Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't mind sitting out one game just to be on the safe side after suffering a concussion Oct. 3, but he's anxious to be back in the starting lineup Sunday against the Seahawks at Soldier Field.
The Bears used defense and special teams last week to improve their record to 4-1, tied for the best in the NFL. But, with Cutler, it will be a more complete team that welcomes the 2-2 Seahawks.
Before sitting out last week's 23-6 victory over the Panthers, Cutler had started 57 straight games and had been sacked 94 times even before Oct. 3, when the Giants got to him nine times, one of which caused the injury.
"I've been banged up before and stuff and still went out and played," said Cutler, who will be back in the starting lineup Sunday barring any setbacks. "But your head and your brain are totally different. Once you start getting into that element, you kind of have to take a step back.
"This league is all about battling through injuries and stuff, but obviously concussions and your head are some things you have to take pretty seriously."
Fortunately for Cutler, his concussion was mild, but he still had some of the classic symptoms as recently as last week.
"There's some dizziness, general fogginess of your surroundings, you're not as sharp, and your awareness is a little bit down," Cutler said. "So all of that stuff kind of combined into how I was feeling."
Cutler had similar symptoms in the Giants game even before halftime, when it was determined that he would not return to the field. Because he was sacked so frequently, it's still unclear which hit caused the concussion.
"I haven't really went back and watched it and really looked at each and every hit from a TV angle, so I'm not for sure which one it was," he said. "But there were some moments in the second quarter that I probably wasn't completely aware of what was going on."
That may have played into what was clearly his worst performance of the season.
"I don't think it helped," said Cutler, whose 102.2 passer rating for the season is still fifth best in the NFL. "But I still knew what was going on, I still knew where the hot reads were, still knew where guys were at on the field."
Although most of the blame for the nine sacks goes to linemen, tight ends and running backs being beaten by Giants' pass rushers, Cutler's inability to get rid of the ball sooner was partly responsible.
"It takes 11 guys to make a play go right," he said, "and it takes only a couple to make it go wrong, so we are all responsible."
But that game and the injury are in the rearview mirror as far as Cutler is concerned. He says he won't change the way he plays the game, which means he won't always slide feet first to protect himself from a hit when he runs the ball.
"That's kind of what this game is all about," he said. "Each week is a new fight out there, the slate is wiped clean. You've got to have a short memory in this league. I can't change the way I play."
And that's fine with Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"We let him play the way he normally plays," Smith said. "As far as being careful, you can't play football being careful. (But) you're always trying to play smart ball. If there's a time for a quarterback to run out of bounds or slide, they'll do that. We're going to protect Jay better and hope the running game will help out some also and let him just play his brand of ball."
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 7-4, but Bears have won three of the last four meetings, including 25-19 last year at Seattle and a 27-24 overtime victory in a divisional-round playoff game in the 2006 season.
The Lions can be as coy as they want about the status of starting quarterback Matthew Stafford this week. The Giants aren't buying any of it.
"Honestly, we've been preparing for Shaun Hill," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We expect to see him solely."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz, perhaps to keep the Giants guessing, did not announce Hill as the starting quarterback as he has at the last four Wednesday press conferences.
When asked if that was an indication that Stafford is close to returning, Schwartz said, "It's probably an indication that Matt's making good progress and it's probably too early to make any announcements."
The Giants aren't waiting for any announcements. They think Hill gives the Lions the best chance to win Sunday, and they are preparing accordingly, according to Tuck.
"Shaun is a quarterback right now that runs their offense better," Tuck said. "He's a better quarterback for their system at this point. Stafford is the guy of the future. Who knows, he'll probably be the starter when he comes back off injury. But right now, Shaun is leading that team, and they've been playing well with him. He's putting them in situations where they can win football games."
It's hard to argue with any of that.
After five weeks, the Lions lead the NFC in scoring (25.2 points per game), they are sixth in the league in passing yardage and they are coming off their first win of the season, a 44-point output against a Rams defense that had been yielding 17 points a game.
All of that production has been engineered by Hill. Stafford, as of Wednesday, still hadn't practiced with the team since injuring his right shoulder in Week 1. He apparently threw the ball Monday and Wednesday, but he isn't expected to practice with the team this week, thus there is no way he is 100 percent healthy.
So, with their bye week coming next week, would the Lions really rush Stafford onto the field this week against a Giants defense that has 19 sacks in five games?
"We don't go into any game-planning on getting our quarterback hit," Schwartz said. "But this is a tough, physical game, and there is going to be contact. It doesn't matter who the opponent is. We don't go in with any thoughts like that."
Schwartz said last week that the bye week wouldn't factor into the decision to bring Stafford back this week or not. Nor, Schwartz said, would the efficiency of Hill's play.
"His rehab has its own timetable," Schwartz said. "We wouldn't accelerate it if we weren't getting good play, and we wouldn't put the brakes on it because we are getting good play there."
All that said, simple logic dictates that a second-year quarterback who hasn't practiced because of an injury to his throwing shoulder would not play the week before the bye against the most dangerous pass-rushing team in the NFL.
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 20-18-1. The last time the teams played was on Nov. 18, 2007, a 16-10 Giants victory at Ford Field. The Lions won their last two games at the Meadowlands, 28-13 in 2004 and 31-21 in 2000. The teams met once in the postseason, with the Lions beating the Giants in the 1935 championship game.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his assistants implemented a game plan Wednesday with the intent of it being a winning one.
The question is whether the Packers have a team capable of seeing the plan through to victory Sunday, when they host the Dolphins.
The injury pandemic that has swept through Green Bay was so outrageous that McCarthy dialed down Wednesday's typically action-packed practice to only two team periods. The bulk of the workout was spent with the offense on one end of the field and the defense on the other.
"I'm listening to the doctors and the strength coaches. I'm talking to those guys way too much," McCarthy said, "but I think it's in the best interests of our team."
Green Bay's injury list of 13 players isn't lacking for star power, featuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight end Jermichael Finley, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Barnett, defensive end Ryan Pickett and right tackle Mark Tauscher.
All six starters potentially won't be in uniform against the Dolphins.
Finley and Barnett definitely are out for the game in the aftermath of having knee and wrist surgeries, respectively, this week. After McCarthy said putting both players on injured reserve "is definitely an option," Finley suggested in a message he posted on his Twitter account Wednesday that he won't be back until next season.
"We've lost a primary playmaker. That's a fact," McCarthy said of Finley, who had 21 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt two plays into the 16-13 overtime loss at the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
"But, we're fortunate where we feel we have other players that we can go play with and we'll put them in position to be successful," McCarthy added.
Athletic but raw rookie Andrew Quarless and first-year player Tom Crabtree, who excels as a blocker, are the last resorts at tight end since Donald Lee (chest) also may be an injury scratch Sunday.
Rodgers, the player the Packers can least afford to lose, didn't practice Wednesday and has some hurdles to clear in what's left of the week to prove he is fully recovered from a concussion he sustained on the Packers' final play of overtime Sunday.
The Pro Bowl signal-caller did conditioning tests Wednesday but must pass a battery of cognitive assessments and be cleared by both the team doctor and an independent physician before he can play again.
Rodgers has started 38 straight games, including one playoff appearance, since replacing Brett Favre at the start of the 2008 season.
McCarthy said Rodgers wouldn't necessarily have to practice by the end of the week to play Sunday.
"I would think he's probably to that point in his career that he can handle that," McCarthy said. "That would definitely be an option."
A precedent was set early in the 2008 season, when Rodgers suffered a sprain of his throwing shoulder, did next to nothing in practice the subsequent week but convinced McCarthy and the medical staff just hours before the next game that he could play.
If Rodgers doesn't get the green light in this instance, Matt Flynn steps in as a first-time starter. The third-year player has only 17 career pass attempts, completing nine of them for 64 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
He hasn't appeared in a game this season, but McCarthy expressed confidence in turning to the offensive leader of LSU's national championship in 2007. McCarthy's plan of attack for the Dolphins isn't being scaled back should Flynn make the start.
"I think he's ready," McCarthy said. "But you can take the same question that you asked me a couple of years ago when Aaron Rodgers stepped behind center for the first time. You don't really know until they go out and play extensively.
"I think Matt's definitely ready to play if this was a one- or two-game-type situation. I do feel he has starter ability in the NFL. I've been around long enough to think I can recognize that. So, I feel very comfortable with Matt Flynn as our quarterback."
McCarthy wasn't as optimistic about having Matthews (hamstring) and Pickett (ankle) available Sunday because of the injuries they sustained in the last game. Neither practiced Wednesday.
"I don't foresee him getting on the practice field before Friday," McCarthy said of Matthews, who has a league-high 8 1/2 sacks.
McCarthy indicated Tauscher would remain out for another week or two because of a shoulder sprain. Rookie Bryan Bulaga is penciled in to make his second straight start at right tackle.
"There's no 'woe is me' here," McCarthy said. "This is the National Football League. It's a dynamic business. I like where we're at as a team. I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to show what we're about. I know there's probably doubt outside of the (locker) room ... (but) we'll be ready to go Sunday, I can promise you that."
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 9-3. After losing the first eight games between the interconference opponents from 1971 to '94, the Packers have won three of the last four meetings since 1997. Two of those Green Bay victories came at Lambeau Field. The Packers won the last matchup, 34-24 at Miami in 2006.