Black & Blue Review: Week 8

The Bears are the only team in the NFC North that really can't be counted as part of the division race.

The Lions will not be without incentives when they meet the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium on Sunday.

They will be shooting for a fourth consecutive road win and a 5-2 overall record, and there is also the matter of last year's humiliation (38-7) at Ford Field in Detroit.

Coach Steve Mariucci says he never looks back at a loss after the first 24 hours of film review and advises his players to do the same thing. But, in the case of last year's Dallas game, he admits: "They got us pretty good."

The two teams have started the 2004 season headed in different directions. The Cowboys are 2-4, have lost three in a row and are struggling with injuries to their offense. The Lions, for a change, are off to a fast start with four wins in six games and are getting plays from their young offensive playmakers - wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones.

The question is whether the Lions can keep their streak alive. Their three-game road winning streak is out of character for a team that set the NFL record with 24 consecutive road losses over the previous three seasons.

The Lions' defense - led defensive tackle Shaun Rogers of Texas - has been keeping the Lions in games and, in the four wins at least, the offense has come up with just enough plays to win.

--RB Kevin Jones is still working on getting his high ankle sprain back to 100 percent, but he is expected to play Sunday when the Lions go for a fourth consecutive road win in their game at Dallas. Jones, a late first-round draft pick, had his best game last Sunday against the New York Giants with 65 yards on 13 carries, including runs of 20 and 22 yards.

--CB Fernando Bryant is getting limited practice time as he recovers from a groin injury and ankle sprain suffered in the Lions' Oct. 17 game against the Green Bay Packers. If Bryant isn't ready, Chris Cash will probably fill in for him for the second consecutive week.

--WR Roy Williams is getting very limited practice time this week as the Lions try to get him back from a sprained ankle suffered Oct. 10 at Atlanta. Williams missed one game, came back for four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in the road game against the Giants, but tweaked the ankle injury in the fourth quarter. The Lions believe he still has a good chance to play Sunday at Dallas, although he might not be 100 percent.

--FB Cory Schlesinger tried to rush back to action after a hamstring injury and has missed the last two games as a result. The Lions are limiting his practice this week and hope he will be able to play Sunday at Dallas. However, they could survive with backup FB Stephen Trejo, who had a good game last week against the Giants.

--WR Az-Zahir Hakim is getting only part-time practice this week because of a sprained ankle. If Hakim can't play, WRs Tai Streets and Reggie Swinton are likely to be asked to pick up the slack.

Quarterback Brett Favre has been through more in the last year than just about any human being.

The death of his father. The death of his brother-in-law. Now, in the last two weeks, the diagnosis of breast cancer for his wife, Deanna.

"Everything that he has gone through, his wife has gone through," coach Mike Sherman said. "I'm not so sure who is the toughest one in that family. She's the unknown, unsung hero in that relationship."

Favre had one of his greatest games immediately after Irwin Favre died in December. Perhaps, as he has suggested before, the football field is a sanctuary where he can function without distraction.

"I take a tremendous amount of pride in what I do," Favre said. "I always have. I think at times like this, I maybe even take more.

"Challenges, I've always risen up to the challenge. Now to do it week in and week out, it will remain to be seen if I can continue to do that. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't.

"I'm not the only person who's ever had to deal with them and rise to the occasion. So I don't consider myself out of the ordinary."

Favre sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday with a bruised right hand and wrist. He is expected at least to throw Friday and play Sunday in Washington.

--QB Brett Favre missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but is fully expected to play Sunday in Washington. He has a sprained right hand that is black and blue and no condition to take snaps right now.

--CB Al Harris (sprained knee) missed another day of practice Thursday and remained probable. "He's going to play," S Darren Sharper said. "I'm not going to even think about Al not playing." Joey Thomas or Jason Horton would replace Harris.

--S Darren Sharper (partially torn posterior cruciate knee ligament) sat out Thursday and might try to go Friday. If he runs normally Friday, Sharper will try to play Sunday. If he does play, he insists he will not wear a brace but will have a heavy tape job. Bhawoh Jue would replace Sharper.

--G Marco Rivera (sprained ankle) sat out another day Thursday and is questionable. At least he's off crutches. "Right now, my ankle feels a lot better than it did on Sunday," he said. "I'm going to try to do everything possible to try to get back for Sunday." If Rivera can't go, RT Mark Tauscher would move to RG and Kevin Barry would start at RT.

--RB Ahman Green (Achilles' tendon) sat out another day Thursday. He has been bothered by the condition for about two months. The coaches will try to have him practice Friday. He is probable.

--DE Aaron Kampman (ankle) sat out another day Thursday. He is probable.

Owner Red McCombs is sending mixed signals regarding coach Mike Tice's contract status beyond this season.

McCombs told Sports Illustrated before last Sunday's game against Tennessee that he has decided to pick up the one-year option on Tice for 2005 and will negotiate a long-term deal with him. The magazine quoted McCombs as saying he would pick up Tice's option even if the Vikings lost the rest of their games this season.

That was news to Twin Cities reporters, who have pressed McCombs on Tice's contract, only to be told every time that the issue won't be addressed until after the season.

Once news of the SI article surfaced, McCombs again was contacted by Twin Cities reporters. He denied having made a decision on Tice's future with the team.

"Nothing has changed," McCombs said. "We'll review Mike and the rest of the coaching staff at the end of the season, like we've always said."

Tice refuses to comment on his contract status. He is the lowest-paid coach in the league at $750,000. Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, at $1.2 million, is the next lowest.

The option in Tice's contract calls for him to make $1 million next season.

Tice is trying not to let the situation become a distraction. But it's starting to. Most of the players enjoy playing for him and aren't happy that his future with the team hasn't been addressed.

-- WR Randy Moss (strained right hamstring) made it through most of practice Thursday and will play against the Giants on Sunday, coach Mike Tice said. "We definitely will suit him up, and not just to keep the string (of games played) going," Tice said. "I think we'll be able to utilize him in some aspect of the game plan." Moss played two snaps against the Titans last week.

-- K Morten Andersen had an especially lively practice Thursday. The 44-year-old's leg is as strong as it has been all season. Anderson has made 20 of 20 extra points and 7 of 7 field goals inside of 40 yards.

-- LB Chris Claiborne (strained left calf) did not practice Thursday and will not play Sunday, even though he is listed as doubtful. The Vikings can afford to rest Claiborne because of the play of LB Raonall Smith.

-- RB Moe Williams (calf) made it through all of Thursday's practice after missing a portion of Wednesday's practice. Williams is a key part of the Vikings' red-zone running attack.

-- RB Michael Bennett said he hopes to get more than one carry this week, but added, "I'm not getting my hopes up like last week." Bennett made his regular season debut after two right knee injuries, but was limited to one carry for no yards as Mewelde Moore's backup.

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