NFC North Update

Several in-depth news and notes from Detroit's division rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

    Even four first-half interceptions couldn't unseat rookie quarterback Kyle Orton from the starting position.
    "He's our quarterback," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It's a long year. He battled, struggled; quite a few of us struggled. He needs to go through things like this. That's the life of a quarterback. There are going to be some ups, and there's going to be some downs, but he'll come back."
    Orton wound up with five interceptions, but coaches said they never considered going to backup Jeff Blake. Clearly the Bears are willing to take a few lumps and suffer some growing pains while looking long range at the quarterback situation.
    The last time a Bears quarterback was intercepted five times was Larry Rakestraw, on Sept. 22, 1968. Orton completed just 17 of 39 passes for 149 yards for a passer rating of 14.7, a week after posting a 103.3 mark against the Lions.

Orton struggled in third-career start
    Orton, who admitted he played poorly, said he has been given assurances that he is the Bears' quarterback for the long haul and said he still felt as if he had the backing of his teammates. Because of that, Orton said he doesn't spend time worrying about being replaced by Blake.
    "Whenever I'm on the field, I'm trying to score points and trying to move the offense," Orton said. "I think I'm the quarterback of this team. I don't have any fear of being pulled or looking over my shoulder. Lovie's already talked to me about that. He says I'm the guy and they're behind me. I think the offense is behind me and the defense.
    "I didn't play well today, and he decided not to make a change, and I'm glad because I like to be out there."
    Orton said he understands the inevitability of overcoming the rough times when you're a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
    "It's one of those things that you've just got to fight through, and it's tough," he said. "You don't want to become too passive and just try not to throw interceptions and just not even give yourself a chance to win. I was still trying to make plays, and the result was a couple (more) picks."

REPLAY
    Kyle Orton threw three interceptions in the first 17 minutes of the Bears' 24-7 loss to Cincinnati, and he had four by halftime.
    At that point, the Bears trailed only 10-0 and still had a chance to get back in the game. Still, Bears coaches said they didn't consider gong to the bullpen for veteran backup Jeff Blake, who played six of his 14 seasons with the Bengals.
    Orton's fifth interception came on a diving grab by Deltha O'Neal 4:52 into the third quarter, at the Bengals 30-yard line. It preceded a 36-yard     Carson Palmer-to-Chris Henry TD pass that victimized Charles Tillman and gave the Bengals a 17-0 lead with 7:03 left in the third quarter.
    By then, even the confident Orton was showing signs of shellshock.
    It also served to make the Bears one-dimensional, since the offense went heavily toward the run with Orton struggling. But the Bengals defense adjusted accordingly, keying on Thomas Jones, who rushed for 79 first-half yards on 14 carries. In the second half, Jones managed just 27 yards on 13 carries.

PLAYER NOTES

  • TE Desmond Clark, who entered the Cincinnati game as the Bears' second-leading receiver, left late in the first half with a strained neck and did not return.
  • PK Doug Brien missed his third field goal in four attempts, a 39-yard try against the Bengals that was wide left by a wide margin. Bears coach Lovie Smith said the team would not bring in another kicker for a tryout during the bye week.
  • RB Thomas Jones rushed for 106 yards against the Bengals, his second straight 100-yard effort and fourth in his last five games. Jones caught five passes but for just 8 yards.
  • WR Muhsin Muhammad caught four passes for 58 yards against the Bengals. He has been the Bears' leading yardage receiver in all three games.
  • DE Wale Ogunleye had his second sack of the season on Sunday despite playing with a sprained left ankle. He had the good fortune to be working against Scoot Kooistra, a backup guard, after Bengals RT Willie Anderson left with a strained back early in the second quarter.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

    As uncommonly wrong as Brett Favre has been throwing the football early in the season, he's right about one thing.
    The Packers' 14th-year starting quarterback declared last week, "More so than any other time in my career, I have to play a perfect game in order for us to win."
    Coincidence or not, three imperfect games by the league's only three-time MVP have corresponded with a startling 0-3 start by the Packers.
    Favre has had seven passes intercepted in 2005 -- his most after three games of any season. Tampa Bay preyed on the scattershot right arm of the aging gunslinger with three picks in a 17-16 victory at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
    The Buccaneers' first triumph over their former division rivals in their last 14 meetings in Wisconsin set Green Bay back to its forgettable, pre-Favre era. Its last home loss to the Bucs had occurred in the 1989 season opener at Lambeau.
    A year earlier, when Favre was only a sophomore at Southern Mississippi, the Packers opened the season with five consecutive losses. They never lost more than two straight games at the outset with Favre in the lineup until this season.
    So, taking into account that only three of the 74 teams that started 0-3 rallied to make the playoffs from 1990 to 2004, the question was posed to Favre on Sunday whether a rebuilding phase is under way in Green Bay.

Favre Has Been Forced To Be Perfect For Struggling Packers
    "It's not up to me," he said. "I don't know when that time comes. I don't know if I ever really believed in rebuilding. The game's too precious to waste a season or waste a game because you're rebuilding.
    "Maybe from an organizational standpoint, it's not. But, for a player, there's not that many games, and I want to have the best opportunity to win. They pay me to throw passes and hand off and lead. They don't pay me to make those decisions."
    As Favre has discovered in a hurry this season, he alone can't cure everything that's been ailing a decidedly youthful, inexperienced team, which may not realize its full potential for a few more years.
    By then, Favre figures to be long gone, if not sooner. He returned for at least one more season believing the Packers would be able to overcome the free-agent departures of standout guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, as well as the salary-cap purge of All-Pro safety Darren Sharper from a shoddy defense mostly left intact.
    Instead, Favre has been forced to put up with a next-to-nonexistent run game behind a remade offensive line, a receiving corps without top playmaker Javon Walker and a defense that has produced only one takeaway.
    How the tables have quickly turned, with the three-time-defending NFC North champions relegated to the cellar of the division. Even Favre can't recall the Packers' last win at home, where they've lost four straight going back to the final month of last season. That hadn't happened since 1991, a year before Favre arrived.
    The savior of the once-foundering franchise is more defiant than ever, however.
    "When I start thinking about rebuilding, that means it's time for Brett Favre to go home," he said. "I'm not ready to do that just yet."

REPLAY
    Three more interceptions by Brett Favre, including two into the hands of safety Will Allen in the fourth quarter, kept the Packers from posting their first victory in a game that was theirs for the taking. Instead, Tampa Bay escaped Lambeau Field with a 17-16 win.
    Favre had two touchdown passes but threw for only 195 yards, his sixth game of not hitting the 200-yard mark in his last seven games against the Buccaneers, dating back to 2000. The Packers have won only three of those contests.
    The run game continued to sputter, with Ahman Green gaining only 58 yards on 19 carries against the league's stingiest rush defense. Green hasn't rushed for 100 yards in 10 straight games.
    The defense shut out the Bucs in the second half after giving up a pair of early touchdown passes from Brian Griese to Joey Galloway.
    Green Bay also held rookie Cadillac Williams, the league's top rusher, in check until he ripped off half of his 158-yard total in the final quarter. A 24-yard run up an empty gut before the two-minute warning sealed the Packers' first home loss to the Bucs in 14 meetings, dating to 1990.
    A missed extra-point attempt by Ryan Longwell, only the fourth of his nine-year career, proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. A high snap from usually reliable Rob Davis was the culprit late in the first quarter.
    Longwell also was wide left on a 42-yard field-goal try in the third quarter.

PLAYER NOTES

  • LCB Ahmad Carroll probably regained the starting spot he lost for a game with a notable performance Sunday. Carroll came up with the first takeaway of the season for the defense in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay. He ripped the football from RB Michael Pittman on a pass from Brian Griese and returned the interception 38 yards into Tampa Bay territory. The Packers were down 17-13 at the time, but they mustered only a Ryan Longwell field goal for what turned out to be the final points of the game.

  • Carroll was back in the starting lineup, following a demotion the previous week, because Joey Thomas was out with lingering symptoms of a mild concussion suffered in the Sept. 18 loss to Cleveland. Coach Mike Sherman wasn't sure Sunday how much longer Thomas will be sidelined.

  • TE Bubba Franks missed the first game of his pro career Sunday. The three-time Pro Bowl player is recovering from a bruised left knee sustained in the game against Cleveland. He had appeared in 88 straight games, including the playoffs, since the Packers made him their first-round draft pick in 2000. David Martin filled Franks' spot but had only one catch for 10 yards. Backups Donald Lee and Ben Steele didn't have any receptions.

  • OLB Na'il Diggs made his long-awaited season debut against Tampa Bay and started at the strong-side position. Diggs was held out of the first two games to allow him more recovery time from a torn MCL sustained Aug. 8 during a training-camp practice. He also missed every preseason game. Diggs had only two tackles Sunday and committed an illegal-contact penalty on Tampa Bay's first series, leading to a touchdown. Paris Lenon, who started for Diggs the previous two weeks, spelled him for a few plays in the base defense during the second half.

  • WR Donald Driver suffered an ankle injury in the loss to Tampa Bay. The severity wasn't known. Driver was able to finish the game. He had two catches for 49 yards, including a 37-yard grab to start a first-quarter touchdown drive.
     

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

    After opening the season as the Vikings' No. 1 running back, Michael Bennett has become the team's forgotten man.
    Benched in the second quarter of the Vikings' Week 2 loss in Cincinnati after losing two fumbles, Bennett was on the field for two fourth-quarter plays in the Vikings' 33-16 victory over New Orleans on Sunday.
    Bennett was handed the ball on both occasions, gaining a total of 4 yards before departing. Mewelde Moore got the majority of the work against the Saints, carrying 23 times for 101 yards. It was the Vikings' first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
    "I thought I would play a little more," Bennett said. "For me (it's important) to keep my head up, keep my confidence and just keep battling through it ... just stay focused. I've been in this league for five years; I've been here this long, and ... I'm a pro. So, I understand the business part of the game.     My thing is to keep my head up, stay healthy and look forward to the future."
    That future certainly does not appear to be in Minnesota. The Vikings reportedly talked to the Arizona Cardinals last week about a deal involving Bennett. He is in the last season of his contract and at this point it appears the Vikings would have little interest in keeping him.

In the last year of his contract, Vikings' Bennett could be trade bait.
    "I don't know, it's too early to say," Bennett said when asked about his future. "I'll leave that to those who have the power or have the control. But I'll be back, it's no issue right now."
    Moore, who leads the Vikings with 130 yards on 31 carries in three games, has another opportunity to establish himself as the Vikings' top running back. He impressed in 2003 as a rookie, rushing for 339 yards over a three-game span, but a sprained left ankle slowed him for much of the second half of the season.
    Moore sprained the same ankle this preseason and did not have a rushing attempt in the season opener against Tampa Bay.
    "Mewelde Moore runs hard; he has to take his game to the next level and finish drives," coach Mike Tice said. "He has a long way to go; he made a number of mistakes like everyone did. ... But he has a lot of talent. He's smart, he's tough. He has a knack for breaking tackles. He has a strong lower body, and he has a desire to be good, so it was a plus for us to get him going in there."

REPLAY
    After two horrible games, Daunte Culpepper finally looked like, well, Daunte Culpepper. The Vikings quarterback completed 21 of 29 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-16 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
    The Vikings' special teams unit helped the team get off to a quick start as Richard Owens forced Aaron Stecker to fumble the opening kickoff. Antoine Winfield recovered at the Saints 24, setting up a Culpepper touchdown pass to Travis Taylor on the first play from scrimmage with only 13 ticks off the clock.
    That gave the Vikings their quickest score to open a game in team history, breaking the previous mark of 16 seconds set in 1989 against Philadelphia. Taylor finished with two TD catches, and rookie first-rounder Troy Williamson added a 53-yard scoring grab. Kicker Paul Edinger made four of five field-goal attempts.

PLAYER NOTES

  • SS Willie Offord sprained his left knee in the fourth quarter while playing on kickoff coverage. He returned to the game but said he re-injured it making a play on defense. Offord was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday, and there is concern he could be sidelined for an extended period.

  • WR Nate Burleson was on the inactive list Sunday because of a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Burleson, injured in Week 2 at Cincinnati, will be evaluated Wednesday, but it wouldn't be surprising if he missed Sunday's game at Atlanta. That would give Burleson three weeks of rest, including the bye on Oct. 9.

  • WLB E.J. Henderson was inactive Sunday because of a high right ankle sprain sustained against the Bengals. He will be evaluated Wednesday.

  • DE Lance Johnstone suffered a strained muscle in his chest around the shoulder area in the first half against the Saints.

  • FS Darren Sharper was on the inactive list versus New Orleans because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Sharper, who was hurt against the Bengals, tested the injury before the Saints game and didn't feel he was ready to go. The veteran might be ready to go Sunday in Atlanta.

  • DE Kenechi Udeze strained his left knee in the third quarter against the Saints but was able to return.

  • CB Brian Williams sprained his left knee late in the first half against New Orleans and did not return.

  • RG Marcus Johnson was benched twice Sunday against the Saints, replaced late in the first half by Anthony Herrera and again in the second half by Adam Goldberg.

  • WR Koren Robinson made his Vikings debut against New Orleans, and although he did not catch a pass, he impressed with his ability on kick returns. He had a 46-yard return in the fourth quarter to help set up a Paul Edinger field goal and finished with a 22.8-yard average on four returns. Robinson was signed by the Vikings after spending 28 days in an alcohol treatment facility. He was released by Seattle during the offseason.

  • CBs Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot were asked to play much more man-to-man coverage against the Saints than they had been in the first two weeks. Both seemed very pleased to be given the responsibility. "That's what I do," Smoot said. "I'm a man-to-man guy."

  • The latest twist from Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell was the extended use of a dime package that gave extended playing time to CBs Brian Williams and Ralph Brown.


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