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NFL: Bears eye a bye after clawing to North title

Not long ago the Chicago Bears were all but buried, a team going nowhere under a pile of mounting losses.

Not long ago the Chicago Bears were all but buried, a team going nowhere under a pile of mounting losses.

Well, it turns out they are going somewhere. They're headed back to the playoffs for the first time since their run to the 2007 Super Bowl.

A 40-14 romp outdoors at Minnesota on a cold and snowy Monday night did the trick, giving the Bears (10-4) their third NFC North title in six years.

And what a performance it was.

They shook off a brutal beating by New England the previous weekend and snapped a three-year playoff drought with a dominant effort that included Devin Hester's NFL record 14th career kick return for a touchdown and three TD passes by Jay Cutler.

"This is just one step, it's one thing we can knock off," Cutler said.

It's a huge step, one that was hard to envision not too long ago.

The Bears were a mess heading into their bye in late October, with three losses in four games after a 3-0 start. They have since turned things around in a big way.

The win over Minnesota was the sixth in seven games for a team that had appeared to be coming apart at the seams. Now, they'll try to lock down a first-round playoff bye in a home game against the New York Jets, and then wrap up the regular season at Green Bay.

A win over the Jets on Sunday coupled with a loss by the Eagles and a loss or tie by the New York Giants would give Chicago a first-round bye. That would be another huge step for a team that was aiming high after a busy off-season.

T.O., T.O., T.O., T.O. The Bengals have placed Terrell Owens on season-ending injured reserve a day after the receiver had surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee.

The Bengals didn't make a corresponding move Tuesday to replace him on the roster.

Owens hurt the knee a couple weeks ago but kept playing. He aggravated it on the opening drive of a 19-17 win over Cleveland on Sunday, then hobbled off the field and didn't return. He finishes the season with 72 catches for 983 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.

The surgery will force him to miss his The T.Ocho Show with teammate Chad Ochocinco on the Versus cable network Tuesday night.

That's it for Romo. Jerry Jones said Sunday that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was behind schedule in healing from a fractured left collarbone, making it unlikely he would play anymore this season even though the original plan had been for a potential comeback this week at Arizona.

The Cowboys took it a step further today when they placed Romo on injured reserve, officially ending his season.

Taking Romo's place on the roster is wide receiver Teddy Williams, who was promoted from the practice squad.

The race to the bottom. Armed with tiebreakers, a quarterback with one NFL start and a defense that can't stop anyone, the Denver Broncos are ready for the exciting event that is scoreboard watching for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

If the season ended today, the Broncos would have the No. 2 overall draft pick. Hello, Da'Quan Bowers!

"He's the best defensive player by far on the board," said Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's draft guru, of the pass rushing specialist from Clemson. "By far. He and [quarterback] Andrew Luck are the stick-out guys in this draft. You can debate three, four and five. You can't debate one and two."

The Broncos need to finish the deal to finish No. 2 and get Bowers. At 3-11, they are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the NFL's second-worst record, one game behind the Carolina Panthers (2-12).

A kick for the Raiders. The Oakland Raiders have signed former UFL punter Danny Baugher as insurance if Shane Lechler is unable to play this week.

Lechler strained his hamstring in Sunday's win over Denver and kicker Sebastian Janikowski punted once in his place. Baugher spent this past season with Las Vegas of the UFL. He has never played in an NFL game.