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Updated: December 21st, 2010 12:43am
Notebook: Devin Hester breaks record, burns Vikings on returns again

Notebook: Devin Hester breaks record, burns Vikings on returns again

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings entered Monday's game with a clear plan in the kicking game:

No matter what, don't let Devin Hester touch the ball.

Then, they let Hester touch the ball.

After kicking away from the Chicago Bears' dangerous return man through the first half, the Vikings gave him the ball twice early in the third quarter and paid both times, allowing a 79-yard kick return that set up a field goal and a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 40-14 blowout.

"You want to kick the ball away from Hester anytime you can," special-teams ace Heath Farwell said. "He's the best returner of all time, in my opinion, but we've got to tackle him. When he catches the ball, we've got to be able to tackle him and get him to the ground."

Chris Kluwe punted four times in the first half and put all four out of bounds, pumping his fist toward the crowd each time as Hester watched the balls bounce or sail over the sidelines. The Bears gave Danieal Manning the first crack at kick returns, so Hester didn't touch the ball there either.

But Chicago put Hester deep for the second half's opening kick return, and he immediately got loose, catching Ryan Longwell's kick on a hop and sprinting to the left sideline.

The Vikings went three-and-out on their ensuing series, and Hester fielded Kluwe's punt at the numbers on the right side of the field -- then accelerated straight upfield and juked the punter on the way to the end zone to extend the Bears' lead to 27-7 only 2 minutes, 54 seconds into the third quarter.

"I was trying to hit all those out of bounds," Kluwe said. "On the whole, I thought I succeeded pretty well. It's just one of them didn't quite get there, and we just weren't able to bring him down."

The touchdown was Hester's 14th in the return game, breaking a tie with Brian Mitchell for the most in NFL history. It also moved him into a tie with Eric Metcalf for the most punt-return touchdowns with 10.

Hester tiptoed at the sideline to field one other punt and was dropped after a 3-yard gain. Manning subsequently reassumed kick-return duties.

The timing of the big plays was strikingly similar to the teams' meeting on Nov. 14 at Soldier Field, where Hester had a 68-yard kick return and a 42-yard punt return -- both in the third quarter.

"We didn't execute on special teams the way we would have liked (Monday) night," Frazier said. "They had some big plays in field-position situations that really hurt us."

Hester also caught a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Favre's wild day

The Vikings didn't speak with the NFL until Monday morning about upgrading Brett Favre from out to questionable on the injury report.

But Frazier said the 41-year-old quarterback's abbreviated throwing session before Saturday's practice -- a workout Frazier later said had Favre in "excruciating" pain -- left him encouraged there still was a chance.

"He just felt like he was moving in the right direction," Frazier said. "I told him, I said, 'It's going to be tough,' but he really felt like he could go out and play and play well in this ballgame, and he's one of those rare guys who has overcome injuries in the past and did exactly what he started out doing (Monday) night, and that's play well."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who attended Monday's game, said during a pregame session with reporters that he understood Favre "wasn't capable of playing two days ago. He has made tremendous progress physically, so if he is capable of playing, then he will be playing."

Favre, who has been dealing with pain and numbness in his throwing arm, said he sent Frazier a message late Sunday night to say he was considering playing.

He worked out on the field about 2½ hours before kickoff and played relatively well -- 5-for-7 passing for 63 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- before Bears end Corey Wootton beat left tackle Bryant McKinnie and planted him, leaving Favre on the ground for more than a minute with a concussion that ended his day.

"It was one of the few times that I kind of went blank there for a while in my career," Favre said. "It was just the way, I guess, I was slung around on the turf. I wouldn't say it was necessarily the hit."

Asked if he wants to play again, Favre said, "I don't know with this concussion, based on the time, but based on my decision-making, I probably shouldn't tell you one way or the other right now.

"Again, I don't regret it. I wish it would have turned out differently. I gave it a try."

Webb's (second) chance

Rookie quarterback Joe Webb, who was set to start before Favre's surprise recovery, finished 15-of-26 passing for 129 yards with two interceptions and a 38.8 passer rating in the most extensive action of his young career.

"It was really difficult," Webb said. "My first NFL game, (23) degrees, snow, ice on the field, things like that -- that's no excuse, but it was OK. We lost. No quarterback wants to lose, and I've got a long way to go."

The Bears repeatedly challenged the rookie with pressure packages, and at times, Webb seemed too quick to long onto one receiver instead of going through his progression.

Easily the highlight of Webb's day was a 13-yard scramble for a touchdown, capped by the athletic sixth-round pick diving to stretch the ball inside the right pylon.

"It felt pretty good," Webb said, "besides sliding on the ice 5 more yards."

No Peterson

Ongoing soreness in Adrian Peterson's bruised right thigh and knee made the All-Pro halfback inactive for the first time since Nov. 25, 2007, when he missed the second of consecutive games in his rookie season because of a knee injury.

The condition of the thawed FieldTurf at TCF Bank Stadium was a concern for many players entering the game. But Frazier said that didn't play a factor in deciding the status of the Vikings' franchise player.

"I don't think he could have gone whether we were on a (different) surface, in September or October," Frazier said. "Based on what I saw when we tried to work him out, it just wouldn't have been wise to put him out there."

Rookie Toby Gerhart got the start in Peterson's place and finished with 77 yards on 16 carries, including a 21-yarder. He also had three catches for 18 yards but fumbled off one shovel pass, creating one of the Vikings' five turnovers.

Health watch

Safety Madieu Williams's rough day ended in the third quarter, when he suffered his own concussion.

Williams took a terrible angle on Johnny Knox's 67-yard touchdown catch and got run over on back-to-back plays before leaving the game.

Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson dislocated a finger, Frazier said. He returned.

Quick hits

• The Vikings debuted a Wildcat formation, with Harvin taking a direct snap in the third quarter and running for a 1-yard loss.

Lorenzo Booker got the nod on kick returns for a second consecutive week despite Percy Harvin's return from migraines. And once again, Booker showed some juice, with a 49-yard burst among eight returns for 157 yards (19.6 average).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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