If form holds, the Bears' beleaguered defense will be just what the Raiders' offense needs to revert to its Super Bowl form of last season.
The toothless and defenseless Bears have been a cure-all for each of their three opponents this season, all of whom have soundly defeated them while scoring 111 points, an average of 37 per game.
An extra week of preparation didn't help the Bears in their Monday night embarrassment against the Packers; now they will see if one less day of practice is any benefit against the Raiders at noon Sunday in the second game at the new Soldier Field. They'll also try shaking up the lineup on defense.
The offense was expected to struggle, with a revamped offensive line that has been further weakened by injuries plus the addition of new starting quarterback Kordell Stewart. But the defense still had most of the starters from the 2001 group that allowed the fewest points in the NFL. It was expected to hold the fort until the offense jelled. Instead the defense has been a huge disappointment.
"We seem to take turns breaking down," coach Dick Jauron said. "If it was one thing, you could fix it. But it just seems to rotate around, a different guy all the time."
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache threatened late Monday night to make changes in the starting lineup, and he followed through on Wednesday.
"I know I wasn't really happy with a few people on the field," Blache said. "We have seven guys on the field who played on the (2001 NFC Central) championship team, and I don't think the other four are that big of a factor."
In three straight losses this season, none of the Bears' defensive players have been much of a factor. Now, strong-side linebacker Bryan Knight is headed for the bench in favor of rookie Lance Briggs, although it was Briggs' missed assignment that resulted in the Packers' block of a Brad Maynard punt, which turned into Green Bay's second touchdown. The Bears' cornerback play -- R.W. McQuarters and Jerry Azumah -- has been tremendously disappointing, and so rookie Charles Tillman will replace Azumah. McQuarters, who signed a $21 million contract extension at the end of the 2001 season, had a chance to make two interceptions Monday night but came up with neither. Supposedly a playmaker, McQuarters has just one interception in the Bears' last 21 games.
"In terms of turnovers it's always a combination of things, it's not just a position," Jauron said when questioned about the play of the cornerbacks. "It's got to be everything; the nature of the game, the nature of the risks that the other team has to take to try to beat you, clearly the pressure on the quarterback. (It's) all those things combined, and they haven't been there."
Pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been almost nonexistent. The Bears have a grand total of three sacks this season, compared to their opponents' 13.
"There's not a lot of reason right now for the opponent to take a lot of risk, so they don't," Jauron said. "They throw the ball on their terms. We've got to get that turned around. The only way to do that is consistency everywhere because field position is part of it, and everybody is involved in that. And then you've got to score more points, make the game close and make the opponent aware that you are going to score."
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher continues to be much less of a factor than you would expect for a $50 million player and one with such a high national profile. He could have prevented Ahman Green's 60-yard TD run which turned the game the Packers' way, but he took a bad angle to the play and was a step late arriving.
Urlacher's total of four tackles is inexplicable for a middle linebacker, especially one who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his three previous seasons.
"We get them in third-and-2, third-and-3," Urlacher said. "We need a stop and we don't get it. When it comes down to it they make the plays and we don't. We had good calls on we just didn't execute our offense."
The killer was with 10:47 left in the game after the Bears had closed to within 24-16. The Packers had a third-and-1 at the Bears' 45, and Ahman Green picked up 32 yards to set up another Green Bay touchdown.
"I don't understand why we can't play better," Urlacher said. "We're prepared to play, we just don't. We go out there and have screw-ups, we have busted assignments and we just have to quit making the same mistakes over and over. Our coaches get us ready and that's all they can do for us."
That's too bad because the Bears' defense doesn't seem to be able to do much for itself.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
By that time, Kordell Stewart had already thrown 10 passes, which picked up just 22 yards, and he had also been sacked twice for minus-6 yards. Stewart also had also run twice for 10 yards. Coach Dick Jauron was asked to explain the delay in getting "The Train" on track.
"Once we got some consistency, then we could start feeding him the ball," coach Dick Jauron said of an offense that picked up 1 first down in the first quarter. "Clearly I thought Anthony ran decisively. I've always felt he's faster than people think, and I think it showed up on the field. He's worked at it too; he's worked very hard."
Thomas, who had a 67-yard TD run Monday night and a 34-yard run in Week Two, declined to demand sole ownership of the running game. But his production recently would dictate that, and it will probably happen.
"I feel lighter," said Thomas, who has dropped a few pounds since last season. "I feel a little faster. The main thing now is trying to bounce back and get some wins."
"We have to prove to ourselves that we're a good team," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We had a chance to prove it (Monday) night, and we didn't do it. We went out there and laid a big one. We just did not play well."
Coach Dick Jauron considers the confidence game a "chicken or the egg" dilemma, but he believes confidence is a byproduct of consistent play.
"The only way you can get that feeling is to win," he said. "I've often said I don't know what comes first, the feeling that you're going to win all the time or winning. Once you start winning it does become contagious and you do believe you're going to win. But in order to win, you've got to be consistent, and we're not a consistent football team right now, on either side of the ball or in our kicking game too. Once you get that then you gain confidence."
BY THE NUMBERS: The Bears have lost 15 of their last 17 games. They went 14-3 in the 17 games before their 33-19, first-round playoff loss to the Eagles on Jan. 19, 2002. Since then, they are 4-15.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to run the football. We ran it fairly well (Monday) night for what it's worth. When you lose, you look for something to hang your hat on. Well, we did that fairly well, but we have to do that to win." -- Bears coach Dick Jauron on the running game that netted 181 yards Monday night.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
No. 3 wideout David Terrell finally got the extensive playing time on Monday night that has mostly eluded him during three inconsistent seasons with the Bears.
He made the most of it with a game-high seven receptions, which tied his career best, although they netted just 48 yards.
Terrell, however, did nothing to change a common perception that he's an immature head case. After picking up five yards on a first-half reception, Terrell taunted the Packers' defense, even though the Bears trailed 24-9 at the time. Packers players noted as much, pointing out the scoreboard to Terrell.
On the next play, the physical and emotional Terrell was called for holding during what would have been a 60-yard TD run by Anthony Thomas.
"It was a bad play, but he's a very aggressive guy," coach Dick Jauron said. "That's what we like about him. He came in there with the intent to block. He probably didn't get under control quickly enough, and the player started to get away and he pulled him down. That's it. There's not a whole lot more to say about it. It was clearly a big play. It was close to the point of attack. I don't know if it affected the play, but it was close. I certainly have no argument with the call."
Of all the angles to be considered in their game Sunday at San Francisco, there is none more important for the Lions than the most elemental of all concerns: They need a win in the worst way.
The Lions launched the season with a 42-24 victory over Arizona on their home field. It wasn't a work of art exactly but it was enough to give some encouragement that a turnaround might be developing.
Since that day, virtually nothing good has happened to the Lions.
They have lost three in a row and flaws have surfaced, left and right:
All things considered, it is little surprise Mariucci hasn't been able to bring the Lions out of their three-season road losing streak, which has now reached 18.
A loss Sunday at San Francisco would not only drop them deeper into the NFC North depths but would move the Lions into a tie with Tampa Bay (1983-85) and Atlanta (1988-1991) for the third-longest road losing streak in NFL history, with the all-time record of 23 (Houston, 1981-84) within striking distance.
So Mariucci will have to be excused if he's trying to steer clear of stories focusing on his return to San Francisco, where he coached six years before being fired last January by John York; the sudden and unexpected fall of the 49ers onto hard times -- they're 1-3 after finishing 10-6 and going to the playoffs last year; and the soap opera involving 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
Mariucci took the 49ers to the playoffs four times in six years as their head coach before being fired abruptly by owner John York after the 49ers were blasted by eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs last January.
The mere mention of the incident -- and the way it was handled -- is enough to make Mariucci uneasy.
"To be quite frank I don't even enjoy talking about it," he said, "and if I start thinking about it, I try to change the channel and get it to the here and now. And I think that's important -- I'm not talking about a coach, I'm talking about a human being -- for one's state of mind.
"Because I can't dwell on that. Because if I do, I'd probably have a bad day."
Mariucci admits, however, that the firing had a major impact on his life.
"It was unusual, it was surprising, shocking," he said. "I didn't plan for it. Professionally, physically, emotionally I didn't plan for it. But when I think about it, I don't think about that day so much.
"There were six years before that that were awesome. I don't need to tell you that I have fond memories, great learning experience, relationships, colleagues, former players, coaches, fans -- I love them.
"Not only did I love working for the organization, I enjoyed living there. I was a citizen there and my family enjoyed it as much as I did. Those are the things I think of more than the one crazy day."
Harrington, who has been playing the piano since he was four years old, got 87 percent of the votes from viewers who registered their votes on the Internet, while San Diego defensive end Marcellus Wiley got 13 percent for his rapper act.
The NFL players don't go solo in the competition.
Harrington played piano backup for John Popper of Blues Traveler on "Felecia." Wiley rapped with DMC on "Now, Now."
"The kid can play," Popper said. "I thought he was going to suck."
Harrington's segment was taped during a concert he organized in Portland to raise money for his charitable foundation, which aids families and children.
Harrington apparently bumped the shoulder on a run in the Lions game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 21. He missed no practice time and played every offensive down Sunday at Denver but speculation grew after tight end Mikhael Ricks said on a radio show Monday night that Harrington did not throw in the Monday afternoon practice because he was resting his shoulder.
The mystery deepened Wednesday when Harrington practiced but backup Mike McMahon took the first offense in the two-minute drill at the end of the day's work.
Under normal conditions with the Lions trying to break a three-game losing streak and an 18-game road losing streak, it would be expected that the No. 1 quarterback would run the two-minute drill.
"Mike hasn't done a two-minute drill in a long time," Mariucci said. "He got some reps last week, too, Mike did."
Harrington shrugged off questions about his shoulder but said his right forefinger -- dislocated in the same Minnesota game -- is his only concern.
"I didn't do anything to (the shoulder)," Harrington said. "It's bumps and bruises, it's the game of football. There's nothing. No story.
"The finger? It's getting better. It's not coming along as quickly as I'd like but I don't think anybody's injuries progress as fast as they'd like them to."
As for the shoulder injury, Harrington laughed when asked directly if it had been jammed in the Minnesota game.
"No," he said. "I don't know what else to say? You want to talk about the bruise I got on my leg or the ding I got on my hip? It's part of the game of football. You get little bumps and bruises throughout the year and you play with them.
"I made every throw I wanted to on Sunday and felt good."
BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- Career interceptions by Lions CB Dre' Bly in less than five full NFL seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Let's be honest, it's different than going to Houston or Jacksonville or somewhere else. It's a place where I'm familiar. I know half the people in the stands, I'm familiar with the players." -- Coach Steve Mariucci on his return to 3Com Park to play against the 49ers on Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Lions are still a man short on their roster after putting CB Andre' Goodman on injured reserve with a dislocated shoulder a week ago.
And apparently they will stay that way for their game Sunday at San Francisco.
Injuries have left them with a patched-up cornerback crew. Dre' Bly is the only anticipated starter still in the lineup after the loss of Chris Cash (knee) and Goodman. Veteran Otis Smith has moved into the other starting job with Jimmy Wyrick, Alex Molden and rookie Roderick Babers in backup/nickel and dime roles.
Former Lions CB Terry Fair, who spent the final 13 games of the 2002 season on injured reserve at Carolina, was in for a workout Wednesday but there is no indication if president Matt Millen is considering an immediate move in that area.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Ahman Green is the NFL's second-leading rusher after the first month with 442 yards in 78 carries. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, who leads with 611 yards, has had 94 carries.
Other top backs with more carries than Green are Miami's Ricky Williams (93), San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (90) and Kansas City's Priest Holmes (84). Seven teams have played just three games whereas the Packers have played four.
On Sunday, the Packers will showcase Green against his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, when the two teams meet at Lambeau Field. The Packers obtained Green from the Seahawks the day before the 2000 draft in exchange for cornerback Fred Vinson and a sixth-round draft choice. The Seahawks threw in a fifth-round choice.
When Green is on the field the Packers will get his absolute best. He just won't be on the field as much as in the past. For a month now we've seen a calculated gamble by coach Mike Sherman and his staff. At the very pinnacle of his career, Green has been given almost carte blanche to determine when he should play and when he should rest.
Early in the year, Najeh Davenport was Green's primary backup. After Davenport fell into the doghouse for fumbling, Tony Fisher became No. 2.
Sherman the coach knows every snap he can get from Green gives the Packers a better chance to win. But Sherman the coach and general manager has thought long and hard about the law of diminishing returns. As difficult as it must be for him, he arrived at a course of action to reduce Green's weekly workload with the hope that he would be fresher down the stretch and possibly even extend his window as a great back.
"We found out last year that if we're going to run the football 28, 30 times a game for 16 games, and to keep him at maximum efficiency, you've got to rest him," running backs coach Sylvester Croom said. "You've got to pick your spots and he's got to come out."
The Packers' arrangement is simple and straightforward. As Croom put it, "Whenever he needs a break he can come out."
At this point, Green has been given one proviso: if possible, stay in the game when the Packers have the ball inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Croom, who works from the coaches' box upstairs, communicates via headset to Edgar Bennett, the club's director of player development who functions on the sidelines as assistant running backs coach. The backs that aren't in the game stay close to Bennett, who substitutes based on Croom's preferences.
In a style almost devoid of emotion, Green gives the bench ample time to make changes. If he's a long way from the Green Bay sidelines, he will raise his left hand or tap his chest. If he's nearby, he simply starts to walk off.
Why, in the words of one scout, does Green "look like a beat dog" when he comes off, takes a knee or almost gasps for breath along the sideline?
Obviously, it isn't for lack of condition. The Packers say Green and Donald Driver are in the best shape of anybody on the roster. Green adheres to an intense, regimented routine that includes warm-up drills, stretching, rehabilitation and maintenance.
Exhaustion might come quicker for Green than other backs because of his punishing running style and the extreme effort he routinely expends.
"His standards are much higher than any other guy," said Bennett, who ranks ninth on the club's all-time rushing list. "To the deepest gut he's going to give you everything. So if he comes off then obviously there's nothing there at the time."
Green's recovery time seems to be a minute or two. When he's ready, he takes the field again.
The concept of giving one back virtually all the carries goes back only a decade or so. Walter Payton, whose toughness and demeanor are emulated by Green, never got more than 63.1% of the carries in a season because he played in a legitimate two-back system.
Last year, three backs had a much higher ratio of their team's rushes than anyone else in the NFL. New Orleans' Deuce McAllister had 95% in the 15 games that he played, Buffalo's Travis Henry had 90% and Tomlinson had 87.1%. All of them are 24 and now in their third seasons.
The Packers won a Super Bowl with Bennett and Dorsey Levens switching off but won a lot of games with a one-man gang, too. Bennett carried 86.3% in 1995 and Levens got 83.3% in '97 and 79.3% in '99.
Croom, the offensive coordinator during Barry Sanders' final two seasons in Detroit, let Sanders carry it 82.5% in 1997 and 88.6% in '98. The upside was incredible but there was a downside, too.
"He'd rest when he was running routes," Croom said. "Everywhere I've been, if the first guy plays every snap, he will rest in the game somewhere. Go back and look at some of Ahman's patterns last year when we left him in there all the time. It wasn't intentional, but subconsciously that's where he took his rests. That hurts you in the passing game. I'd rather him do it on the sideline than on the field."
Croom would feel a whole lot less comfortable seeing Green standing idle if he didn't have faith in Davenport and Fisher. He says Davenport has as much if not more ability than James Stewart, who had 87.4% of the carries for him at Detroit in 2000. He also insists that there is no drop-off between Fisher and Green on third downs.
At least the Packers don't have to worry about having a Pro Bowl player with an easily-bruised ego. In his dual role Bennett works hand-in-hand with almost every Packers player and his family, and his fondest wish is that more players would be as unselfish as Green.
"To have more than one running back and having him coming off the bench will help the team overall," Green said. "When I do need a breather, I get a breather and not try to be Superman out there."
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
Johnson, who signed a six-year, $33 million contract in March 2002 to leave the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent, has no sacks, one-half knockdown, two hurries, no batted passes and six solo tackles in 220 plays.
Nwokorie, who signed a two-year, $1.755 million deal in April to leave the Indianapolis Colts in April, has one-half sack, 3 1/2 knockdowns, one hurry, one batted pass and eight solo tackles in 102 plays.
It doesn't take a mathematician to see that Nwokorie has been a far more effective pass rusher than Johnson. It also doesn't take a genius to know that Johnson really would have to go into the tank before the Packers would bench him.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell denied that salary would play any bearing on whether Johnson or Nwokorie started at power end. The Packers won't say it, but there is no way at this time they are going to give up on a player with a $6.5 million signing bonus in favor of a player with a $500,000 signing bonus.
That just isn't the way things work in the NFL.
"I came here to be a role player," Nwokorie said. "That's a decision that probably comes from coach (Mike) Sherman and whoever else is in charge of that. I just come out and do my job."
Johnson, 6-3 1/2 inches and 275 pounds, has used his strong hands and overall strength to anchor adequately at the point of attack. His pass rush, however, has been one feeble charge after another with a good burst or move mixed in about once or twice a quarter.
"I need to play a lot better run and pass," Johnson said. "But I've been playing the run better than I've been playing the pass."
One of Johnson's problems, at age 31, might be too much playing time. He played 86.5% of the downs in his four full games last season and 82.8% in his three full games this year.
"I don't need to play all of them, no," Johnson said. "I'd be a lot fresher. That's the goal, but if games go a certain way you end up definitely in there in the fourth quarter."
Another of Johnson's problems is that he usually lines up farther off the ball than the other defensive linemen and then consistently comes off the ball later than his teammates. Johnson said he plays deeper because the officials have warned him about crowding the ball.
"The bottom line is, if he isn't close to the ball we want to get him close to the ball," Donatell said. "We want any competitive edge we can get."
Nwokorie, 6-3 and 277, suffered silently through the indignity of being inactive in the first game when the coaches went with Aaron Kampman and Jamal Reynolds as the sixth and seventh defensive linemen. He replaced Reynolds as the fourth man in the dime rush against Detroit and then played an even more prominent role against Arizona. Against Chicago, however, he played just 18 snaps.
When Nwokorie does hit the quarterback, usually it's the result of his outstanding hustle. Johnson hasn't demonstrated that kind of effort in Green Bay.
"He's an active player who plays with a lot of intensity," Donatell said. "He's a relentless worker. He does have some burst to close and he's a power guy."
It was the first blocked punt by the Packers since linebacker Seth Joyner stuffed one against Buffalo in December 1997.
"We haven't blocked a punt around here in years," coach Mike Sherman said. "That was exciting to be able to do that.
"We're doing some things on special teams that are aggressive. The players are responding to the schemes we're running."
Bonamego has made dramatic tactical changes in both the kickoff and kickoff-return units.
"We've tried to keep an even keel, so to speak," he said. "Our fans will be up and down. That's their role as fans. As players and coaches we want to just stay even and take this win for what it's worth.
"You don't panic when you lose and right now we're not going to beat our chests and say this and that."
"He's just got to be on the receiver, find the ball and make a play," Washington said. "It's something we work on every day. I think the more he does it the better he will become."
Jue allowed three passes of 20 yards or more. McBride never allowed more than 20 such plays in his career.
"Tod did play pretty good," Washington said. "I think (Jue) has more talent than Tod. Both of them are pretty smart. I think he'll end up better than Tod."
"It's about as heavy as I want to be," he said. "For now."
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Number of Ahman Green's runs of 50 yards or more as a Packer. It's a club record, breaking the mark of four set by Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'll tell you what. We need to (keep it up). We have the people in place who can do that. With the corners we have, the way Mike (McKenzie) and Al (Harris) break on the ball, we can be aggressive like that and force the issue." -- S Darren Sharper on the Packers' wild blitzing against the Bears.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Packers made a trade Tuesday, sending a conditional seventh-round draft choice in 2004 to Dallas for wide receiver-kick returner Reggie Swinton.
Acquiring Swinton gives the Packers an opportunity to look at a faster, more polished alternative to Antonio Chatman, the team's kickoff and punt returner.
Swinton, 28, lost his return job to rookie Zuriel Smith after the first game and probably was going to be cut.
Chatman has been solid fielding the ball but has done too much dancing on returns.