Cutler threw for 188 yards and a touchdown after sitting out a game because of a concussion, and the Bears broke it open early for a 28-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in a game that saw Hester, Matt Forte, Charles Tillman and both starting guards sidelined.
Tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead and just a game ahead of the Vikings (6-5) coming in, the Bears (8-3) grabbed a 25-3 halftime lead with Cutler connecting on just about every pass. The defense held Adrian Peterson in check early on, although he finished with 108 yards rushing.
Chicago also came away with three more takeaways to increase its total from a league-leading 30 entering the game to 33.
The rather easy win came after back-to-back losses to Houston and San Francisco, but came with a heavy price.
Hester was lost early on to a concussion. Forte hobbled off midway through the third quarter with an ankle injury, and coach Lovie Smith said Tillman hurt his ankle.
As for Cutler, he looked sharp after missing Monday's blowout loss at San Francisco.
Brandon Marshall caught 12 passes for 92 yards and became the first Bears receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 to go over 1,000 yards. On defense, Henry Melton set the tone by sacking Christian Ponder on the first play from scrimmage. Nick Roach set up the first touchdown by knocking the ball out of Peterson's hands. Chris Conte set another TD with a 35-yard interception return, and Julius Peppers blocked a field goal.
The league's leading rusher, Peterson tied Robert Smith's club record with a 100-yard performance for the fifth straight game even though he managed just 25 in the first half. He also lost two fumbles.
Ponder wasn't much help, going 22 of 43 with 159 yards and a touchdown along with an interception. His favorite target, Percy Harvin, sat out his second straight game with a sprained left ankle, and the Vikings lost for the third time in four games.
Cutler completed 15 of 17 passes for 117 yards in the first half, and the Bears jumped out a big lead after a shaky start on offense.
Chris Kluwe then shanked a 22-yard punt, giving Chicago possession near midfield before Robbie Gould kicked a 47-yard field goal. And the Bears stopped the Vikings again early in the second quarter when Peppers knocked down Walsh's 30-yard field goal, the 13th block of his career.
Bush, in for Forte, converted on a fourth-down run to keep a drive going and Antoine Winfield shoved Brandon Marshall to the ground as he attempted to catch a pass in the end zone. Bush then scored from the 1, and holder Adam Podlesh ran in for a 2-point conversion that made it 18-3.
Ponder got picked off by Conte and he returned it 35 yards to the Minnesota 13. That led to a scoring strike from Cutler to a lunging Matt Spaeth on the next play. It might have been more had Kevin Williams not blocked Gould's 39-yard field goal as the half expired.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press