EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just call the Chicago Bears the best team in the NFC -- and the New York Giants red-faced for falling asleep on a record-tying 108-yard missed field goal return by Devin Hester.
Hester fooled the Giants by standing in the back of the end zone for several seconds, then ran down the right sideline on his knockout-blow return as the Bears rallied for a 38-20 victory against the injury-ravaged Giants in their NFC showdown last night.
On Nov. 13, 2005 -- almost exactly a year ago -- the Bears' Nathan Vasher caught Joe Nedney's missed 52-yard field-goal attempt in the back of the end zone on the final play of the first half and ran it back for a 108-yard touchdown return. The play helped Chicago beat San Francisco, 17-9, and now Hester shares the record for longest NFL play with his teammate.
Rex Grossman threw for three touchdowns and Thomas Jones scored on a short run as the Bears (8-1) rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit with 28 second-half points in ending a five-game winning streak by the Giants (6-3).
Not only did the Bears win, they answered the critics who surfaced last week after Miami knocked Chicago from the unbeaten ranks in a turnover-marred game.
Grossman had touchdown passes of 29 yards to Mark Bradley, 10 to Muhsin Muhammad and 2 to Desmond Clark in leading the Bears to a 24-13 lead in the third quarter.
The Giants cut the gap on Brandon Jacobs' second touchdown run of the game late in the third quarter.
The game turned on Hester's third return for a touchdown this season -- a most unexpected one.
Jay Feely, who had kicked two field goals, attempted a 52-yarder with 11:20 to play. The kick was short and Hester caught the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone. The rookie stood there for several seconds and then came out, circling the right side and speeding down the sideline almost untouched for a clinching score.
The teams brought two of the top defenses into the nationally television matchup that was moved to prime time by the NFL.
New York's 13-10 halftime lead was courtesy of its defense and special teams, with three scoring drives covering a total of 13 yards in winds gusting to 25 mph and intermittent showers.
Mathias Kiwanuka set up the Giants' touchdown with an interception on Chicago's first possession, returning it 32 yards to the Bears 1. Jacobs scored almost untouched.