The Redskins and Bears entered Sunday's game in similar situations.
Both teams had strong defenses and young, inexperienced quarterbacks. Common sense should have dictated that the offensive game plan rely heavily on running the football to take pressure off the quarterback. But only the Redskins followed that plan. They ran 40 times for 164 yards. The Bears ran 18 times for 41 yards.
Bears offensive right tackle Fred Miller cited multiple reasons for the failure of the running game.
"The Redskins were giving us some different looks where we didn't have a guy blocked and sometimes the running backs have to make someone miss or find the right hole," Miller said. "Normally there's a couple holes that the running back can choose from, but when there's just one and he doesn't hit it, then you have a bad play, and sometimes we just didn't block it up."
The only surprise in the outcome was that the Redskins didn't win by a greater margin than 9-7.
The Bears have invested approximately $88 million in their offensive line in salary and bonuses, and coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner have repeatedly stressed that they want to be known as a running football team. But the Bears called almost twice as many pass plays (31) as run plays.
Smith admitted they should have run the ball more.
"There are a lot of things we probably should have done," the Bears' coach said. "When you lose, you look at a lot of things that you would like to have done differently. We would like to have run the ball better. (But) once you can't get the running game going, you know you have to rely on the pass a little bit when you're behind. But we've said all along that we'd like to be a running football team so, yes, we probably should have run it more."
Both defenses knew that they would be facing offenses that needed to establish a presence on the ground, and neither offense found much success in the first half. The Bears' Thomas Jones rushed nine times for 22 yards, a 2.4-yard average. The Redskins' Clinton Portis rushed 12 times for 35 yards, a 2.9-yard average. Neither team had a run of longer than 8 yards.
The difference was the Redskins stayed on the ground in the second half, when Portis broke a 41-yard run and had 86 of his 121 yards. Jones got just 6 more carries for 9 yards, and rookie Cedric Benson added 10 yards on 3 attempts.
Benson's workload will increase Sunday against the Lions and, unlike in the opener, he will get in the game before the fourth quarter.
Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris recovered the ball at the Bears' 19, ending a Redskins scoring threat, firing up the visitors and riling up the partisan crowd of 90,138. The hit also knocked Ramsey out of the game with a neck injury. But the Bears' offense went three-and-out, and because the hit was in the vicinity of Ramsey's head, Briggs could face a fine from the league, although he wasn't flagged on the play.
"As far as I'm concerned, I made a play," Briggs said. "Whatever they say is whatever they say. When I go in to make a tackle, especially in a critical moment like that, when they're going in to score and we have the opportunity to get off the field, you make that play. (Ramsey) tried to duck underneath, I brought my arm right up under his chest, and he fell back and the ball came loose. As far as I'm concerned, it was a legal hit."
That's the way middle linebacker Brian Urlacher saw it.
"He shouldn't get fined," said Urlacher, who also had a sack and tied with Mike Brown for the unofficial team lead with 9 tackles. "If they don't throw the flag, how can they fine him? I don't understand the NFL. It's weird how they work sometimes. It was a good hit. The referees didn't think it was a penalty, so it must not have been a big deal. It was a great play if you ask me."
Mark Brunell, who replaced Ramsey, didn't think so.
"In my opinion the hit was illegal," Brunell said. "It was a pretty shady blow to the head."
At lower levels of football, coaches punish players prone to penalties by making them run stadium stairs, which Bears coach Lovie Smith said isn't a bad idea.
"I guess we could probably run stairs, too," he joked. "Why can't you do it? I guess we don't have any (stairs) out there."
Smith is dead serious about reducing the number of infractions, though. Three consecutive false start penalties torpedoed a fourth-quarter opportunity.
"They have to stop," he said. "If a guy continues to do it, then you have to look elsewhere. I think we'll be able to take care of that. I'm not going to blame the crowd or anything like that. We play in noisy stadiums always. We had problems with the penalties, but I don't think that will be a problem the rest of the way."
All summer, the Lions have been looking for something substantial, something on which they could pin their hopes for a competitive season in the NFC North, and they might have found it in their season-opening 17-3 victory against Green Bay.
For months, the focus has been on the offense — quarterback Joey Harrington, budding star running back Kevin Jones, wide receivers Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams (all first-round draft picks), and veteran tight end Marcus Pollard.
Could they move the ball consistently? Could they be productive in the red zone? Would Harrington blossom in his fourth NFL season?
The prevailing sentiment was — and still is — that the Lions offense is still a work in progress with coach Steve Mariucci and first-year offensive coordinator Ted Tollner tinkering with personnel, play selection and adjustments in their West Coast offense.
The defense was the wild card, but — judging by the initial performance against longtime tormentor Brett Favre — it might be something the Lions can lean on while they continue to develop their offense.
The Lions defenders held the Packers to 46 net yards rushing, intercepted Favre twice, sacked him four times (three by defensive linemen) and held the Packers without a touchdown for the first time in 77 games. The three-point production was Green Bay's lowest output since Favre took over as the starter in 1992.
"They did a great job of giving us field position, getting us the ball, keeping Green Bay out of the end zone ... they kept us in the ball game," Harrington said. "I told every one of them that and I'll tell them again: The defense kept us in the ball game."
The result is that the Lions got an important win against a division opponent and got off to the kind of start they needed to eliminate at least some of the self-doubts that are part of their 16-48 record over the past four seasons.
They will go to Chicago with a 1-0 record — alone on top of the NFC North — with a chance to tack on another win against another team experiencing the struggles they have endured in recent seasons.
If the defense can continue to play at the level it established in the season opener, their chances seem to be improving.
"That was a big statement," said Holt. "And that's what we try to do all the time. We just try to go out and play. Like I was telling some of the guys, we're a blue collar city and we're a blue collar defense.
"We may give up a few yards here and there, but the most important thing is to keep them out of the end zone. We were able to do that today (against) a great offense that can beat you in so many ways. They're able to run the ball, they're able to pass the ball, they have a great quarterback, a Hall of Fame quarterback."
Holt, who got some playing time late in his rookie year but has basically waited two seasons for a chance at a starting job, made the best of his first start as the No. 1 free safety.
Although he was not credited with any tackles, he was around the ball in coverage most of the game. He broke up a pass, intercepted Packers' quarterback Brett Favre late in the game, and also recovered teammate Kenoy Kennedy's fumble following an interception earlier in the game.
"It he's throwing to me, I feel like I should catch it," Pollard said. "He told me, ‘I'm coming to you, I'm coming to you; get open.' And it happened. He threw the ball and I caught it."
Pollard was happy with the touchdown catch, but he was still displeased with himself for dropping the ball he had caught as he crossed the goal line two plays earlier. Strong safety Mark Roman arrived a split-second after the ball and knocked it loose.
Pollard had been open for several steps and it was suggested that perhaps it would have helped if Harrington had gotten the ball to him more quickly, but he rejected the notion.
"He had to go through a play-fake, find the safeties and then find me," Pollard said. "The ball comes out, (but) I should have caught it. The guy made a great play knocking it loose from me, but I feel like I still should have caught it."
"Can't tell you that," coach Steve Mariucci said Monday.
It appears, however, that Jauron, the former Chicago head coach, will be upstairs for game 2 Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field.
"I think he liked it," Mariucci said. "I think it went smoothly enough; he may continue it."
The Lions felt it was especially important for Jauron to have the press box vantage point for the game against the Packers.
"He had been down last year and he had been down during the preseason," Mariucci said. "We put him upstairs so he could see personnel coming on and off the field. The Packers do a good job of changing their personnel groups, doing it late enough so it's difficult to match, so he felt he would have a better vantage point being up, seeing all that, making the call and we signal it to the other coaches."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Quarterback Brett Favre raised eyebrows and drew some criticism in NFL circles during the spring when he openly rebuked teammate Javon Walker for skipping the team's off-season workouts because of unhappiness with his contract.
Among Favre's harsher sentiments about the Pro Bowl receiver's ploy was, "We can win without him."
Four months after he made the utterance, Favre and the rest of the Packers will soon discover if they indeed can start winning without their top wide receiver.
Head coach Mike Sherman confirmed Monday afternoon that Walker will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Walker sustained the injury the midway through the third quarter of a 17-3, season-opening loss at Detroit.
Surgery has yet to be scheduled for Walker, who returned on the team's chartered plane Sunday night in a wheelchair.
Life after Walker this season for the players and coaches began in earnest Monday.
As difficult as the loss of Walker was a horrendous showing by the offense, which had its league-best, five-year-old streak of scoring a touchdown in 77 straight games snapped. Despite recent events, Sherman said there won't be a pity party at team headquarters.
"I don't think there's going to be desperation in the locker room," Sherman said. "There's disappointment for him personally and for our team, but you have to be able to move on.
"Certainly, his impact as a football player and as a person in that locker room is huge. But I think our team will be fairly resilient in regard to that. People are going to have to step forward. When you have an injury like this, as difficult as it may be, it's an opportunity for other people."
General manager Ted Thompson and his staff were exploring Monday whether any help can be had at receiver on the waiver wire or through a trade.
For now, the Packers will prepare Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson to be their primary receivers against Cleveland on Sunday.
Ferguson, who was outspoken in the preseason about not being utilized enough and was the subject of trade rumors with Philadelphia, will get a golden opportunity to prove he's a top-flight playmaker. His highest output his first four years in the league was a mere 38 receptions for 520 yards and four touchdowns in 2003.
"Just like Javon at some point, the light clicked on," said Sherman, referring to Walker's breakout season last year with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs. "‘Fergie' for us this year has to step up and be that big-play receiver. I talked to him about that after the game (Sunday) and how we have to be able to count on him."
It remains to be seen, however, if Ferguson has completely moved past his season-ending head and neck injuries late last year. A vicious clothesline hit by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius left Ferguson temporarily paralyzed.
In Sunday's opener, Ferguson appeared to hold back from going for a low throw from Favre over the middle, which allowed safety Kenoy Kennedy to make an interception in the fourth quarter.
Since Ferguson will assume a bigger role in the offense, Sherman must decide whether to risk keeping him involved as a kickoff returner and a valuable coverage guy on special teams.
Murphy was deactivated for Sunday's opener at Detroit because he's not 100 percent recovered from a torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury sustained Aug. 17. Murphy returned to practice last week. Sherman is hopeful another week of practice will have Murphy ready for the home opener against Cleveland this Sunday.
The second-round draft pick from Texas A&M would be the No. 4 receiver behind Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman.
Sherman believes the speedy Murphy can be a threat running after the catch.
"I like everything about him. He hasn't done anything to make me nervous about him yet," Sherman said. "But he hasn't played a whole lot (because of the injury). So, we'll see."
Carroll, whose penchant for excessively grabbing receivers tainted his rookie season last year, was penalized four times Sunday for either illegal hands to the face or holding. Three of the infractions were enforced.
After watching game tape, Sherman called two of the penalties against Carroll "ticky-tacky." However, the coach acknowledged that Carroll's aggressive reputation is costing him in bump-and-run coverage.
"I don't want to say they're targeting him," Sherman said of the officials. "But, obviously, they're aware of him, and I'm sure any head coach that we play makes the crew aware of him, as well.
"As I said to him, he has a history and that history lives with him. There is no excuse."
Sherman wouldn't say whether Carroll has lost his starting job for the next game, with Joey Thomas a candidate to slide in. A decision is expected to be rendered Wednesday.
"They certainly have to live up to expectation in order to maintain their positions," Sherman said.
Klemm and Whitticker were part of an offensive line that struggled in pass protection and was hit with five penalties.