Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Chicago Bears (3-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: Seattle leads the series, 6-2. That includes victories in 2003 and 1999, the last meeting between the teams at Soldier Field. Seattle won that game on Glenn Foley's 49-yard scoring pass to Fabien Bownes. The team is a little stronger this time with Matt Hasselbeck throwing passes to Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch.
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 20th (14th rush, 17th pass); defense 9th (2nd rush, 22nd pass). Bears: offense 6th (23rd rush, 5th pass); defense 4th (7th rush, 11th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: With WR Deion Branch in his third week with the team and RB Shaun Alexander out with a broken foot, the Seahawks are expected to use more of the four-receiver sets they debuted against the Giants last Sunday. Seattle is banking on short drops and quick passes from QB Matt Hasselbeck, who will be playing behind an offensive line starting two backup guards. RB Maurice Morris gets the start in place of Alexander, with FB Mack Strong likely to get the majority of short-yardage carries. The Bears' offense is still trying to get its running game up to speed, but QB Rex Grossman has been able to make teams pay when over-playing the run and leads the NFL with an average 8.82 yards per pass attempt. But the Seahawks have three fast linebackers who rush the passer very well and have prevented quarterbacks from targeting their mediocre secondary.
FAST FACTS: Seahawks: QB Matt Hasselbeck has an 8-1 record as a starter when he is not sacked. ... Alexander will miss his first career NFL game. Bears: Grossman is averaging 276 passing yards per game after averaging 125 last season. ... Seek first 4-0 start since 1991.
--FS Ken Hamlin returned to practice Thursday. He missed the Wednesday practice to rest a sore shoulder. Hamlin was named the NFC's defensive player of the month after picking off two passes against the Giants on Sunday.
--RB Shaun Alexander was officially ruled "out" for the Chicago game Sunday night. Alexander will benefit from the upcoming bye week. The team will reevaluate him then to see if Alexander's cracked fourth metatarsal has healed.
--RG Chris Gray missed practice again Thursday. He remained questionable on the injury report with a sprained knee. Gray has started a franchise-record 109 regular-season games in a row. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expects Gray to play against the Bears on Sunday night.
--RT Sean Locklear missed practice again Thursday. He remained questionable on the injury report with a sprained knee. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expects Locklear to play against the Bears on Sunday night.
--RB Marquis Weeks appears to be a likely late-week signing as Seattle adds depth at the position. The team needs another backup halfback because Shaun Alexander is sidelined with a cracked bone in his foot. Weeks has been on the practice squad all season. He also went to training camp with the team.
--CB Ricky Manning Jr., the Bears' nickel corner, is expected to see extended duty against the Seahawks four-WR alignments this week, fresh from pleading no contest to an assault charge from late April.
--QB Rex Grossman was named the NFC's offensive player of the month for September, the first time a Bear has won the award since 1989, compiling a passer rating of 100.9.
--TE Desmond Clark didn't practice Thursday and is still questionable with a foot injury. Coach Lovie Smith said he could start Sunday, even if he doesn't practice on Friday, but it would be a surprise if Clark played much if at all.
--TE Gabe Reid, who is the receiving half of the Bears' backup combo behind injured starter Desmond Clark, has three career receptions in 18 games.
--TE John Gilmore, basically a blocker in two-TE sets and special-teams player, has just 14 career receptions in his fifth season, but the last three have been for touchdowns, including two this season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Running back Maurice Morris gets the start Sunday night when the Seahawks visit Soldier Field to play the Bears. It's a big game between NFC contenders, and the Seahawks will be without franchise career rushing leader Shaun Alexander. "(Morris) has played in bigger games than this, and he's played well," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "His run in the Detroit game (a 17-yarder to set up the winning field goal) was probably the biggest play in the game for us."
Morris was a second-round pick from Oregon in 2002. He has played sparingly behind Alexander, with three of his four starts coming with Alexander also on the field. Morris made important runs to help Seattle defeat the Lions and Cardinals. He drew tough duty last week, taking a pounding as Seattle tried to run out the clock against the Giants.
Morris' best run involved taking a fall inbounds to keep the clock moving late in the game. "He's a heads-up player," Hasselbeck said. "You saw him last week, he had an opportunity to get three or four more yards, but he knew that at that point in the game we weren't playing the New York Giants anymore, we were playing the clock."
Morris has 193 carries and a 4.5-yard average for his career. He is undersized at 202 pounds, but he has good speed and knows the offense very well. He also has good skills as a receiver out of the backfield.
"This is a big game, so the main thing is to focus this week on the playbook, and watch film, and go out there and play hard," Morris said.
Desmond Clark has made the Bears' decision to utilize the tight end as a pass receiver this year look brilliant. There are several tight ends with greater name recognition and bigger reputations than Clark --- the Chargers' Antonio Gates, the Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez, the Giants' Jeremy Shockey, the Patriots' Ben Watson, and the Ravens' Todd Heap, for example. But none of them have more receiving yards this season than the 193 Clark has accumulated on 12 receptions.
Among tight ends, only the Browns' Kellen Winslow has more yards than Clark --- four more. And only Winslow, the Eagles' L.J. Smith and Heap have more catches. Clark's production has helped the Bears become No. 1 in the NFL in yards per pass attempt and No. 5 in total passing yards, but he may be unavailable Sunday night because of a sprained foot. The eight-year veteran has yet to practice this week but remains optimistically listed as questionable. The Bears insist they won't abandon the tight end, even if Clark can't play.
"We still will have a tight end position that we'll try to get the ball to," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's not the same of course when you don't have your starter. He's playing as well as just about any tight end that's out there right now. But we'll move on without him if we have to. We won't take the tight end out of the game plan or anything like that. Hopefully, Rex (Grossman) will still feel comfortable throwing to whoever we have out there."
If Clark's absent, backups John Gilmore and Gabe Reid will get a chance to contribute. Gilmore has just two receptions for eight yards this season, but both were for touchdowns. Reid missed the first two games with back spasms but was back on the field last week, although he's still looking for his first reception. "It's a great opportunity for both of them," Grossman said. "I know what they can do, and they can step up and play extremely well. I know Gabe gets the label of the receiving tight end, but he can block well, too. John is a better receiver than people think. So I think we'll mix it up a little bit with both of them."
Gilmore's role in his previous four years with the Bears has been as a special teams player and an extra blocking tight end in running situations. But he started four games at the end of his rookie season in 2002 because of injuries to John Davis and Dustin Lyman and caught a career-best 10 passes for 130 yards. "I've been here before," Gilmore said. "I'm no stranger to it; it's my job."
The 6-5, 257-pound Gilmore's job now is to disprove the theory that he's just a blocker. "It's a label position," he said, "either you're a blocker or you're a receiver. My job is to go out there and block in the running game. They made it clear to me when I came here. When you get labeled, only the people amongst you or close to you know what you're capable of doing because I don't get put in those positions to go out there and catch balls.
"But Rex knows what I'm capable of doing. The difference between me and Des, in a nutshell, is that I'm a better blocker than Des. Des is a good blocker; I'm a better blocker. Des is a better route runner; I'm a good route runner. We both catch the ball well."
Reid started three games last season when the Bears opened in a two-tight end formation. He was originally claimed by the Bears off the Titans' practice squad late in the 2003 season and spent 2004 on injured reserve with a torn ACL.