American Football: Hester punt rescues Bears' tame attack

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The Independent Online

The Chicago Bears became the first team this season to confirm their place in next month's play-offs, but the manner of their 23-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings continues to raise questions about their credentials as Super Bowl contenders.

The Bears prevailed as throughout this season, with punishing defence and big plays on special teams. Both are needed because, offensively, Chicago are a team in trouble. The quarterback, Rex Grossman, had another dreadful day, completing just six of 19 pass attempts. He also threw three interceptions, giving him 14 over the last seven games.

Despite Grossman's struggles, the Bears continue to find ways to win. Devin Hester opened the scoring with a 45-yard punt return, equalling an NFL record with his fourth return for a touchdown this season. The defense did the rest. Chicago forced Minnesota's quarterback, Brad Johnson, into four interceptions, one of which was returned for a score by Ricky Manning. "The defense had to carry the offense today," said the diplomatic Manning. "That's the way it is going to be sometimes. We understand that, and we are up for that."

The Indianapolis Colts could have joined the Bears in the post-season, but they fellin Nashville to the Tennessee Titans, 20-17. The game winner came with only seven seconds left, Rob Bironas successfully converting a 60-yard field goal, aided by a strong wind. "I needed that wind behind me today," he said. "It was all at my back. I let the wind take it the rest of the way."

The defeat marred a milestone for the Colt quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison, who connected for a 68-yard touchdown, the partnership's 100th score.

There was a late field goal in New York, where Martin Gramatica, in his first game in Cowboys colours, converted a 46-yard field goal with one second left to help the Dallas Cowboys to edge the Giants, 23-20.

The New Orleans Saints also look play-off bound, following their 34-10 humbling of the San Francisco 49ers.