NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears are still searching for the right mix on their offensive line. The Lions are tired of hearing they are improved when they keep losing. And the Packers are focused on their own issues instead of worry too much about Brett Favre's second return to Lambeau Field as a Viking.


CHICAGO BEARS

For the fourth time this season, the Bears started a different offensive line combination. But clearly they haven't found the right one yet.

The hope is that by the time the Redskins come to Soldier Field in Week 6, they'll be able to come up with a better alignment.

With former starting left tackle Chris Williams at left guard in his first game back since suffering a hamstring injury early in Week 2, the unit allowed six sacks Sunday in a 23-20 loss to the Seahawks, and the ground game managed just 20 first-half yards on nine attempts, finishing with 61 yards on 14 carries only because Chester Taylor busted a 24-yard gain on fouth-and-1 late in the game. On third downs, the Bears were 0 for 12. They have been sacked more than any team in the NFL.

Williams played in place of Roberto Garza, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery late last week and is likely out for a couple more weeks. That didn't provide the hoped-for spark, so it's back to the lab this week in the elusive search for the right chemistry.

"We're going to continue to tweak our entire football team," coach Lovie Smith said. "This was a combination that we worked for the first time. The reason why we started that option is we felt pretty good about it. We'll just evaluate it, look at in detail to see if that's our best option."

If it is, the Bears are in trouble.

In addition to the sacks, there were other times when Cutler had to run for his life or buy time by moving in the pocket and eluding the rush.

Center Olin Kreutz, the only member of the line who's started every game, took more than his share of the blame for a front wall that didn't adjust to Seattle's blitzes.

"The breakdowns in communication is my job," Kreutz said. "It's my job to get everybody on the right guys, and I didn't get it done. Hopefully we'll get it corrected by next week."

Williams said he didn't have a problem with starting a position he hadn't played since his sophomore year at Vanderbilt.

"It's just different, (you're playing against) bigger guys, and there are a lot more moving parts in there," Williams said. "We obviously didn't play good enough; I didn't play good enough to win, so you watch the tape and get better."

On Sunday, Frank Omiyale was at left tackle for the fourth straight game, and right guard Edwin Williams and rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb each started for the second straight game.

Who knows next week?

NOTES

TRENDING: The Bears have converted zero of their last 22 third-down attempts with Jay Cutler at quarterback, including an 0-for-12 effort in Sunday's loss. In their last three games, in which Cutler played just half of the time because of concussion, the Bears have converted 3 of 40 third-down attempts.

"We're going to have to, on a consistent basis, pick up (the blitz), get rid of the ball and hit our hot (reads) and make them pay for it," Cutler said. "We're getting big chunks (of yardage) and stuff. It's just not on a consistent basis."

  • QB Jay Cutler threw for 290 yards but completed just 17 of 39 passes and was sacked six times.

  • WR Devin Aromashodu caught two passes for 40 yards, his first receptions since opening day.

  • WR Johnny Knox had five catches for a career-best 120 yards, including a 67-yarder. Knox, who was targeted 11 times, is averaging 21.8 yards per catch this season but has not scored yet.

  • CB Charles Tillman was victimized for most of the 10 catches and 123 yards that Seahawks WR Mike Williams had on his career-best day.

  • PK Robbie Gould hit field goals from 24 and 34 yards, giving him 55 in a row from under 40 yards, the longest current streak in the NFL.


    DETROIT LIONS

    The Lions go into the bye week with a 1-5 record. They finished their 28-20 loss at the New York Giants Sunday with their third string quarterback (Drew Stanton) and their fourth-string middle linebacker (recently signed Vinny Ciurciu).

    Yet, they had the ball with a chance to tie on their final possession.

    This is the ying and yang of these Lions. They are as bad as their 1-5 record indicates. Yet, they were in position to win or tie in the final possession in four of the five losses.

    They are every bit as bad as their NFL-record-tying 24 straight road losses would indicate. Yet, five of their next seven games after the bye are at Ford Field.

    The point is, the Lions are down, but they don't feel they are out. Which, on some strange level, is major progress.

    "We aren't happy with hearing, 'Oh, they're better than last year,' or 'They're a good team; we didn't expect them to play this well,'" said WR Nate Burleson. "We've heard that too many times. We walk into any stadium, home or away, to win games, and the fact that we aren't winning games is completely on our shoulders."

    The Lions killed themselves Sunday with four critical penalties, two stalled drives and two prolonged Giants drives. They killed themselves with three second-half turnovers.

    "We gave them everything," said safety and former Giant C.C. Brown, who was booed throughout the game. "People can say what they want to say, but we gave it to them. We did not play smart, and at times, we didn't play hard. We did it to ourselves again. At some point we've got to stand up and realize that we can't keep doing this."

    The Lions feel better days are coming, and here's why.

    First, franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, out with a shoulder injury since Week 1, is expected to start Oct. 31 against the Redskins. Shaun Hill, who fractured a bone in his left forearm Sunday, is expected to be ready to back him up in two weeks.

    Starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy (ankle), who has only played one game this season, is also due back Oct. 31.

    "Matt is inheriting a battle-tested team, that's for sure," Hill said. "This team has played an extremely tough schedule with a lot of games on the road. We are going to get a chance to heal up now and play a lot of games at home. I know Matt is ready. He's chomping at the bit."

    DE Kyle Vanden Bosch called the team together after the game Sunday and handed out a homework assignment for the upcoming bye week.

    "He just told us that everybody needed to evaluate themselves, see the mistakes they are making and correct them," Burleson said. "Just take the week to evaluate yourself and figure out what it is you can do better."

    NOTES

    TRENDING: The Lions cannot run the football. In a game where establishing the run was paramount to neutralizing the Giants' pass rush, they amassed 64 yards on the ground, 3.0 per carry. Granted, the Giants put eight men in the box and put linebackers on the line of scrimmage. But when Drew Stanton (30 yards) outgains your top rusher, Jahvid Best (16 yards), in 13 fewer carries, you have issues.

    LINEUP WATCH: You wonder how much longer CB Jonathan Wade will be around. He lost his starting job to Alphonso Smith and now might lose his role in the nickel and dime packages. Teams are isolating him every chance they get. He was beaten for a 33-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham. He was also beat for a touchdown by Hakeem Nicks, but Manning overthrew him.

  • OLB Zack Follett was strapped to a backboard, carted off the field and taken to Hackensack Medical Center after talking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul on a kickoff in the second half. The post-game report was that there was no evidence of a fracture to the cervical spine, and he had movement in all four extremities.

  • WR Calvin Johnson, playing despite an injured AC joint in his right shoulder, caught five passes for 146 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown. "Big pain," he said. "This week (bye week) is coming at a good time."

  • DT Ndamukong Suh incurred another penalty for knocking a quarterback in the face with his hands. The penalty occurred on a second-and-long incompletion that kept what ended up being a 97-yard scoring drive alive. He did have 1.5 sacks.

  • MLB Ashlee Palmer, making his first start at middle linebacker, had 13 tackles on Sunday. That's one more than the man he replaced, Landon Johnson, has had all season.

  • K Jason Hanson kicked two 50-yard field goals. He has made nine straight. His 45 field goals of 50 or more yards is an NFL record.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Brett Favre is coming back to town with the Minnesota Vikings, but the suddenly stumbling Packers couldn't care less.

    Wide receiver Greg Jennings alluded to "in-house problems" that have turned Green Bay from would-be Super Bowl contender to a team that is treading the murky water in the NFC.

    "No disrespect to those guys, obviously they've had their own struggles, but we're having ours," Jennings said. "We have to focus on us and get us better."

    The visit by Favre and the Vikings for a Sunday-night matchup at Lambeau Field will be filled with hype, not much different from a year ago, when the onetime Packers legend returned to Green Bay for the first time in an enemy jersey and led Minnesota to a 38-26 win.

    Yet some of the luster has worn off because neither the Packers (3-3) nor the Vikings (2-3) have started well, and both teams are chasing the Chicago Bears (4-2) for the NFC North lead.

    Short-handed Green Bay is licking all kinds of wounds after suffering a second straight overtime defeat, 23-20 to the Miami Dolphins at home Sunday.

    "I think it's clear-cut. We're a 3-3 football team for many different reasons," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've got three losses, (and) they've all been tight games. They've all come down to a critical point in the football game. And we're not getting it done at that particular point."

    Perhaps the controversial trade of Favre to the New York Jets in the 2008 preseason — he subsequently signed with Vikings before last season — has put a spell on the Packers in the close games he was renowned for pulling out in his 16 years with Green Bay.

    Since the start of the 2008 season, when Aaron Rodgers replaced Favre behind center, the Packers are a brutal 1-11 in games decided by four points or fewer.

    The last four games played by Green Bay this season fall under that category. The Packers lost 20-17 on a last-second field goal at the Bears in Week 3, eked out a 28-26 win over the then-winless Detroit Lions and then suffered the back-to-back OT losses to the Redskins and the Dolphins.

    A lot of fingers are being pointed at the Packers' inconsistent, though injury-marred offense for the team struggles of late. Green Bay has scored only three touchdowns and 33 points the last two games.

    "We've got to figure something out offensively and help our defense out a little bit," Rodgers said. "I think they've played well enough (for us) to win the last two weeks, and we just haven't gotten the job done. When your defense is holding them to 16 (points at Washington) and 23 (against Miami), we feel like we should win those games."

    NOTES

    TRENDING: A struggling offense has contributed greatly to the Packers' two-game slide. Green Bay has more often than not failed to piece together sustained drives because of its failures on third down. After going only 2 of 13 in the overtime loss at the Washington Redskins in Week 5, the Packers were just 3 for 13 in third-down chances in Sunday's OT loss to the Miami Dolphins. A once-potent attack is out of whack without featured back Ryan Grant, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the opener, and playmaking tight end Jermichael Finley, who might be lost for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery last week.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — 100-yard games by Packers wide receivers this season. Greg Jennings had the first with six catches for 133 yards Sunday. Jennings caught an 86-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter — a career long for both players.

  • ILB Nick Barnett was placed on injured reserve Friday, two days after he underwent surgery for a right wrist injury he suffered in the Week 4 win over the Detroit Lions. Desmond Bishop made his second straight start in Barnett's absence in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

  • TE Jermichael Finley is a candidate to go on injured reserve, but the team still is waiting to make a decision on whether to keep Finley on the 53-man roster. He's expected to be out at least 8-10 weeks after having surgery Oct. 12 for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers, cleared to play a week after he sustained a concussion for the first time, went 18 of 33 for 313 yards and a touchdown with an interception Sunday. He was sacked a season-high five times.

  • OLB Clay Matthews didn't play Sunday after being held out all week because of an aggravated left hamstring strain he sustained in the previous game. The Packers are hoping to have Matthews, who came into Week 6 with a league-high 8.5 sacks, available for the Sunday-night matchup against the rival Minnesota Vikings.

  • DE Ryan Pickett was out Sunday because of a right ankle sprain that also kept him out of the last game. Rookie C.J. Wilson made his starting debut in Pickett's spot at left end.

  • DE Mike Neal aggravated a shoulder injury in practice Wednesday and didn't play Sunday. The rookie was in line to be the starting replacement for Pickett.

  • OL Bryan Bulaga made a second straight start at right tackle in place of veteran Mark Tauscher, who is out indefinitely because of a shoulder sprain. Bulaga, a rookie, struggled Sunday when matched up against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake, who had three sacks.

  • ILB Brandon Chillar was sidelined for the third straight game because of a shoulder sprain. Chillar, a key contributor in the sub packages on defense, suffered a setback in practice last week after getting back on the field for the first time since suffering the injury Sept. 27.

  • CB Sam Shields returned to action Sunday after missing the previous two games because of a calf injury. The undrafted rookie returned to the role of nickel back that he had before getting hurt.


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