Around the NFC North

The Bears are settling into a rhythm with Matt Forte and former Viking Chester Taylor. The Lions were still trying to find out a timetable on Matthew Stafford's return after a shoulder injury. And the Packers also lost a key starter when Ryan Grant went down with an ankle injury. See all the post-mortem assessments from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.


CHICAGO BEARS

When the Bears signed talented unrestricted free agent running back Chester Taylor in the off-season, there was concern that it would undermine Matt Forte's role as the team's featured runner.

But it took about 10 seconds in Sunday's season-opening victory over the Lions for Forte to assert himself as the lead dog in the Bears' backfield. That's how long it took the Tulane product to sprint 89 yards with a screen pass to score the first of his two receiving touchdowns on the day. It was the longest touchdown from scrimmage ever by a Bears running back.

"He's a great player," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "He's so smart and has such a great feel for football with his instincts. He knows when to cut, knows when to make it happen in the passing game."

Forte also caught the winning 28-yard touchdown pass from Cutler, making a difficult adjustment and catch of a deep ball with 1:32 remaining in the game. Forte's seven catches for 151 yards and 17 carries for 50 yards combined to make him just the fourth player in franchise history with 200 or more total yards in a game. It was the second-most receiving yards in Bears history, trailing only Hall of Famer George McAfee's 157 yards in 1947.

After an injury-plagued sophomore season, Forte said he feels better than he ever has and can't help but look forward to the rest of the season.

"It's a great start to a great season," he said, "and there's more to come from here."

The same could be said for Taylor, who caught three passes for 44 yards and added 29 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Jay Cutler has confidence in both players being able to contribute in a variety of ways.

"(Forte) is one of those guys that it's hard for you to take him off the field," Cutler said. "But we've got Chester and we can put Chester back there. Those guys are kind of a 1-2 punch. If you're going to drop off (in coverage), we can still check it down to them. They're going to get 10 (yards). And if you're going to play soft, we can run it with either one of them."

That was exactly the idea when the Bears offered the former Viking $12.5 million over four years, $7 million of which will be paid this season. The other consideration was taking some of the burden off Forte, who had 694 touches in his first two seasons, a pace that very few running backs have ever been able to maintain for more than a couple years.

"Matt's our starting tailback," Smith said. "We've always said he's a complete running back, being able to run the ball in between the tackles, outside and catch the ball out of the backfield. But still he can't take every snap. You need to have another player to come in, which we have in Chester Taylor, who can do some of the same things.

"Chester has taken advantage of the opportunities he's getting and he'll get more. There are enough carries, there are enough catches for two running backs to be productive."

Sunday's game was a perfect example of that.

NOTES

  • QB Jay Cutler's 9.3 yards per pass play Sunday was better than any of his games in 2009 and almost three yards better than his season average of 6.6. Cutler's passer rating of 108.3 was better than all but three of his ‘09 games. His 372 passing yards were his most as a Bears and second most in his career.

  • RB Matt Forte's 151-yard receiving game (on seven catches) was the second best in franchise history. His 89-yard TD grab was the longest by a running back in Bears history.

  • WR Devin Hester had just one catch for 17 yards and his five punt returns totaled just 17 yards for a 3.4-yard average.

  • WR Devin Aromashodu was targeted 10 times by QB Jay Cutler and finished with five catches for 71 yards.

  • TE Greg Olsen was targeted six times and caught four passes for 37 yards but also lost a fumble in the red zone.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Although the Lions steadfastly refused to rule him out or give a timetable on his recovery, it is highly unlikely that quarterback Matthew Stafford plays Sunday in the home opener against Philadelphia.

    He injured his right shoulder after getting sacked and stripped of the ball late in the first half Sunday by Chicago's Julius Peppers.

    "We had good returns on his tests," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It doesn't look like surgery will be needed. But how much time he misses is still up in the air. We should know more on Wednesday."

    The Lions and Stafford both denied an ESPN.com report that the injury was in fact a second-degree separation in the shoulder. The report also said he plans to visit specialist Dr. James Andrews perhaps as early as this week.

    Stafford said he hadn't heard that diagnosis and Schwartz said he didn't expect any more tests to be done on the shoulder. Stafford said the doctors told him there was no injury to the rotator cuff or labrum.

    "He's still dealing with soreness and some swelling, so it's nothing you can put a timetable on," Schwartz said. "It's nothing you can say that this is a one-week, two-week or 12-week thing. You just have to see how it progresses."

    Stafford injured his left shoulder against Cleveland last season and played in the Thanksgiving Day game four days later. That's not likely to happen this year.

    "We will just have to see," Stafford said. "It adds a different aspect to it, obviously, being that it's the arm I throw with. I just have to see what it takes to heal it up."

    Added Schwartz: "When he's healthy and he's feeling good, he will be back on the field. We don't want to push him back and we're not going to put him out there if he's not able to make all the throws he needs to make or if he's protecting it to where he's not able to take a hit. All of that goes into our consideration."

    NOTES

  • QB Matthew Stafford now has had three serious injuries (knee and both shoulders) in 11 NFL games. He bristled when it was suggested he might be injury-prone. "Not really," he said. "Those were pretty perfect hits. I just got dropped on my shoulder pretty hard both times. I wouldn't call it injury-prone; more like weird, freaky injuries."

  • LT Jeff Backus, who was matched up on Bears RDE Julius Peppers Sunday, was beaten cleanly by Peppers on the play that injured Stafford. It was the only tackle Peppers had all day, and Backus felt horrible about it. "It's your worst nightmare as an offensive lineman," said Backus. "You don't ever want to get your quarterback hurt. It's our job to keep him upright and I didn't do that today."

  • Stafford sent Backus a text message Sunday night. "I knew people were going to be talking about him and that play for a while and I told him I wouldn't rather have any other left tackle in the league," Stafford said on a local radio show. "The guy does great work for us. He's a true professional and I just wanted to let him know I appreciated him. The fact I got hurt had nothing to do with him. It didn't happen on the initial hit. It was a freaky thing where Peppers put me right on my right shoulder while holding my right arm down after he stripped (the ball)."

  • As for the overturned go-ahead touchdown reception by Calvin Johnson that would have put the Lions ahead with 24 seconds left Sunday, Schwartz again on Monday refused to criticize the call or the rule that was upheld. "The spirit of the rule is, if someone goes to the ground he has to come up with the ball," he said. "You can parse the rule any way you want. I am not going to parse the rule book. My job is to be the head coach of the Lions, not to make rules or to officiate games."

  • QB Shaun Hill will start at quarterback if injured Matthew Stafford is unable. The Lions signed Hill to a one-year deal over the summer and then gave him a two-year extension; obviously, they think they can survive a few weeks with him running the offense. "He is just a football-playing dude," Schwartz said, adding that the Lions wouldn't have to drastically alter their offensive game plans to accommodate him.

  • DE Cliff Avril not only injured his knee in the first half Sunday, but he also broke his pinky in three places. The finger won't keep him out of the lineup, but the knee might. His status won't be revealed until later in the week.

  • CB Aaron Berry twice had to get his shoulder joint reset on Sunday. He was the team's starting nickel back. His status is questionable.

  • CB Nathan Vasher, 29, signed with the Lions on Monday. It was not immediately known who would be released off the 53-man roster to make room. Vasher was released by the Bears, the Chargers and by the Bears again since March 17. The Lions had just four cornerbacks on the roster, and with Aaron Berry banged up, they needed reinforcement.

  • RB Jahvid Best struggled in his debut (20 yards in 14 carries) but he earned praised from coach Jim Schwartz, both for his two touchdown runs and his gutsy blitz pick-up on Bears MLB Brian Urlacher on the controversial non-catch by Calvin Johnson. "Best got blasted but he got up underneath and gave Shaun Hill enough time to deliver the ball," Schwartz said. "It didn't look good for him but he made the play."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    A gritty 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on the road to open the season Sunday didn't come without a cost for the Packers.

    They lost top running back Ryan Grant to an ankle injury that will keep him out at least a week.

    "I know Ryan will not be available this week against Buffalo," head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "I really do not have a timetable (for his prognosis) because we're still doing more testing."

    Grant suffered a right ankle sprain on an 18-yard run in the second quarter. He limped off the field, later hopped on one leg back to the locker room before halftime and didn't play the rest of the game as he watched from the sideline with his right foot in a walking boot.

    Grant, who had eight carries for 45 yards, expressed optimism after the game that the injury wasn't severe.

    "I don't expect this to be something that's too major," he said. "We'll see how it goes. If you look at my track record, I don't miss very many games."

    Yet, McCarthy's grim announcement less than 24 hours later that Grant won't play in Sunday's home opener against the Bills means the fourth-year workhorse will miss his first game since being a healthy scratch in Week 1 of the 2007 season.

    "It's a significant injury to the ankle and the ligament involved in the ankle, which has now required more testing," said McCarthy, who wouldn't speculate on whether Grant will need surgery.

    Brandon Jackson will step in as the starter. He picked up the slack after Grant's departure, finishing with 18 carries for 63 yards and also two catches for 12 yards.

    The Packers kept only two halfbacks in setting their 53-man roster for the season, so fullback John Kuhn is the No. 3 guy on the depth chart.

    McCarthy wouldn't say whether adding a running back is imminent this week. First-year player James Johnson, who played briefly with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008, is on the practice squad.

    Green Bay will have a roster spot to fill since defensive end Justin Harrell is headed to injured reserve because of a knee injury sustained Sunday.

    NOTES

  • The Packers came out of the 27-20, season-opening win at the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with an extensive injury report.

    At the top of the list was defensive end Justin Harrell, who will have another season go to waste in a malady-marred career as the team's first-round draft pick in 2007. Head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed Monday that Harrell suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee while blocking on Mason Crosby's 49-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

    Harrell is headed to injured reserve, meaning he will have played only one game the last two years. Chronic back troubles put Harrell out the entire 2009 season.

    "Justin has had a tough go from a medical standpoint," McCarthy said. "I've seen players in this league sometimes have injuries in bunches, and then they're able to overcome them and go on to have a good career, and I was hoping Justin would fall into that category. And, now, he has another hurdle that he has to get over."

    Harrell has played in only 14 games since coming into the league as the No. 16 overall draft pick in 2007 out of Tennessee. He is signed through 2012, but his days in Green Bay could be numbered.

    Harrell's injury left the Packers with just three defensive linemen the rest of the game Sunday since they activated only four.

    Starting right end Cullen Jenkins returned to action after suffering a broken left hand in the first quarter and had to wear a big club-like cast on the hand.

  • After "terrific" was a well-used term to describe Aaron Rodgers' performance in the preseason, the third-year starting quarterback invoked an entirely different "T" word in assessing his outing Sunday.

    "I played terrible," Rodgers said after the game. "It was as bad as I can play. I've got to be better."

    Rodgers lamented a lackluster effort in which he was 19-of-31 for 188 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions and three sacks. His passer rating was only 73.1.

    "I made too many dumb mistakes, and I didn't play as well as I know I'm capable of playing," Rodgers said.

    McCarthy understood the agitation felt by his star player, who threw only seven interceptions in 2009.

    "Aaron is always going to be hard on himself," McCarthy said. "He has a standard that he has established here, and he did not play above that (Sunday). It was not his best game here in Green Bay, but he is human. He'll learn from it, and we'll definitely play better this coming week at the quarterback position."

  • The three sacks of Rodgers came in the first half. At fault were veteran bookend tackles Mark Tauscher (two sacks) on the right side and Chad Clifton (one sack) on the left side.

    Rodgers was upset the Eagles got to him in all three instances in their base defense.

    "That's disappointing," Rodgers said.

    Yet, he stopped short of criticizing Tauscher and Clifton.

    "I didn't play well, we didn't get in a rhythm on offense, and we have to clean those things up," Rodgers added.

  • LT Chad Clifton emerged from Sunday's game with some knee swelling, but head coach Mike McCarthy didn't indicate there's cause for concern. Clifton has battled knee issues the last few years.

  • ILB Desmond Bishop, a special-teams contributor in the opener, came out of the game fine after he was troubled by a hamstring injury late in the preseason.

  • DE Mike Neal is questionable to return this week. The rookie suffered an abdominal strain in practice last week and didn't play Sunday.

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