Around the NFC North
Even though quarterback Jay Cutler's concussion is only expected to keep him out for one week, the Bears have to hope that backup Todd Collins, 38, can recapture the magic he flashed the last time he rode to the rescue of an injured starter.
Near the end of the 2007 season, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Collins took over for Jason Campbell and led the Redskins to four straight victories and a spot in the playoffs. After Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 14 game at FedEx Field against the Bears, Collins relieved and completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in a 24-16 Washington victory.
"I thought someone would remind us of it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Todd remembers it well, too, and we do. We got a chance to see him come into a game, and he played a great game against us and led his team to victory. Hopefully that's still there, and he can do the same for us now on the other side."
Starting and winning the final three games in ‘07, Collins compiled a 106.4 passer rating, throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Amazingly, those final three starts in the 2007 regular season were the first for Collins in 10 years, but he says he can benefit from that experience as he prepares for Sunday's game against the Panthers in Charlotte.
"It helps," he said. "I've been around for a while. It's a team game, but I look forward to going out there and doing my part and contributing to a victory."
In between his three starts in 2007 with the Redskins and 13 starts in 1997 with the Buffalo Bills, Collins threw a total of just 27 passes in nine seasons. In five of those seasons, he didn't throw a single pass in a game.
"It's pretty tough," the 38-year-old Collins said. "There have been some long stretches being the backup guy when I didn't get a chance. You've just got to stay consistent and disciplined in your preparation year to year and week to week because, when you get a call like this, you can't let your skills diminish or not stay up with the game plan every week."
Despite Collins' late-season heroics in 2007, the starting job went back to Campbell the following season. Collins didn't see any game action in ‘08 but played in three games for the Redskins last season, completing 12 of 23 passes for 144 yards and a passer rating of 71.6. After relieving Cutler last week at halftime, Collins completed 4 of 11 passes for 36 yards and an interception before he was knocked from the game with a neck stinger.
"I played poorly, and we lost the game," said Collins who finished the night with an 8.1 passer rating. Caleb Hanie finished up for the Bears, completing 3 of 4 passes for 36 yards.
Hanie is in his third season with the Bears. Collins wasn't signed until Aug. 23, as insurance after Hanie suffered a sprained right shoulder in the preseason opener. Bears coaches believe that Collins' NFL game experience, even though it's been spread out over 16 years, gives him an edge over Hanie as the starter.
"Todd is a guy that has played a great deal and won," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said, "and played exceptionally well this summer. We know what he is. He demonstrated in the preseason that he could play at a high level. It's just a question of getting him a little bit more familiar."
With Cutler out, Hanie is, at least for a week, back to second on the depth chart but, barring any additional injuries or a setback for Cutler, he'll be back in the three-hole next week.
"Caleb easily could be No. 2 right now," Martz said. "But because of the experience and being in this competitive situation and knowing how to respond, and managing the game, these are going to be things that are all a little bit new for Caleb, all right? We know, at least I feel good about Todd in those pressure situations. And we anticipate him managing the game very well. That's why he is the No. 2 and that's just kind of how we feel about them."
The Lions could not stop John Kuhn, a converted fullback, with the game on the line last Sunday in Green Bay. Before that, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gashed them for 160 yards rushing. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ran for 120. And in Week 1, the Bears' Matt Forte amassed 201 total yards.
Next is St. Louis and two-time Pro Bowl back Steven Jackson. All he did last year against the Lions was rumble for 149 yards, helping the Rams to a 17-10 win.
"Last year we played pretty evenly except for Steven Jackson," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Steven Jackson took the game over, particularly at the end. He was the difference-maker last year."
The plan is very simple: contain Jackson and make rookie quarterback Sam Bradford beat them. But the Lions don't exactly discourage the run. They are 26th in the league, allowing 134.5 per game.
"Steven Jackson is going to stress all 11 players on defense; he's that kind of guy," Schwartz said. "He can get on the edge, and the corners need to tackle him. He's inside with the safeties and linebackers and defensive linemen, too. It's going to take all 11."
Still, a lot of the Lions' problems against the run start with the inconsistent play of the linebackers. Starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy has played one game due to groin and ankle injuries. He's not likely to play again until after the bye week Oct. 24. Zack Follett, a first-year starter, missed one week with a concussion and has been inconsistent. Landon Johnson spent all training camp working at outside linebacker, but he's been pressed into duty in the middle.
The only constant has been 32-year-old Julian Peterson, though he's being asked to rush the quarterback less and play more in coverage, something he's not done much in his career.
"I thought they played OK last week; good enough to win," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "But we've had some issues the last couple of days. We usually have a half-hour walk-through (practice), and I jacked that up to 45 minutes. The next one will be at 5 a.m. if we don't start understanding exactly what we have to do."
When asked to elaborate, he said, "Are there reasons for the mistakes? Yeah. Some guys don't know the schemes yet because they just got here a couple of months ago. And we've got injury problems. But like I said, they don't ask about injuries after games. They only want to know if you've won or lost."
Nothing good can happen for the Lions this week if they don't contain Jackson.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Until the Packers have all of the facts, they're not coming to any conclusions about the status of veteran linebacker Nick Barnett for the rest of the season.
Contrary to reports that began surfacing late Wednesday night, coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Thursday "there's been no decision on Nick Barnett being done for the season."
Barnett suffered an injury to his right wrist in the Packers' 28-26 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. X-rays taken during the game after Barnett left in the first half didn't reveal a fracture, and he returned to action and finished the game.
However, concerns about nerve damage in the wrist purportedly arose earlier in the week, and the team pursued getting a second opinion from an outside doctor to determine whether Barnett would need season-ending surgery. Barnett traveled to Indianapolis on Thursday and will be examined Friday.
"It's a matter of opinions of the two doctors that are going to be involved (in the decision)," McCarthy said. "We're not ready to make a decision. Now, will we (Friday)? I'm really waiting on the information that's going to come out of this visit."
If Barnett is indeed done, that will make three starters to succumb to season-ending injuries in only the first four weeks.
Halfback Ryan Grant suffered a ruptured ankle in the opener, and rookie safety Morgan Burnett sustained a torn ACL on Sunday.
"To have some of our key guys be going down — and I'm not talking about two or three weeks, (but) for the season — that's a different dynamic," Pro-Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson said Thursday. "It's just kind of tough to bounce back from some of those things."
The double whammy of the injuries to Barnett and Burnett in the last game is only part of an epidemic that has swept through Green Bay's defense.
The Packers also likely will be without nickel cornerback Sam Shields (calf) and situational linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) for Sunday's game at the Washington Redskins. They haven't practiced this week after also missing the last game.
The status of Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins also is up in the air this week because of a lingering knee injury. McCarthy, though, expressed optimism Thursday that Collins, who was a limited participant in practice after sitting out Wednesday, will play Sunday.
Charlie Peprah, considered the top candidate to replace Burnett in the starting lineup, practiced in full for the second straight day. Yet, McCarthy said Peprah isn't totally recovered from a thigh injury that kept him out the last two games.
The Packers addressed the thinning ranks at linebacker by promoting first-year player Maurice Simpkins from the practice squad Thursday to take Burnett's spot.
Green Bay cut the 6-0, 236-pound Simpkins in the preseason, then re-signed him to the practice squad before the start of the season.
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