a heavy, gray coat, Brett Favre could only watch as Devin Hester and the Chicago Bears sped through the snow to the NFC North title.

Favre’s surprise start ended with a concussion, perhaps putting him out for good, and the Bears spoiled Minnesota’s first outdoor home game in 29 years.

Hester set the NFL record with his 14th kick return touchdown, running back a punt 64 yards for a score shortly after halftime to help the Bears fly past the Vikings 40-14 on a frosty, hard-hitting Monday night.

“You play long enough, you’re going to get your bell rung,” Favre said.

Jay Cutler threw for three scores for the Bears (10-4), who last won this division during their 2006 Super Bowl season. Hester caught one of Cutler’s touchdown passes and also took back the second-half kickoff 79 yards to set up a field goal a few minutes before his game-breaking punt return made it 27-7.

That was Hester’s 14th career return touchdown, kickoff or punt, breaking Brian Mitchell’s previous mark.

“Don’t dwell on this,” Hester said. “It’s the record-breaker, but there’s going to be a lot more. I guarantee you that.”

Favre doesn’t have many, if any, left. He finished 5 for 7 for 63 yards before the big hit by Corey Wootton, and the Vikings (5-9) fell apart in front of their proud alumni in town for the franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration featuring all kinds of blasts from the past.

With the Metrodome unusable because of a roof collapse, the game got moved to the University of Minnesota. TCF Bank Stadium was about 80 percent full, with snowballs flying from the seats — sometimes hitting players — and plenty of frolicking in the flakes.

Favre wasn’t even supposed to play, but his sprained throwing shoulder suddenly felt better this weekend. His NFL-record starts streak over, he still wanted to play once more in front of the Vikings fans that embraced him so warmly after booing him for so long as a member of the Packers.

He passed his pregame throwing test and trotted out in front of the Minnesota fans one last time, finding Percy Harvin for a 23-yard TD to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead after the opening drive.

“There were a few friendly wagers in the quarterback room on whether Brett would be out there,” Cutler said.

Favre managed one more joyful jump on a teammate’s back to celebrate a touchdown, piggybacking right guard Ryan Cook before embracing Harvin and raising his left arm in triumph as he jogged off.

“It was a great opening drive,” Favre said.

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