Maybe the most encouraging development for the 3-0 Bears, who put their unblemished record on the line against the 1-2 Giants in the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday night, is that they weren't really impressed with their Monday night performance.
The Bears feel like they can perform a lot better than they did in their prime-time 20-17 victory over the Packers that left them as the NFC's only undefeated team.
"I didn't play very well," quarterback Jay Cutler said after completing 16 of 27 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown, one pick and a passer rating of 82.5. "I thought we were out of sync. I missed some throws that I should have made. We needed to make some plays, and we didn't make them. Offensively, we've got to get a lot better. I need to get a lot better."
Despite a game that he wasn't satisfied with, Cutler owns a 109.7 passer rating through three games, third best in the NFL, even though he saw his four-game streak of plus-100 passer ratings come to an end.
Cutler praised the Bears' defense for keeping the team in the game as the offense struggled in the early going and failed to score until less than a minute remained in the first half. But the consensus on the defensive side of the ball is that they, too, could have played much better.
"We didn't play good at times, but we played good enough to win," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, whose forced fumble late in the fourth quarter set the Bears up for Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal.
"It was big," Urlacher said of the turnover, which helped make up for allowing the Packers to roll up 379 total yards offense. "I always say yards don't matter to us. We like to keep them to a minimum, but yards don't really matter; points matter, takeaways and sacks (matter). We didn't get any sacks again, but we got takeaways when we needed them."
Monday night was the Bears' second straight game without a sack. They have now allowed the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, in back-to-back weeks, to throw a total of 96 passes for 690 yards without being sacked.
"We need to be able to get the quarterback down," coach Lovie Smith said. "But Aaron Rodgers is a good player. It's hard to get him down. We kept the ball in front of us for the most part most of the game and came through with a big takeaway at the end, which we needed."
For the second straight week, the Bears did not establish a presence in the run game, following up a 38-yard rushing effort vs. the Cowboys with a 77-yard total against Green Bay. And 37 of those yards came on three scrambles by Cutler, who was the game's leading rusher.
"Running game-wise we didn't do as much as we would like, but some nights the run just doesn't work," Smith said. "You have to rely on the pass, and of course we did that."
Even with all the Bears' imperfections Monday night, the sum effort still added up to another victory.
"We didn't play our best game and we won," Cutler said. "That's got to be a good sign."
Coaches were impressed enough with cornerback Zack Bowman's performance last year, when he had six of the team's 13 interceptions, to move him from the right side to the more difficult left side. But he was benched after one quarter Monday night.
"Zack has done some good things here," coach Lovie Smith said. "But there is a reason why Tim Jennings is our third corner. I just felt like we needed a boost at the position. (We gave) Tim an opportunity and he made the most of it. Very pleased with what we did. Tackled hard, tough player and made possibly the biggest play of the game."
Jennings fumble recovery set up the game-winning field goal drive.
"As far as who will be dressing this week, who will be starting, that's why you go through the practice week."
This was supposed to be the year the Lions would finally be able to free wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
They finally had enough weaponry — a strong-arm quarterback (Matthew Stafford), big-play running back (Jahvid Best) and some other cover-worthy targets (wide receiver Nate Burleson and tight ends Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew) — to discourage defenses from loading up on Johnson.
Stafford (shoulder), Burleson (ankle) and now Best (toe) have been injured. The Lions haven't been able to generate any kind of run game and their previous three opponents have been more than willing to allow the Lions to throw underneath to their tight ends and keep Johnson bottled up with two-deep coverages.
The result, Johnson has 14 catches for 151 yards in three games.
"A lot of people take the philosophy of packing zones tight and force quarterbacks to work the outside of the field," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Our opponents have taken a different tact. They have taken the outside of the field away and it has opened up the middle of the field."
There is no reason in the world why Green Bay wouldn't do the same thing, and maybe take it to more extreme levels, this Sunday. Best, even if he plays, won't be 100 percent. Same for Burleson. Neither practiced on Wednesday.
Back-up quarterback Shaun Hill has moved the ball smartly at times, but he doesn't possess the same arm strength as Stafford. Teams have almost dared the Lions to beat them over the top and they haven't been able to.
They also know that Schwartz won't force it. He's made it abundantly clear that the object is to take what the defense gives and to press the issue, to force the ball to Johnson into tight coverage, is a bad decision.
"If you take shots into bad coverage and you are getting the ball intercepted, it's a bad decision," he said. "We want to get the ball to Calvin as much as possible, but we want to make the right decisions. We aren't going to press the issue."
The Lions point to their 32-point effort against the Eagles and their two late fourth-quarter drives against the Vikings (both ended up with goal-line interceptions) as evidence that they can win throwing underneath coverages.
The counter argument, though, is that the Lions scored 15 points against the Eagles' prevent defense and gained most of their yardage against the Vikings after they had fallen behind by 14 points. They haven't been able to move the ball when it's mattered most.
"We just need to stay the course," Hill said. "These games that we've lost, we've been in them. It's not like we're getting out-matched or anything. For whatever reason, it's not gone our way yet. But, when stuff like this is going on, if you ask me, the best thing is to just stay the course and things will change."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The NFL schedule-makers never really do a team a favor when things are so compressed and competitive in the space of a 16-game season.
Yet, if there ever was a week when the Packers needed to catch a break on their schedule, this would be it.
Coming off a maddening first loss in a road game played Monday night, the Packers' short week of recovery, reflection and reconciliation is eased somewhat by the opponent Sunday. The Detroit Lions are making their annual trek to Wisconsin, where they have lost 19 straight games to Green Bay.
In other words, the heavily favored Packers, who last lost on home soil to the division-rival Lions in 1991, figure to get well again in a hurry.
"A short week, you're right back into another game right away, so it is nice in that way," left guard Daryn Colledge said Wednesday.
It's the only disjointed week of the season for Green Bay, which has just the one Monday game and the rest on Sunday.
Getting to game day this weekend can't come soon enough for the players, whom head coach Mike McCarthy characterized as "mentally taxed" by the end of an unusually long and heavy workday Wednesday.
They punched in early in the morning to tend to the corrections — and there were many — from the 20-17 setback at the Chicago Bears on Monday.
Then, it was on to poring over the game plan for the matchup with the Lions.
At long last came practice in the mid-afternoon, keeping the players from punching out until dinner time.
For dessert was some humble pie, as the Packers have been spending the better part of this week licking the self-inflicted wounds from the last-second defeat that dropped them from the slim ranks of the NFL's unbeaten and out of first place in the NFC North. They deferred to the surprising Bears on both fronts.
"We can't shoot ourselves in both feet and win a 100-yard race," linebacker Nick Barnett said.
Breakdowns on special teams, none bigger than giving up a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester, and a franchise-record 18 penalties conspired to upset the Packers in a game they otherwise dominated.
"For us, as a young team with a lot of young players out on the field, there's a lot to be learned out there, like how we can lose a game if we're undisciplined," Barnett said. "We have to take the game out of the officials' hands. We can't blame them. It's on us, regardless of what they do."
Not that a talented team still regarded by many as the class of the NFC needs a wakeup call, but perhaps this fourth week of the rapid-fire, unforgiving season will be looked back at as the reality check that propels the Packers to their projected greatness.
For the here and now, though, they can't trip over themselves on short rest and roll over for the road-challenged Lions on Sunday, considering a challenging stretch of four games follows the rest of October. Road dates against the Washington Redskins and New York Jets are wrapped around home games against the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings.
"We're still a young team, but when you get into the grind of the week-to-week schedule, I'm hopeful that, like myself, the focus solely is on the opponent at hand, not the expectations or the experts' picks," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.