NFC North News

When the Packers and Bears get together for a divisional game, it's usually a fun event no matter the records. Find out the week's happenings from around the division, from injury updates to series matchups to celebrity sightings with Brian Urlacher in Las Vegas.

Statistically, the Bears' defense is the NFL's worst in points and rushing yards allowed per game and second worst in total yards allowed.

Historically, the defense has been manhandled by the Packers. Quarterback Brett Favre is 18-4 lifetime against the Bears and has beaten them at their home field nine times in a row. Green Bay has scored 24 points or more in 13 of the last 17 games against the Bears.

And, while talk of sniping among Bears defensive teammates has been overblown, it has occurred, providing distraction and the appearance of dissension on top of poor performance.

It appears the deck is stacked against the Bears as they prepare to christen rebuilt Soldier Field Monday night against the Packers.

But to Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, all is well.

"The one good thing is when the sniping does start, you take some lumps, (but) we huddle together," Blache said. "We pull in together. I love that atmosphere. I love us against the world."

Blache is already advocating a bunker mentality to help the Bears rally from an 0-2 start in preparation for Monday night's game, which could become a turning point.

"There's nobody you can trust but that guy next to you," Blache said. "What happens sometimes is we get comfortable with people from the outside, and I think it weakens us. When we're at our strongest is when things are against us and we have adversity and we do huddle together and count on each other. We talked about it (Wednesday) morning."

Despite the ineffectiveness of the first two games, not changes have been made in the starting lineup. Neither Blache nor head coach Dick Jauron has resorted to blaming individual players, but both have hinted that every player has to elevate his game.

Blache doesn't buy the contention that Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher hasn't made much of an impact this season.

"Football's a team sport and no one guy is going to carry the whole football team," Blache said. "We said all along we didn't want to be 'Urlacher and the Boys.' We want to be the Chicago Bears football team, and everybody's got to do their job and do their role. We need to all play better.

"We're here by our own doing, and the only way we're going to get out is to make a stand and get out together. We're not coming out one by one. We have to come out of this together. I'm confident we will come out of it. I'm not pleased with what's happened so far, but by golly we'll come out of this thing smoking."

Against the Vikings, the defense obsessed over the sudden death that wide receiver Randy Moss can inflict and instead wound up as road kill underneath 202 rushing yards. Against the Packers, Favre and running back Ahman Green make opponents respect both methods of transportation.

"You try to stop the run game, which is very effective with (Green)," Jauron said, "and then you've got to contend with one of the best quarterbacks who's ever played in the game. And the receivers (Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson) are good, and the tight end (Bubba Franks) we think is a tremendous player. So there's a lot to worry about there."

Blache just wants to make sure his defenders aren't worried about Packers from the past who have helped Green bay dominate what used to be a closely contested rivalry B.B. (Before Brett) but has turned one-sided lately.

"The only people we have to beat are the 22 people they put on the field Monday night," Blache said. "We don't have to beat (Vince) Lombardi or Curly Lambeau or anybody else. They don't have to beat any ghosts. If we take care of our job and do our things like they need to be done, I'll live with the outcome because I'm very confident it will be a positive outcome on our part."

SERIES HISTORY: 165th meeting -- Bears lead series 83-75-6 but the Packers have won 14 of the last 16 and nine straight as visitors. Packers quarterback Brett Favre is 18-4 lifetime against the Bears.

  • Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher on Wednesday addressed his weekend in Las Vegas with socialite model Paris Hilton.

    It was reported in the New York Post and Las Vegas Journal Review that the two were spotted together at the Bellagio hotel's night club and that the 21-year-old model got a piggyback ride from Urlacher after she broke a shoe.

    "I get to meet a lot of cool people, obviously with what I do," Urlacher said. "It was a coincidence that I got to meet -- obviously I think everyone knows who I got to meet -- so I got to meet her in Vegas, and we kind of hung out a little bit and that was about it. Everyone blows it out of proportion, but that's what happened.

    "I realize in my position that's the way it goes. Everything you do is put out there. I have to watch what I do I guess, I didn't do anything wrong, but that's just the way it goes."

    Urlacher is reportedly separated from his wife of three years, Laurie. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter Pamela.

    Urlacher has become one of the hottest commercial spokesmen in the NFL. He is part of national ad campaigns for Old Spice after shave, Campbell's soup and McDonald's, among others, but he said he doesn't believe his image has been tarnished.

    "People are going to think what they want," Urlacher said. "You can't really affect that too much. Obviously, I feel like I have a pretty good image so far. I don't think I've done anything to hurt that. I haven't done anything wrong, I haven't done anything bad criminally like that, so I feel like I have been doing a pretty good job."

    The Bears' defense, dead last in the NFL in points allowed per game, hasn't been doing very well. Urlacher has taken some of the criticism, although not nearly as much as some think he deserves. He said publicity over his Vegas vacation has had "zero" affect on his preparation for Monday night's game against the Packers.

    "We have a big game on Monday night," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I'm here to play football. That's my job. That's what I'm going to do. It doesn't bother me really what people say or what people suspect. That's how it goes sometimes, and you just have to deal with it.

    "I don't think there's anything negative about what I've been doing or what anyone is doing on this team. Maybe people are trying to find every little thing."

    Bears coach Dick Jauron also downplayed the situation.

    "It's certainly not a distraction for our football team," he said, "so I'm not worried about it with Brian."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 10-4 -- Bears record since 1990 in games following a bye. They are 6-2 in the last eight and 3-1 under Dick Jauron.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm not going nowhere. I've been through these types of situations before. The game is played on the football field, and that's the main concern. I just have to keep fighting and striving and trying to win and do the best I can." -- Struggling QB Kordell Stewart when asked if his confidence has taken a shot.

  • CB R.W. McQuarters is expected to remain as the punt returner after he had one return for 11 yards in Week Two, when he replaced rookie Bobby Wade.

  • WR Bobby Wade probably won't make it onto the active roster on Sunday until he reclaims the punt returning job that he lost after a fumble inside the 10-yard line in the season opener.

  • ORG Chris Villarrial could return to the starting lineup Monday night against the Packers, even though he was listed as doubtful on Wednesday's injury report.

  • ORG Corbin Lacina is expected to be demoted to a backup role if Chris Villarrial returns to the starting lineup two weeks ahead of schedule, although it's possible he could move to the left side and replace Steve Edwards.

  • OLG Steve Edwards is expected to hold on to his starting job even after ORG Chris Villarrial returns to the starting lineup, which could be as soon as Monday night, two weeks ahead of schedule. It's also possible that ORG Corbin Lacina could move into Edwards' spot once Villarrial returns.

    Three weeks into the NFL season it has become obvious the Lions have a struggle in front of them.

    Any thoughts of a pie-in-the-sky turnaround in the first season under coach Steve Mariucci went out the window about the time Ahman Green broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Lions' second game of the season.

    And nothing has happened since to change the outlook.

    In fact, the Lions prospects took another smack in the face last weekend -- just before they began preparations for their trip to Denver and a game against the undefeated Broncos.

    After playing relatively injury-free games against Arizona and Green Bay, the Lions lost starting left cornerback Andre' Goodman for the season with a dislocated left shoulder, lost punt/kickoff returner Eddie Drummond for at least a few games with right knee and ankle injuries, and might be without No. 4 wide receiver Shawn Jefferson, who suffered injured ribs.

    In addition, three other starters -- quarterback Joey Harrington (dislocated right forefinger), right guard Ray Brown (strained pectoral muscle) and tight end Mikhael Ricks (foot and knee) -- will be gimpy for the game at Denver.

    The most pressing problem is at the cornerback position, where Mariucci has lost three of the top four players he took to training camp two months ago.

    Projected starter Chris Cash suffered a season-ending knee injury, projected No. 4 cornerback Chris Watson was released after undergoing back surgery in training camp and now Goodman, the replacement for Cash in the starting lineup, is out.

    For a team already too thin on defensive talent (the Lions rank 30th in the NFL defensively), the loss of a second starting cornerback is another major hit. But Mariucci isn't making excuses.

    "You just find a way to get it done," he said. "There can't be an excuse. It's reality, and you've seen it a million times, where when somebody is out and somebody else gets an opportunity to show."

    There will be several players getting that opportunity for the Lions in Denver on Sunday.

    Mariucci is likely to choose between Otis Smith and Alex Molden as the starting left corner, with the other handling the nickel back work. Both Smith and Molden were signed off the street in the past month.

    It appears it will take two players to replace Drummond on returns. Mariucci said wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim will handle punt returns but he hasn't decided who the kickoff returner will be. Rookie running back Avon Cobourne is one of the leading candidates.

    SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The Broncos hold a 5-3 lead but this is only the second meeting between the two in the last 13 seasons. Denver won the last game, 17-7, on Christmas Day of 1999 with the help of a 185-yard rushing effort from running back Olandis Gary, who is now with the Lions.

  • With every interception Lions quarterback Joey Harrington throws, his critics seem to become a little more vocal.

    Most of the criticism is coming from the sports talk radio crowd, and the big complaint isn't Harrington's mechanical mistakes as much as it is the way he handles himself when things go wrong.

    Regardless of how terrible the outcome is -- and Harrington has thrown three interceptions in each of the past two games -- he somehow finds a way to put a positive spin on it.

    After the 23-13 loss to Minnesota, for instance, one of Harrington's comments was: "sometimes you're hitting them and sometimes you're not. I made a couple of bad decisions today and that's what hurt me. I don't feel any different."

    That obviously is not good enough for the Harrington critics. They want some fire and brimstone, a couple of profanities perhaps, and a lot of outrage. That's not what they get from the second-year quarterback and they apparently never will.

    "People can think whatever they want to think," Harrington said. "This is me. I've given you me from the start, from the day I showed up and told 'em it was `Orygun.' (Harrington played his college ball at Oregon and frequently has to correct Midwestern reporters on the pronunciation.)

    "That's me, that's what I do and I'm not going to change just because people are questioning my tactics and my leadership qualities, or how I go about it."

    Coach Steve Mariucci said he has no problem with Harrington's positive approach.

    "Joey happens to be a very positive kind of guy, and I fail to see the negative," Mariucci said. "I think he's a guy who's up, stays up. He believes in himself and his teammates. He thinks he can, thinks he can and thinks he will. And I tend to believe that's a good quality."

  • With the Lions struggling with a 1-2 record and Harrington's passer rating slipping from a first-week 116.0 to a second-week 66.6 to this week's 58.9, he is getting a smattering of boos when he's introduced to the Ford Field crowd.

    As is customary in NFL circles, the most popular quarterback on the team is generally the backup quarterback. For the Lions, that is third-year veteran Mike McMahon.

    Some Lions fans feel McMahon should have a shot at the starting job because of his scrambling ability, although his career completion percentage is 43.9 percent.

    McMahon got a big cheer when he came onto the field to replace Harrington for one play after Harrington suffered a dislocated right forefinger in the Minnesota game Sunday.

    The Lions were in a third-and-11 situation at the Minnesota 32, needing just a few yards to set up a Jason Hanson field goal that would have tied the game with less than a minute to play in the half.

    McMahon looked briefly for a receiver, then scrambled, giving up nine yards before being sacked and taking the Lions completely out of field goal range.

  • Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper was angry with Lions linebacker Wali Rainer, claiming Rainer hit him in the back with a cheap shot after Culpepper crossed the goal line on a two-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter of the Vikings' 23-13 victory Sunday.

    The Vikings indicated they would include the play among those they send to the NFL for review, but Lions linebackers Rainer and Barrett Green denied it was a cheap shot.

    Rainer said he thought Culpepper was still in the air when he hit him with his forearm. "He was going for the end zone," he said, "and we were trying to protect the end zone."

    Green said the quarterback could expect to be hit when he runs with the football, in effect becoming a running back.

    "As he was on the way down, maybe a foot from the ground, Wali caught him with a glancing blow," Green said after watching the game film. "That was the result of him running the football."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Quarterback Joey Harrington's rank on the NFL's all-time list of sacks-per-pass attempt percentage. He has been sacked only 10 times in 556 attempts for a percentage of 1.8, putting him ahead of Steve Walsh (3.04 percent) and Dan Marino (3.23 percent).

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's a good thing, though. That's a good thing that they're anticipating more success and so are we, hoping for it, depending on it. We are too." -- Coach Steve Mariucci on the high (perhaps unrealistic) expectations of Lions fans after back-to-back seasons of 2-14 and 3-13.

  • WR Az-Zahir Hakim will take over the punt return duties for injured Eddie Drummond when the Lions play Sunday at Denver. In his first five NFL seasons (including four at St. Louis), Hakim has returned 122 punts for an average of 11.7 yards and has scored three touchdowns.

  • RB Avon Cobourne hasn't returned a kickoff in a regular season game since high school but he will probably get a shot at that job Sunday when the Lions play at Denver. With KOR Eddie Drummond expected to miss several games with knee/ankle injuries, Cobourne is in line to take over the duties.

  • OG Ray Brown was listed as questionable for the Lions game at Denver with a strained pectoral muscle but he was practicing with the first offense when the team went to work this week. Brown has started every game since being signed by the Lions before the start of the 2002 season.

  • WR Bill Schroeder has a knee injury and it is uncertain if he will play Sunday in the Lions game at Denver. Schroeder, the Lions' second-leading receiver with 11 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown, apparently finished the Minnesota game despite the injury but had some soreness when he returned to work Wednesday and was held out of practice.

  • WR Shawn Jefferson is hoping to play in the Lions game Sunday at Denver but the outlook is not good. Jefferson suffered a rib injury and was kept out of practice Wednesday. He is having difficulty breathing because of the injury, although he said no ribs are broken.

  • WR Scotty Anderson was inactive for the Lions' game Sunday against Minnesota but -- with both Bill Schroeder and Shawn Jefferson hampered by injuries -- it is likely he will be active for the game next Sunday at Denver. Anderson has caught just one pass for 42 yards in the first two games.

    The Packers have owned the Bears, both in Illinois and Wisconsin, for a long, long time.

    It has also been a long time since the Packers came into Bear Week in as weak a position as they are now. Having been shocked by the lowly Arizona Cardinals Sunday, coach Mike Sherman is trying to put a positive spin on what is a 1-2 hole.

    "No, I don't see it as a hole," Sherman said Wednesday. "I see it as an opportunity for us to get a hell of a lot better. Fast. In life you have stimulus. This is a stimulus. Hopefully, we react to this stimulus.

    "Last year we started fast and finished poorly. Maybe this road we're going through right now is a test and can galvanize us a little bit and make us a little bit stronger. Obviously, coming to work when you win seven games in a row is pretty easy. But you're very analytical and critical and you put things under a microscope when you lose.

    "I'm hopeful we learn from our errors and get better."

    Will the Packers' domination of the Bears in Illinois end Monday night when the two teams meet in the first game ever played at new Soldier Field?

    "I don't think it will be a contest," an executive in personnel for another NFC team said. "The Packers proved (against Minnesota) that opening a stadium doesn't bring out every ounce of emotion in a team.

    "Green Bay played awful against the Vikings and got burned out in the desert, but they ran Detroit off the field. If the Packers are right I like them against most anybody."

    The Packers have won nine games in a row against the Bears in the Land of Lincoln (and 16 of the last 18 regardless of site), including four by rout and another by a comfortable 16-point margin. From 1974-'93, the Packers were 4-15 at old Soldier Field.

    After changing quarterbacks 23 times from 1999-'02, the Bears gave free agent Kordell Stewart a two-year deal March 14 that included a $1.75 million signing bonus. If he doesn't shape up soon the 24th change will be made to Chris Chandler. First-round draft choice Rex Grossman would then be next.

    "I don't know if Kordell's the answer, to be honest with you," an assistant coach for a recent Bears' opponent said. "But that's what they have, you know? It's just too early for them to play the rookie, I guess."

    The presence of the mobile Stewart hasn't changed the way the Bears are trying to operate under John Shoop, coach Dick Jauron's offensive coordinator since 1999.

    "John is trying to keep him in the pocket more and, quite honestly, I don't think he's ever going to be that type of quarterback," a defensive coach for a recent Bears' opponent said. "He's very talented but he can't beat you throwing the ball outside. If he won the job outright, you need to utilize his strengths."

    That assistant coach said he couldn't see the Bears beating the Packers right now. An assistant on offense for the same team disagreed.

    "Who would think Green Bay would go down and lose to Arizona?" he said. "Once teams start losing, they kind of pack it in a little bit. Early in the year, anything can happen. If things go the Bears' way they can do it."

    SERIES HISTORY: This is the 165th regular-season meeting. The Bears lead, 83-75-6.

  • The Packers are mired in a deep-ball throwing depression of historic proportions that is baffling to those involved and probably more damaging to the offense than any other factor.

    Quarterback Brett Favre can't buy a long completion. The team's wide receivers can't make a long reception.

    "First night of our team meeting at St. Norbert this summer Mike and Tom both said one of our points of emphasis would be the deep ball," Favre said, referring to coach Mike Sherman and offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. "I'm all for it. We have the guys to go do it."

    It made sense. After ranking third in the NFL with an average of 12.5 yards per completion in 2001, the Packers crashed to 27th with 10.6 in 2002.

    Just like the home run in baseball and the fast-break basket in basketball, nothing helps an offense more in football than the long bomb. In contrast to easy runs, easy points and easy yards, smallball in baseball, half-court offense in basketball and ball control in football require so much hard work.

    There is nothing more uplifting for an offense and nothing more devastating for a defense than the long, quick strike.

    Although the coaches might have talked about seeing improvement, things have only become worse.

    Until Craig Nall spun away from the rush and hauled off to whip a 57-yard bomb to Javon Walker with 3 minutes left in the Tennessee game, the Packers' longest completion in the exhibition season had been a 28-yard swing pass from Nall to Tony Fisher. Green Bay averaged 9.8 yards per completion, its lowest exhibition mark since 1992.

    In the first three weeks of the regular season the Packers have been even worse, averaging 9.9 yards. Since 1933, when the NFL first recorded statistics, the Packers' worst completion averages were 10.3 in both 1992 and '93, when the West Coast offense was in its embryonic stage in Green Bay.

    Coach Mike Holmgren's 1994 team improved slightly to 10.6. Then, over the next seven seasons, the Packers became a fully dimensional passing team capable of dinking-and-dunking or going long with the best of them.

    They averaged 12.2 yards in 1995, 12 in '96, 12.6 in '97, 12 in '98, 12 in '99, 11.3 in '00 and 12.5 in '01.

    When the Packers departed Champaign, Ill., early last October after their rout of the Chicago Bears, all was well. Donald Driver had just caught an 85-yard touchdown pass from Favre that had traveled 54 yards in the air and Terry Glenn ran by safety Mike Green for a 49-yard reception (43 yards in the air).

    Through five games Green Bay's average completion was 11.9 yards.

    In the 15 games since then (14 regular season, one playoff) the Packers are averaging 10.0 yards per completion. No one has caught a pass 30 yards or more downfield from Favre since that Monday night at the University of Illinois, and only 10 of his completions have been caught between 20-29 yards down the field.

    The contrast between those numbers and 2001 are shocking. In 18 games that season Favre completed 27 passes with catch points of at least 20 yards downfield, and nine of the 27 were caught at least 30 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

    Rossley predicted that a turnaround was just around the corner.

    "I'd like to have this conversation with you in about eight weeks," Rossley said. "We're ready to make that jump on the deep ball. I don't think you can judge us until further down the line."

    Rossley based his optimism on what he feels will be a solid rushing attack for the second year in a row, improvements made by young wide receivers Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker, and Favre's diligence in trying to throw deep more accurately.

    "If you're not running the ball well there's going to be dual safeties and it's hard because you've got a safety to either side to help on the deep ball," he said. "We will be a good deep ball team because we're going to be a good running team."

    Donald Driver is the Packers' primary deep threat and is nearing 100% health. He has had a neck problem.

    "Our young guys are very capable," Rossley said. "I've got great confidence in Javon Walker on the deep ball. 'Fergy' has got to get better at it."

    A personnel director for an NFC team agreed with Rossley's assessment.

    "I know one thing: those guys can get from A to Z in a hurry," the scout said. "Watching their tape, you don't see the emphasis on the deep game as much, but when you watch (Favre) throw up those deals at the end of the half, it ain't the arm's that the problem. That arm can still go as far as it needs to go."

    Favre said, "I feel like I can throw it as well as anyone." But of the seven long passes that Favre has thrown in Weeks 1-3, three were badly overthrown and none were caught.

    Over the years, Favre usually has had a home-run threat at wide receiver. Robert Brooks certainly became that, as did Andre Rison and Don Beebe in the mid-1990s. Antonio Freeman beat a bunch of good cornerbacks deep in his prime. Bill Schroeder made his share of plays down the field, too.

    Possibly the best pure deep that Favre ever had was Corey Bradford, someone who could run the sideline take-off route, blast by a cornerback and go get the ball. In 2001, he had catch-points on receptions 56, 47, 47, 33 and 29 yards downfield.

    Sherman tried hard to re-sign Bradford in March 2002 but he went to Houston, where last year he had touchdown catches of 65, 52, 39, 37 and 29 yards plus an 81-yard reception.

    "Corey would go up and take the ball with his strong hands," Rossley said. "A lot of them are stalemates. If the quarterback gives him a good ball it's who goes up with the strong hands. That's how Donald has gotten some deep balls."

    After two games the Packers' longest completion has been a meager 17 yards downfield. Favre says size and speed alone aren't enough to make a capable deep threat.

    "There's some guys who can't adjust on the deep ball even if they're wide open," Favre said. "We know our guys can run. Can they adjust and run by guys?

    "The ball will not always be right there. It may be underthrown a little bit. But a lot of times that's to your advantage if the guy is smokin' down and the corner is fightin' to get back there and all of a sudden you adjust back."

  • Linebacker Torrance Marshall is less than a week away from being able to rejoin the Packers after his four-game suspension ends for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He has been staying at a hotel in Pittsburgh and working out at a sports camp since his departure Aug. 29.

    "We've talked just about every day," linebackers coach Mark Duffner said. "I've been told we can't talk any football. I'm just trying to see how he's doing from a personal standpoint and that he knows that we're still here and care about him."

    Marshall has told Duffner that he is attempting to simulate some of the Packers' practice drills.

    "I feel good about everything he's telling me and I'm going to trust him," Duffner said. "He feels like he's getting stronger with the lifting. I think he will come in stronger and probably in better shape than when he left.

    "He's chafing at the bit to get back. He sounds good."

    The Packers have just five linebackers on their roster but would have to remove another player from the roster to activate Marshall.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 47 -- Receiving yards that fullback William Henderson had against Arizona. It led the team. It also was Henderson's 142nd game for Green Bay, counting playoffs. Never before had he led the team in a game.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a terrible feeling. This is a game we felt we should have won. It's one thing to get outplayed, but it's another for them to want to win worse than we did." -- G Mike Wahle on a 20-13 loss to Arizona.

    Defensive end Joe Johnson, who has not played well at all through three weeks, was removed from the dime pass rush in Arizona.

    The Packers went with Jamal Reynolds at end along with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Chukie Nwokorie along with Cletidus Hunt at tackle. Johnson, who had been playing inside with Hunt, is healthy but just not doing much.

    Coach Mike Sherman benched used Tony Fisher as the only backup running back behind Ahman Green in Arizona. He is upset with Najeh Davenport, heretofore the No. 1 backup. Davenport put the ball on the ground three times against Detroit and Sherman is trying to teach him a lesson.

    The Vikings have listed quarterback Daunte Culpepper as doubtful for Sunday's game against the 49ers. While Culpepper is moving much better with those four bone fractures in his lower back, don't be surprised if all of the Vikings' hints about him possibly playing this week are nothing more than a smokescreen for the 49ers.

    Remember last week when coach Mike Tice said, "I like to run the football. I think it builds toughness in your team. If it were up to me, I'd run it only two times a game."

    Those comments came three days after the Vikings ran 39 times for 202 yards in a victory over the Bears. Four days later, the Vikings played the Lions and called four rushes for their running backs in the first half and 15 for the game. Backup quarterback Gus Frerotte threw two 72-yard completions, one to Randy Moss to set up a field goal and the other to Kelly Campbell for a touchdown.

    With 4:57 left in the first half of the Lions game, Culpepper suffered four fractures of the transverse processes, which are the small lateral projections that extend on each side of the vertebra. They serve as points of attachment for muscles and ligaments, which help control the flexibility of the spine.

    It's a painful injury, but not as serious as it sounds. It usually takes two to six weeks to heal. But the Vikings were quick to argue that Culpepper's high threshold for pain makes it reasonable that he could play against the 49ers.

    "It's an injury you certainly can play with," Tice said.

    While it's possible, logic says the Vikings aren't going to put their $102 million quarterback in a game at the Metrodome a week after he fractured four bones in his back.

    But if Culpepper were simply ruled out of the game, the 49ers' preparation would be much easier. Frerotte and No. 3 quarterback Shaun Hill don't scramble.

    The 49ers could eliminate all of the containment plans they have to install and work on in practice.

    The Vikings' eight touchdowns in the red zone lead the NFL. That's because teams don't have enough bodies to cover the Vikings' spread offense and still have someone big enough to stop the 264-pound Culpepper when he tucks the ball and runs up the middle.

    Culpepper leads the Vikings in rushing touchdowns with two. Both came in the first half against the Lions. Both also came on quarterback draws from the spread offense near the goal line.

    The second run is the play in which Culpepper was injured. Linebacker Wali Ranier's elbow caught Culpepper's lower back after Culpepper was on the ground in the end zone.

    Frerotte and Hill wouldn't have reached the goal line on either play Culpepper scored on. The 49ers know that. So do the Vikings, which might be the only reason they're saying Culpepper might play on Sunday.

    SERIES HISTORY: 41st meeting. The 49ers hold a 21-18-1 advantage, but the Vikings are 11-9 at home, including 4-3 at the Metrodome. The last time the Vikings and 49ers met was Oct. 24, 1999 when the Vikings won 40-16 at the Metrodome.

  • The Vikings and Seahawks are tied for the longest regular-season winning streak in the NFL. Each has won six consecutive games dating to last season. The Vikings and Broncos are the only 3-0 teams with two road victories.

  • FS Brian Russell, one of eight players who leads the NFL with three interceptions, played quarterback at Penn and San Diego State. Current 49ers QB coach Ted Tollner is the man who switched Russell to defensive back during his junior year at SDSU.

  • QB Gus Frerotte, who probably will start in place of the injured Daunte Culpepper (back), joined Fran Tarkenton as the only Vikings to have two completions of 70 yards or more in the same game. Frerotte completed 72-yarders to Moss and Kelly Campbell in last week's 23-13 victory over the Lions. The Vikings announced during the game Frerotte was the first to accomplish the feat. But further research turned up Tarkenton's passes of 76 and 70 yards against the Rams on Nov. 19, 1972.

  • WR Randy Moss has played against the 49ers only one time. He caught one pass for 24 yards.

  • DT Chris Hovan has only four tackles in three games, including one solo. But he doesn't think he's having a slow start. "What do people want me to do when I'm getting doubled all the time, and sometimes there's three guys on me?" Hovan said. "I'm not Superman."

  • The Vikings' secondary has all eight of the team's interceptions this season. Last season, when the Vikings had 16 interceptions, the secondary had 11.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1964 -- The last time a Vikings' punter had averaged at least 47.7 yards per punt in a game before rookie Eddie Johnson did it against the Lions last week.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Daunte is kind of the man of steel to me. Coaches always tell you you're one or two plays from playing, but this kind of drives it home." -- Vikings third-string quarterback Shaun Hill on starter Daunte Culpepper, who fractured four bones in his lower back and probably won't play against the 49ers this week.

    Backup quarterback Gus Frerotte threw a 72-yard pass to Randy Moss on his second play after replacing the injured Daunte Culpepper (back) during Sunday's 23-13 victory over the Lions.

    However, the timing between Frerotte and Moss was so bad, Moss had to wait for the ball to come down and was tackled inside the 10-yard line. The Vikings had to settle for a field goal.

    There's a reason the timing was off. It's never been on. Frerotte doesn't practice with Moss because Culpepper likes to take most, if not all of the reps with the first team in practice.

    Frerotte is working with the first team this week, but his timing with Moss won't get any better. Moss isn't practicing because of back spasms. He wants to practice, but coach Mike Tice won't let him until his back is sufficiently rested.

    Moss will play against the 49ers and Frerotte likely will start in place of Culpepper. Don't expect Moss to have any long touchdown receptions.

    Frerotte is more comfortable throwing to receivers further down the depth chart. Players such as Kelly Campbell. Campbell, the No. 4 receiver, started last week in place of the injured D'Wayne Bates (foot). He caught a 72-yard touchdown pass while never breaking stride.

  • QB Daunte Culpepper suffered four fractured bones in his lower back. He didn't practice Wednesday and won't practice Thursday. He might be able to practice Friday, but don't count on it. The Vikings list him as doubtful, but that's probable more of a ploy to keep the 49ers guessing. It normally takes two to six weeks to heal from this type of injury.

  • WR Randy Moss, who has been playing with back spasms since the season-opening victory at Green Bay, didn't practice Wednesday and won't practice Thursday. He actually likes to practice, and might convince coach Mike Tice to let him participate in Friday's lighter workout. Moss is listed as questionable, but definitely will play.

  • DL Billy Lyon strained his left calf against the Lions and did not practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable, but don't expect him to play. The Vikings will activate DL Chuck Wiley to take his place.

  • LB Nick Rogers strained his right buttock against the Lions, but he'll probably play against the 49ers.

  • FS Jack Brewer, who hasn't played since suffering a chest injury in the final preseason game, is expected to return this week. He's the Vikings' best special teams player.

  • Doug Chapman, who has missed two consecutive games because of a high-ankle sprain and sore Achilles' tendon, will be probable this week. He practiced Wednesday.

  • WR D'Wayne Bates bruised his foot against the Bears two weeks ago and did not play against the Lions. He'll be probable this week. He started running again on Monday and practiced Wednesday.

  • RB Michael Bennett fractured his foot in the offseason and is still on the physically unable to perform list. His foot specialist in North Carolina will determine next Wednesday whether Bennett will be able to run. Bennett said he's hoping to start running next Thursday, and return to practice during the Vikings' bye week in two weeks.

  • SS Corey Chavous already has tied his career-high for interceptions in a season with three. As a former cornerback, he's exactly the kind of new-look cover safety defensive coordinator George O'Leary wants.

  • QB Shaun Hill is more ready for action than most No. 3 quarterbacks. He spent the offseason in NFL Europe, leading the league in passing yards (2,256) and finishing second in touchdown passes (13). The Vikings feel comfortable with him serving as Gus Frerotte's backup should injured quarterback Daunte Culpepper (back) not be able to play.

  • K Aaron Elling admits to having lost some of his confidence. He missed a 37-yard field goal attempt against the Lions. He also bailed out on a PAT when he saw a bad snap. Holder Gus Frerotte said he could have gotten the ball in place for Elling to kick.

  • LB Henri Crockett, who plays on the strong side, is having a quiet season. He has seven tackles, 20 fewer than WLB Chris Claiborne and 18 fewer than MLB Greg Biekert.

  • TE Byron Chamberlain returns after the 49ers game from an NFL-imposed suspension for using ephedra. Coach Mike Tice already has warned Chamberlain he risks being cut if he isn't in shape.

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