ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Devin Hester expects teams to keep on kicking
deep to him. And he expects to keep right on returning those kicks
to the end zone.
The high-stepping rookie got the Rams' home dome rocking with
chants of "Let's Go Bears!" as he set an NFL record with his
fifth and sixth returns for touchdowns this season, a 94-yard
kickoff runback in the second quarter and a 96-yarder in the final
period Monday night. That sparked a 42-27 victory that gave the NFC
North champions (11-2) a bye for the first week of the playoffs.
"It's the NFL and a team is not going to bow down to one
player," Hester said. "They'll continue to kick to me."
They're fools if they do.
"It's like the gates of Heaven opening up for me," he added.
A second-round draft pick, Hester also has three punt return
touchdowns and ran back a missed field goal 108 yards against the
Giants to tie the longest play in NFL history. But he'd returned
only six kickoffs all year before his historic romps that made the
thousands of fans who trekked from Chicago rise from their seats.
"I almost thought we were back at Soldier Field," coach Lovie
Hester struggled to find a position in college at Miami, but
he's been a sensation with the ball in his hands on kick returns
for the Bears.
"The story of the game is Devin Hester," Smith said. "It's
time we start looking at him as an offensive player. There are a
lot of good offensive rookies in the league making big plays, but
who has had as much impact as Devin Hester has in the league as a
rookie right now?"
He came through the middle on the first runback, then swiftly
cut to his left untouched and sped down the sideline, high-stepping
like a drum major the last few yards while holding up the football
for the raucous Bears fans.
Hester outdid himself in the fourth quarter when it appeared the
Rams might try an onside kick. The only Bear standing deep, he went
straight up the center of the field, again untouched, and turned
around at the Rams 20 looking for pursuers. No one was there.
He admitted it was a tribute to his friend Deion Sanders.
"That played a major role in us losing the game," Rams
cornerback Ron Bartell said. "We lost by 15. You take away those
two returns, we've got a pretty good game."
Beleaguered quarterback Rex Grossman had a pretty good game and
the Chicago running attack dominated the last two quarters.
Carrying a 14-13 lead into the second half, the Bears outgained
the Rams (5-8) 191 yards to 31 in the third quarter. They scored on
Thomas Jones' 30-yard run and Muhsin Muhammad's superb fingertip
catch of a 14-yard pass from Grossman, who probably quieted calls
for his benching -- particularly from the thousands of fans who
outshouted Rams rooters much of the evening.
"They were all over the place tonight," linebacker Lance
Briggs said. "I could hear the crowd chanting `Bears, Bears,
Bears.' Man, that's a warm feeling being away from home."
Grossman was 6-for-19 for 34 yards in a win over Minnesota last
week and had thrown six interceptions and no touchdowns in the last
two games, but was 13-for-23 for 200 yards and two scores against
St. Louis. Aside from the fade pass to Muhammad, he hit Bernard
Berrian on a perfect slant pattern for a 34-yard score late in the
"The best way of describing it is efficient and decisive and
getting the ball to guys I needed to," Grossman said.
Chicago rushed for just 65 yards against the Rams' porous run
defense in the first half, then Jones gained 58 yards on the Bears'
first series of the second half. That included a 24-yarder
featuring a flashy spin move.
The Rams did get a 6-yard TD pass to Torry Holt midway through
the fourth quarter, and a 6-yarder to Steve Jackson with 4:41 left.
But they barely stung thanks to Hester's heroics.
"To beat a team like that you almost have to play perfect, and
we didn't," QB Marc Bulger said. Now the Rams have lost seven of
eight and are all but eliminated from playoff consideration.
Chicago kicker Robbie Gould missed twice on field goal attempts
-- from 37 and 49 yards. They were just his second and third misses
of the season.
When Chicago's special teams came through early -- on Brad
Maynard's punt downed at the St. Louis 1 -- the defense couldn't.
Holt caught consecutive passes of 13 and 16 yards, then Marc
Bulger's perfect throw on third-and-13 found Kevin Curtis for 39
yards. Looking like the vintage Rams of the early decade on the
99-yard drive, they also converted a fourth-and-1 on Stephen
Davis's 16-yard run to the 1 before Holt's double move beat Hester
for the score.
A bad snap botched the extra point.
To their credit, the Rams responded immediately to Hester's
first TD return with a 72-yard drive featuring Jackson, who gained
35 yards and ran in from the 2.
It was then the Bears' turn for an impressive drive that covered
74 yards, capped by Berrian's 34-yard TD catch and run for a 14-13
Bulger finished 34-for-55 for 356 yards, three touchdowns
and one interception ... Jackson, the NFC leader in yards from
scrimmage, gained 139 against Chicago, giving him 1,789 for the
season ... Jones left after tweaking his ankle late in the game,
Smith said ... Rams LB Pisa Tinoisamoa broke his right hand in the
second quarter. He's been playing with a broken left hand and a
dislocated left elbow that has forced him into a harness ... Rams
DE Leonard Little injured his throat.
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