The Chicago Bears roughed up the Minnesota Vikings, 39-10, forcing an ineffective Donovan McNabb to the sideline (for good?)
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The NFL might be getting ready to penalize two coaches who nearly came to blows after a contentious postgame handshake in Detroit, but NBC should be sending San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh and the Lions’ Jim Schwartz thank-you gift-baskets. Their YouTube-worthy confrontation gave the Sunday Night Football crew something better to talk about during the Chicago Bears’ 39-10 mauling of the Minnesota Vikings. The primetime game was over at halftime, when the Bears led 26-3, turning the final 30 minutes of play into little more than a career death-watch for receding Vikings’ quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But first, about that handshake. It overshadowed an important NFC battle between two of the league’s surprise teams, with the 5-1 Niners handing the Lions their first loss of the season. Harbaugh, the first-year pro coach after four years leading Stanford, was obviously pumped after his team’s victory, and he not only gave Schwartz a mighty grip but he slapped his opponent dismissively on the back as if he was disposing of him in to the trash. Schwartz shouted back at him, and when Harbaugh hustled away without responding, the Lions coach decided to chase him down to let him know that this wasn’t the Pac-10 anymore. This is when it grew comical. Schwartz reeled Harbaugh in, and he had every opportunity to give the retreating Niners coach his two cents or to raise the stakes. Yet as soon as Harbaugh turned to face him, Schwartz hesitated — until players and team officials jumped in to break it up. Then Schwartz shifted into “Hold me back!” mode, aggressively trying — okay, half-trying — to break through and get back in Harbaugh’s face. As far as coachs’ spats go, zero being a Mangini/Belichick non-shake shake and 10 being the Chaney/Calipari blood feud, I give the Harbaugh/Schwartz brouhaha a decent 6.5 — with great potential for growth should their teams meet again in the playoffs.

NEXT: The People Magazine Bowl.

In other afternoon action, the 6-0 Green Bay Packers eased to another victory — over St. Louis, 24-3 — that was compelling only because they wore their throwback 1929 jerseys, which, at first glance, looked like “Have a nice day” yellow smiley-face shirts. In New Jersey, the Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills, 27-24, after Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a late interception that led to the winning field goal. Jim Kelly may be a Bills Hall of Famer and former-Bill Jack Kemp was nearly our vice-president, but Fitzpatrick is winning the hearts of the blue-collar town even in defeat. His thick beard would make members of the hometown Sabres jealous and his post-game t-shirt attire made it look like he was on his way to stuff his sorrows with some hot wings. He could be elected mayor of Buffalo if he could just convince folks he graduated from Canisius and not Harvard.

In contrast to Fitzpatrick delightfully scraggly look, Tom Brady’s Patriots edged Tony Romo’s Cowboys in the People Magazine Bowl, 20-16. In Oakland, the Raiders honored their late owner, Al Davis, by lighting an eternal flame during a halftime ceremony and then proceeded to beat Cleveland, 24-17. (Is it poor form to ask what will happen to the burning cauldron when the Raiders move out of town again?) And in Washington, the Eagles gave the city of Philadelphia its first taste of positive sports news in weeks, beating the first-place Redskins, 20-13.

Before the Bears and Vikings kicked off, Bob Costas sat down with the stars of the Vikings offensive backfield — Donovan McNabb and Adrian Peterson — who both apparently raided Carlton Banks’ wardrobe. There was a little too much jocularity as McNabb compared his teammate to Jim Brown and Peterson playfully answered questions about McNabb’s advancing age. In hindsight, it was almost like McNabb was auditioning for a studio job with NBC Sports. Which, in turns out, might be a possibility sooner than McNabb had hoped.

Once the game started, the Bears jumped all over the Vikes, bottling up Peterson and making McNabb look feeble. After sacking the 35-year-old in the endzone for a safety and then taking the ensuing kickoff in for another score, Chicago led 16-0 after only 11 minutes of football. For all intents and purposes, the game was over, meaning the only drama left in the game was whether or not this would be McNabb’s last hurrah. On the sideline waited Christian Ponder, the Vikings’ high-priced rookie quarterback, and with Minnesota headed towards a ruinous 1-5 record, McNabb’s brief reign in purple suddenly seemed at its end.

NEXT: Chunky soup might be good for the soul, but it can’t make you younger.

Even before things got ugly, the NBC cameras caught McNabb’s wife and parents in their seats — it was chilly at Soldier Field but the trio looked like they were attending a wake. In a way, they were. McNabb’s passes were never crisp. Even when he connected with his receivers, the ball was rarely thrown with precision, limiting any extra yardage after the catch. The Bears pass-rush bullied him around all day — in the third quarter with the score 36-10, a gimpy Julius Peppers chased down a scrambling McNabb and simply pushed him to the ground for a sack. It felt like mercy. Following another sack on the next play, the cameras caught McNabb’s mom leaving for the exit — and I don’t think it was to go heat up some Chunky soup.

Making matters worse for McNabb, Chicago gunslinger Jay Cutler was effortlessly whipping the ball around the field, connecting with Devin Hester on a beautiful 48-yard parabola and drilling Dane Sanzenbacher with a 13-yard laser for his two touchdown passes. The zip on Cutler’s passes alone made McNabb’s tosses seem lame and unsure. Ponder relieved McNabb at the start of the fourth quarter, and he played decent enough to think that the last-place Vikings will give him an opportunity to prove himself in coming weeks.

If this was the McNabb’s swan song, it’s an unfortunate farewell for one of the most unfairly maligned quarterbacks of his era. He was a tremendous performer in Philadelphia for 11 years, where he turned a moribund franchise into a perennial powerhouse, but his failure to win the “Big One” seemed to taint all his other achievements there. What will sting about this performance was that it was exactly the type of underwhelming outing that his critics always attack him for. His numbers may have been respectable (19-24, 177 yards) but so many of those completions were empty yards that failed to challenge the Bears defense.

So the Bears are now 3-3 and remain in the hunt for a playoff berth. As long as their offensive line can keep Cutler upright, they can play with anyone. The Vikings “have much to Ponder in the upcoming weeks,” quipped Bob Costas, and likely a future that will not include McNabb as their starter. The only team in worse shape — temporarily — might be the NBC crew, which is stuck with next week’s primetime game between the Saints and the Colts. We already know the winless Colts are the league’s walking dead, so Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels resorted to selling the matchup with teases about the Saints’ injured coach(!). Will Sean Payton coach with a broken tibia? Will he be on the sideline at all? Will you watch one way or the other? (Yes, I will.)

What was the best game of the day? Do either the 49ers or the Lions have legitimate title hopes? Was this the end of the road for Donovan McNabb?

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