Nine Bears players are among the top five NFC vote-getters at their respective positions in Pro Bowl fan balloting.
Defensive end Julius Peppers (115,247) and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (114,953) are third at their positions; outside linebacker Lance Briggs (97,026) and special teams standout Corey Graham (23,014) are fourth; and cornerback Charles Tillman (70,496) and fullback Tyler Clutts (26,109) are fifth.
Pro Bowl voting will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones at www.NFL.com/probowl through Monday, Dec. 19. The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, in Hawaii.
The AFC and NFC All-Star squads are based on the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters. NFL players and coaches will vote Dec. 21-22.
Devin Hester wasn’t sure whether he would be able to play last Sunday against the Lions—and it wasn’t only because he had suffered an ankle injury the previous week versus the Eagles.
“I was just feeling sick all week,” Hester said Wednesday. “I had a fever of over 103. My tonsils were swollen. I had strep throat. I was just feeling bad. I took some antibiotics and tried to get through it.”
A game-time decision, Hester returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown and was subsequently named NFC special teams player of the week for the 12th time. His performance conjured up memories of remarkable efforts by Walter Payton and Michael Jordan when they were under the weather.
“That’s all a lot of people talk about, Michael Jordan and Walter Payton, and they played when they were sick and stuff like that,” Hester said. “It was a thought in the back of my mind.”
Asked how he felt about being compared to the two Chicago legends, Hester said: “It’s an honor. Those guys are elite players. I’m just working my way up to just get mentioned in that category.”
Hester was limited in practice Wednesday, as were running back Matt Forte (shoulder) and linebacker Lance Briggs (neck). View injury report. Defensive end Julius Peppers (knee) was held out of the workout. The Bears are hopeful that all four players will be able to start Sunday when they host the San Diego Chargers.
There was some definite animosity between Jay Cutler and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers when the two quarterbacks were AFC West rivals, at least when they jawed at each other during a 2007 game. But both downplayed the rift Wednesday as they prepared for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.
“I don’t play him every year, so it’s kind of different,” said Cutler, who joined the Bears via a trade with the Denver Broncos in 2009. “It’s something that is in the past. He’s a great player. He’s still putting up big numbers. They’re going to throw the ball down the field. Defensively, the way we are playing, hopefully we can shut him down.”
After responding to three questions about Rivers with short answers, Cutler was asked by a reporter if he had called Rivers to smooth things over. “I don’t know him,” Cutler responded. “Do you have his number? We could call him.”
During a conference call with the Chicago media later Wednesday, Rivers referred to the trash-talking in the 2007 game as “one little incident that got blown into a huge deal. But there really hasn’t been a whole lot.”
Rivers made it clear that he’s more concerned about helping the Chargers snap a four-game losing streak than resuming his rivalry with Cutler.
“We haven’t had much time to worry about that,” Rivers said. “We’re trying to find a way to win a game. It’s been a rough stretch. It’s not even the same team defensively that was here when Jay was in Denver. There are not many of the same faces. You would have to ask them.
“I’d rather talk about the Bears. That was five years ago or however many years ago it was. I haven’t given it much thought to be honest with you.
“We’ve spoken in the past since then, whether it be at the coin toss or post-game. It wasn’t as if we were big buddies beforehand and then had a big falling off. He and I had minimal conversations even before all that got blown way out of proportion.
“I have nothing against Jay. I think he’s a heck of a player and one thing you know about him, he’s a super competitor. One thing he’s doing right now is he’s leading his team to win four in a row and I am fighting like crazy just to try to get a win.”
It sounds like the Chargers intend to keep the ball out of Devin Hester’s hands as much as possible Sunday at Soldier Field. But San Diego punter Mike Scifres knows that’s easier said than done.
“You watch what the guy’s done in his career, he’s going to go down as the best returner to ever play in the NFL,” Scifres told Chargers.com. “As a punter, you’ve got to either hang it up and make him fair catch it or kick it out of bounds, neither of which are as easy to do as it is to say. It’s going to be a great challenge for the whole group.”
Hester was named NFC special teams player of the week Wednesday for the 12th time in his career after returning a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in last Sunday’s 37-13 win over the Detroit Lions. The All-Pro specialist owns NFL records with 17 combined kick return TDs and 12 punt return scores.
The last time he faced the Bears, Scifres effectively took Hester out of the game. In the Chargers’ 14-3 win in the 2007 season opener, Scifres kept Hester from returning any of his six punts while averaging 40.7 yards. Hester was forced to call three fair catches, while one punt was downed at the Chicago 12, one went out of bounds and one caromed off the Bears’ Brandon McGowan.
Scifres, a nine-year veteran from Western Illinois, enters Week 11 ranked third in the NFL with a 49.8-yard gross average and fourth with a 41.9-yard net average.
“We have a great punter,” said Chargers coach Norv Turner. “He has a great ability to hang the ball up in the air and he’s getting very good at placing it.”