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Chicago clinches NFC North

CHICAGO — CHICAGO -- Now that they've clinched their second straight division title, the Chicago Bears can focus on bigger goals: a No. 1 seed and, maybe, the conference championship.

Devin Hester ran into the record book again. Ricky Manning Jr. returned an interception for a touchdown, and the Bears claimed their second straight NFC North title with a 23-13 victory yesterday over the Minnesota Vikings.

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"The defense had to carry the offense today," Manning said. "That's the way it is going to be sometimes."

Hester tied an NFL record with his fourth touchdown return, and Manning ran an interception back 54 yards for the Bears (10-2), who lead the NFC by two games.

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Chicago overcame another shaky performance by quarterback Rex Grossman. The Vikings couldn't overcome Brad Johnson's, however.

With the temperature around 20 and wind chill in single digits, Grossman did little to stop the debate whether he should remain the starter.

With some fans calling for backup Brian Griese after a loss at New England, Grossman was 6-for-19 for 34 yards and threw three interceptions for the second straight week. But he stayed in the game.

He has 14 interceptions in the past seven games after throwing three in the first five.

"I never really got anything going, and that is something I need to fix," said Grossman, whose rating was 1.3 - 0.0 after three quarters.

Coach Lovie Smith said a change is not in the works.

Johnson wasn't any better than Grossman.

The veteran was 11-for-26 with 73 yards and four interceptions before being lifted for Brooks Bollinger late in the third.

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Minnesota 0 3 3 7-13

Chicago 0 7 14 2-23

Second quarter Chi-Hester 45 punt return (Gould kick), 12:20. Min-FG Longwell 23, 8:54.

Third quarter Min-FG Longwell 30, 10:07. Chi-Manning 54 interception return (Gould kick), 4:33. Chi-Benson 24 run (Gould kick), 3:04.

Fourth quarter Chi-Safety, Fason tackled in end zone, 13:59. Min-Fason 4 run (Longwell kick), 5:40. A-62,221.

Min Chi

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First downs 21 6

Total Net Yards 348 107

Rushes-yards 35-192 25-83

Passing 156 24

Punt Returns 3-10 3-70

Kickoff Returns 4-62 4-85

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Interceptions Ret. 3-1 4-67

Comp-Att-Int 21-39-4 6-19-3

Sacked-Yards Lost 3-22 1-10

Punts 8-31.1 7-43.1

Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-2

Penalties-Yards 12-69 9-65

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Time of Possession 39:21 20:39 Rushing-Minnesota, C.Taylor 17-99, Fason 11-75, Moore 3-13, B.Johnson 3-3, Jackson 1-2. Chicago, Benson 9-60, Th.Jones 12-32, Grossman 4-(minus 9). Passing-Minnesota, B.Johnson 11-26-4-73, Bollinger 7-9-0-70, Jackson 3-4-0-35. Chicago, Grossman 6-19-3-34. Receiving-Minnesota, Moore 5-51, Robinson 5-37, McMullen 3-42, Wiggins 3-30, T.Taylor 2-9, Fason 2-7, C.Taylor 1-2. Chicago, Berrian 4-21, McKie 1-8, Muhammad 1-5.


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