But, instead, the now 10-4 Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North division with their 40-14 blowout of the Minnesota Vikings.
The game was played in the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium rather than Minnesota's Metrodome since the Dome had yet to be repaired after snow damaged the roof two weeks ago. Minnesota players had been complaining about the poor conditions all week long. As for Chicago? They are used to playing football in wintry conditions, and we didn't hear a peep from them all week.
The hard ground did prove to be a factor throughout the game, though, as Brett Favre left early in the second quarter with an apparent head injury after rookie defensive end Corey Wootton, out of Northwestern, slammed Favre to the turf for his first NFL sack.
He did not return and was replaced by rookie Joe Webb, the former UAB signal caller, who was named tonight's starter earlier in the week before Favre suddenly decided to tough it out despite the bad conditions. Favre was 5/7 for 63 yards, 1 TD and an INT with Minnesota trailing 10-7 when he left the game.
Minnesota was without All Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who sat out because of lagging leg injuries sustained in previous weeks. Yet another rookie, RB Toby Gerhart, got his chance to shine in the spotlight. It was his first career start, and he sure did show he can tough it out in the cold, running for 77 yards on 16 carries. It was actually Webb who got the ball in the end zone using his legs, though, as he used his speed to hit the corner of the end zone on a 13-yard run early in the second half.
Despite great efforts, Webb's two interceptions became too costly for Minnesota's offense, and Cutler's offense really showed up to play as he threw for three touchdowns.
Other than another spectacular defensive performance put up by Chicago, I think the real headline here may have to do with special teams.
Devin Hester, A.K.A. the "Return King," set an NFL record after he ran back a Minnesota punt 64 yards for a touchdown just three minutes in to the second half. The significance? It was Hester's 14th career kick/punt returned for a touchdown, setting the all-time NFL record for return touchdowns (punt/kick), breaking Brian Mitchell's record of 13. What I think is so great about this, is that Hester hasn't even completed his fifth season in the league yet, and it took Mitchell 14 years with the Eagles, Redskins and Giants to run back 13 kicks.
This truly is a spectacular feat, and although this is certainly a breakable record, I don't think it will ever be achieved as quick as Hester did this season. Funny thing is, Minnesota's fans were booing punter Chris Kluwe for continuously punting out of bounds in his previous punts. Well, Minnesota fans, you got what you want. I hope your happy now.
Minnesota Fans: AP Photo/Hannah Foslien
Devin Hester: AP Photo/Andy King