Brett Favre made a surprising start only to suffer what could be another potentially career-ending injury as his Minnesota Vikings were beaten 40-14 by the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Chicago clinched the NFC North title, with Devin Hester setting the NFL record with his 14th kick return touchdown, running back a punt 64 yards for a score shortly after halftime on a frosty, hard-hitting night.
Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes for the Bears (10-4), who last won the NFC North during their 2006 Super Bowl season. Hester caught one of those scoring 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.
Favre’s record streak of starts ended when he sat out last weekend’s game, but again showed his remarkable recuperative powers by starting this contest. The 41-year-old finished 5 for 7 for 63 yards.
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 touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead after the opening drive.
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.
The vibe didn’t last very long.
Henry Melton tipped Favre’s pass on the next Minnesota possession, Julius Peppers intercepted it at the 14-yard line and Robbie Gould kicked a field goal.
The next drive the Vikings went three-and-out, and Favre had to hustle back and smother the ball after a high snap slipped through his hands.
Cutler zipped a 67-yard pass up the sideline over safety Madieu Williams to a streaking Johnny Knox, as the Bears built a 10-7 lead they never lost.
In the second quarter, the Vikings lost Favre, who has battled injuries all year — perhaps for good.
Chicago’s Corey Wootton got in the backfield and grabbed Favre by his non-throwing shoulder, slamming his head into the cold turf. Favre lay motionless for a few seconds before climbing to his feet and walking off with his head down. He did not return.
Favre repeatedly has said this will be his final season and the Vikings, long out of the playoff race, have just two games left.
Rookie quarterback Joe Webb took over, scoring on a 13-yard scramble to the edge of the end zone to cut the lead to 27-14, but the Bears had their way after putting perhaps the final seal on Favre’s storied 20-year career.
With the Metrodome unusable because of a roof collapse, the game got moved to the University of Minnesota.