CHICAGO (AP) — Nothing that Devin Hester does surprises Jay Cutler. The only head-scratcher is that he still gets chances.
Between the long touchdown catch and even bigger kickoff return, the flashy superstar was delivering another spectacular performance. Then, he left the game with a chest injury, dampening the mood on a night the Chicago Bears got a much-needed win.
Hester set the tone with a 48-yard touchdown catch and scored on a career-best 98-yard kickoff return before leaving as the Bears routed the Minnesota Vikings 39-10 on Sunday night.
''The shocking part to us,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said, ''is that people still kick to him because he is such a threat.''
Cutler threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Julius Peppers had two sacks, and the Bears (3-3) held Vikings star Adrian Peterson to 39 yards rushing.
Coach Lovie Smith didn't think the injuries to Hester and tight end Kellen Davis (elbow) were serious, but he's made similar statements in the past about players who wound up missing big chunks of time. Hester did not make himself available for comment.
His 48-yard TD pass from Cutler on Chicago's first possession got the Bears started quickly as they grabbed a 26-3 halftime lead. Hester's kickoff return early in the third quarter erased any chance the Vikings (1-5) had at a comeback.
''You feel like you're getting ready to come and that kickoff return was a big momentum turn,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.
It's no secret that teams are inviting danger by kicking to Hester, and Minnesota paid a big price right after Peterson scored on a 4-yard run.
Hester took the kickoff, turned to his right and was touched maybe once on the way to the end zone, making it 33-10. It was his first kickoff return for a touchdown since Nov. 25, 2007, against Denver.
''We're all kind of witnessing history every time he touches it,'' Smith said.
Hester set a record with his 11th punt return for a touchdown against Carolina on Oct. 2. On Sunday, the good feelings gave way to concern when the announcement came early in the fourth quarter that he was finished for the game.
Along with the big return, Hester had five catches for 91 yards.
Cutler, meanwhile, had all the time he needed and - for one game, anyway - avoided a big beating. Never mind that league sacks leader Jared Allen was lining up for the Vikings, the Bears' maligned blockers held their ground.
That allowed Cutler to complete 21 of 31 passes while being sacked just once.
The defense did its job, too.
A surprise starter after sitting out practice this week with a sprained left knee, Peppers got his two sacks and stayed in until the closing minutes even though the knee was bothering him.
''Did I want to stay in? I mean, I don't know,'' Peppers said. ''I wanted to play, if that's what you're asking. I wanted to play, but the smart thing to do is get everybody out of the game and not risk an injury in a blowout.''
Donovan McNabb threw for 177 yards and completed 19 of 24 passes. He was sacked five times before being lifted for a debuting Christian Ponder, but it was a brutal night for Peterson aside from that scoring run.
He simply couldn't get anything against a defense that had been giving up plays at an alarming rate, and it didn't help that the Vikings lost center John Sullivan (concussion) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (bruised knee) to injuries in the third quarter.
Even so, the Bears dominated from the start. Now, after dropping three of four, they can breathe a little easier.
They still trail unbeaten Green Bay by three games and Detroit by two with losses to both teams, but they have to feel a little better about themselves as they get ready to play Tampa Bay in London.
They looked particularly good early, gaining 151 yards to the Vikings' 43 while building a 16-3 lead in the first quarter.
Hester's TD catch over the middle on Chicago's first possession set the tone, and the Bears simply piled on from there.
Two plays after Adam Podlesh pinned the Vikings on their 5 with a punt, rookie Stephen Paea broke through the line for his first sack and the Bears' first safety since Danieal Manning got one on Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay in September 2009.
Chicago immediately drove 56 yards with Marion Barber running it in from the 3 to make it 16-0 with 3:39 left in the opening quarter. For the record, he didn't attempt a flip after a failed attempt against Carolina two weeks earlier when he landed on his face.
Then again, there were no missteps by the Bears this time.
''That was awesome,'' Urlacher said. ''We ran the ball, protected our quarterback, we made plays in the kicking game as usual, good team win.''
Notes: Ponder was 9 of 17 for 99 yards. ... Frazier said he didn't think Loadholt was seriously injured, but had no more information on Sullivan and S Jamarca Sanford (concussion). ... Peppers has 20 multi-sack games.
Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.