CHICAGO The Chicago Bears desperately needed a spark, and it figured that Devin Hester would be the one to deliver.
Sure, Robbie Gould kicked a 39-yard field goal in overtime and the defending NFC champions gave their flickering playoff hopes a boost with a 37-34 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
True, Bernard Berrian made a spectacular touchdown catch at the end of regulation. But Hester's two touchdown returns in the second half woke up a team that seemed to be asleep on the field.
That's why Denver's Dre Bly said, "I feel like we single-handedly got beat by one guy."
Of course, there was more to it than Hester.
After scoring two touchdowns in the final 5:17 of regulation, the Bears (5-6) won the coin toss to start overtime. They drove from their 24 to the Denver 18, where Rex Grossman took a knee. Gould then came in and delivered the game-winner, 3:41 into OT, bringing a dramatic game to a finish.
Denver (5-6) was up 34-20 early in the fourth quarter after an acrobatic 14-yard touchdown catch by Tony Scheffler, but the Bears weren't finished.
Charles Tillman blocked a punt and Brandon McGowan recovered, giving Chicago the ball on the Broncos' 18. That led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson, who was pushed in by his teammates in a scrum.
More drama followed.
With their playoff hopes perhaps hanging by a thread, the Bears tied it with 28 seconds left in regulation on a 3-yard catch by Bernard Berrian that figures to show up on highlight reels. Berrian spun away from Champ Bailey and lunged to catch the pass from Grossman on the right side of the end zone, his right foot dragging as his left knee hit the ground in bounds. The play was reviewed and the call on the field upheld.
The TD capped a 65-yard drive that Denver's Dre Bly kept alive with an illegal contact on fourth down at the Chicago 36. Grossman connected with Rashied Davis and Muhsin Muhammad for 21 and 13-yard completions that helped set up the touchdown.
"Studying film, we knew he would kind of bite on the initial move, the first move and going back to the corner of the end zone I just think where he was at the way he bit, Rex couldn't really get it over his shoulder," Berrian said. "And I think he would have made a play on it. So Rex threw a back shoulder ball and just allowed me to make a play on it."
The Bears managed to stay in the game despite inopportune penalties, a few breakdowns on defense and the loss of another key player to an injury Cedric Benson.
They can thank Hester they were still in it. He returned five punts for 81 yards and five kickoffs for 151.
"I take it personal when a team says they are going to kick it to us," he said. "They feel like they are kicking it to us because they feel we're not good. We're trying to make it to the playoffs. This is one step to get us in the hunt."
And Hester's feet led them in the right direction.
After fielding a punt at the 25 early in the third quarter and his team down 13-6, Hester turned up the left side, and leapfrogged two defenders on his way to the end zone. It was the ninth time the second-year pro took a kick all the way, breaking Gale Sayers' club record, and his sixth career punt return for a TD.
Still, he wasn't finished.
Cecil Sapp had just scored on a 5-yard run to give the Broncos a 20-13 lead with 2:38 left in the third when Hester struck again.
This time, he did it on the kickoff.
Hester burst through the middle and ran it back 88 yards, sidestepping a lunging kicker Todd Sauerbrun. It was the fourth time he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his career.
Denver had a quick answer on that one.
Jay Cutler immediately connected with Brandon Marshall, who beat Ricky Manning for a 68-yard touchdown that put the Broncos ahead 27-20 with 2:11 left in the quarter.
"Devin did an awesome job," Sauerbrun said. "He won the game for the Bears. The Bears can thank him. It was our fault we let him loose."
Cutler followed a solid performance in Monday's 14-point win over Tennessee with another good outing. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 302 yards. He had two touchdowns and one interception.
Scheffler caught five of those passes for 82 yards, and Andre Hall had a decent game filling in for injured running backs Travis Henry and Selvin Young. He carried 26 times for 98 yards and scored a touchdown.
It was not a good day for Benson (eight attempts, 47 yards), who left on a cart after injuring his left ankle at the end of a 21-yard run early in the second.
Grossman was a bit shaky, too, in his second start since returning to the lineup.
He was 17-of-33 with 193 yards thanks to several dropped passes. He had a touchdown and an interception in his first appearance at Soldier Field since a meltdown against Dallas in the third game that led to his benching.