Robbie Gould kicked a game tying field goal, then his 6th game winner in overtime. That's how the Bears game ended. Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown. That's how the Bears game started.
It was only a matter of time before the Bears special teams unit opened and closed a Bears win.
Nearly a year between returns for touchdowns though -- both against the Saints. Only this time -- it wasn't Devin Hester. Instead, Danieal Manning who replaced Hester on Kickoff returns took the opening pooch 83 yards to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead. A midfield finger pointed to the sky with still 40 yards to run got a wink and a reprimand from head coach Lovie Smith who said after wards, "of course we want him to celebrate in the end zone". Manning also returned another 53 yards to set up Matt Forte's touchdown, giving the Bears another league leading return man. Asked if he was trying to become the new Devin Hester, Manning "aw-shuck's" the questioner: "I'm just trying to do my job."
It hasn't been easy for the Bears special teams unit that helped catapult Devin Hester into the stratosphere of jersey buying NFL fans. While Hester went dry this year on returns (negative 2 yards on punt returns against the Saints), Manning has stepped up. First the unit learned to perform without Pro Bowler Brendan Ayanbadejo who left in free agency. Others stepped up, then went down. Darrell McClover (blocked kick), Zack Bowman (fumble return for touchdown) and Garrett Wolfe (special teams touchdown) all huge contributors on special teams are all on injured reserve to end their season. Special teams standouts like Corey Graham and Nick Roach were called up to start on defense. Suddenly Coordinator Dave Toub's 3rd ranked unit in the NFL dropped to 14th by week 10. To what do they attribute the turnaround? It's not scheme -- the Bears is considered relatively simple. It's the athletes and their dedication to playing the third phase. Lovie Smith's emphasis on special teams allows Toub to use starters as well as backups. "How often do you see three running backs on special teams?" Lovie Smith pointed out to the Bears use of Adrian Peterson, Kevin Jones and Garrett Wolfe on the special teams unit. And, all players are held accountable despite their status on the team and graded on effort, assignment and production.
At this point, maybe Devin Hester has company at being "ridiculous". Or maybe Danieal Manning has Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub to thank.