NFC North Notes

The Bears' first-round pick fails to find a contributing role in Week 3, the Lions gained first place in the NFC North without playing a game, and the Packers' youthful mistakes are rubbing off on the old veterans. Get those stories and many more notes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.


Rookie running back Cedric Benson left waterlogged Soldier Field with a spotlessly clean uniform Sunday, just one week after getting 16 carries for 49 yards.

"I don't want to get down about it or get upset about it," Benson said. "I just try to take it in stride and keep rolling."

Because the Bears were in catch-up mode most of the afternoon, and because starter Thomas Jones (106 yards on 27 carries) was running effectively, circumstances were not conducive to getting Benson in the game.

The fourth overall pick in this year's draft was on his way out to the field late in the game to give Jones a breather when he was called back in favor of Adrian Peterson, who caught a seven-yard pass on the next snap.

"We were going to put Cedric in," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "The only reason we put Adrian in is because it was a nickel situation, and it was a pass-protection deal that he is (more) ready to handle right now. If it was a normal situation, Cedric would have gone in."

It was the first time in three games that Benson didn't get a touch. Even in the season opener, shortly after he reported 36 days late, Benson carried the ball three times.

He carried the ball 1,112 times at Texas, and the inactivity is a new experience.

"It's a change, definitely," he said. "It's a different situation, but it can be handled, and I'm going to handle it and move on. It's a little bit tough. As a competitor, as a player, you want to be out there making something happen, especially when the team's losing. My time will come."


  • The Bears' defense came into the game with six sacks, but got to Carson Palmer just once, and the extra time allowed the Bengals' quarterback to throw three TD passes without an interception.

    "He had time to throw," Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "Some of their play-action bought them good time. We were geared up to stop the run, which we did do a pretty fair job of."

    The Bears allowed just 83 yards on 34 carries (2.4-yard average).

    "We would like to have had more pressure, but the play action kind of froze us," Rivera said. "We stopped the run. Unfortunately, the result was they got away with a couple of big pass plays. (Palmer) threw the ball very well."

    Palmer's lofty passer rating of 130.3 was his sixth straight game over 100.

    Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who didn't practice until Friday because of a sprained ankle, had the Bears' only sack.

    "A lot of it was (Carson Palmer) just throwing it up," Ogunleye said. "Sometimes you've just got to cover somebody. At the same time, I guess, since it's a team effort, we didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback."

    After Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson left the game early in the second quarter with a strained back, Ogunleye, who had four tackles, played against Bengals backup guard Scott Kooistra. Anderson's regular backup, Stacy Andrews, was inactive.

  • Even though he's a rookie learning on the fly, quarterback Kyle Orton said he doesn't spend any time worrying about his competition, even after a horrible outing like he had Sunday. Bears coaches said they didn't consider replacing Orton with veteran Jeff Blake.

    "I never worry about that," Orton said. "Whenever I'm on the field, I'm trying to score points and trying to move the offense. I think I'm the quarterback of this team. I don't have any fear of being pulled or looking over my shoulder. "Lovie (Smith) has already talked to me about that. I didn't play well today, and he decided not to make a change, and I'm glad because I like to be out there. It's one of those things that you've just got to fight through, and it's tough."

    Orton also said his teammates have been supportive.

    "(Smith) says I'm the guy, and they're behind me," Orton said. "I think the offense is behind me, and (so is) the defense."

    Orton's five interceptions were two less than the Bears' record set on Oct. 2, 1960, by Zeke Bratkowski, whose son Bob is the Bengals' offensive coordinator.

  • WR Justin Gage did not catch a pass Sunday, and although he has started all three games, he has just two catches for 31 yards. He also bobbled away a good throw that ended up being Kyle Orton's first interception.

  • WR Bernard Berrian, who was expected to challenge for a starting spot, was shut out for the second straight Sunday and has just one catch this season for nine yards.

  • CB Charles Tillman, supposedly the Bears' best cover corner, was burned for touchdown passes to Chad Johnson and rookie Chris Henry. Tillman also committed a pass interference penalty that gave the Bengals a first-and-goal at the three-yard line.

  • CB Jerry Azumah is healthy enough to return kickoffs, but he has not been given his starting job back on defense, where he has been replaced by Nathan Vasher. Azumah has remained at nickel back.

  • RB Cedric Benson didn't get to touch the ball Sunday. He carried 16 times a week earlier when the Bears routed the Lions, but he didn't play a down in the 24-7 loss to the Bengals.


    The bye week was good to the Lions this year.

    While taking their four-day bye week break, they gained sole possession of first place in the NFC North — which pretty much makes them the San Diego Padres of the NFL.

    The Lions returned to work Monday facing the same uneasy situation they faced when coach Steve Mariucci last saw them last week — a 1-1 team coming off an embarrassing 38-6 loss to the Chicago Bears and looking ahead to a road game at Tampa Bay.

    "It was nice to take a breather and kind of clear your head for a minute," quarterback Joey Harrington said, "but all weekend I wished we were righting wrongs. I'm anxious to get back on the field this weekend."

    Harrington apparently wasn't the only Lions player who felt that way. Their first practice after the bye week was crisp. Mariucci had them in pads and there was some lively hitting, especially in the first half of the workout.

    "There's an old cliche: A day off is followed by an off day," Mariucci said. "Sometimes, when you lay around on the couch like we all did this weekend watching a lot of ball, you come back and you've got to get cranked up again.

    "Boy, they came back to practice today. Hoo, they came out to practice. We put the pads on, so we had a padded practice last week on Wednesday, we had this one, we're going to do it again this Wednesday. So there's a lot of real quality work.

    "I thought today's practice was really good, really good energy. I kind of kidded them, I said, ‘Maybe we should have four days off more often.' "

    The alternative — had the Lions not reported enthusiastic and ready to work — might have been Mariucci showing them a replay of the Chicago game, and that was obviously something no one wanted to suffer through again.

    The next three weeks are likely to go a long way in determining which way the Lions will go this season — up or down from their 1-1 start.

    After the road game against the 3-0 Bucs, they will be at home against two of the better defensive teams in the league — Baltimore on Oct. 9, and Carolina on Oct. 16.


  • Kicker Jason Hanson, who had his 209-game consecutive streak broken when he sat out the Chicago game with a hamstring injury, was given a little more freedom after four days of rest over the Lions' bye weekend.

    He did some easy running, went through the kicking motion with his ailing right leg and indicated there is a chance he will be able to play Sunday when the Lions play at Tampa Bay.

    "Hopefully, this is the week," Hanson said. "We'll know more on Wednesday, but obviously now I'm past those first phases where I'm doing some running and doing some stuff.

    "I know it's there, but no pain. We've held off as long as we can. I think Wednesday's the day we're going to come out and kick some."

    Hanson was hurt in the Lions' season opener against Green Bay; he returned to kick an extra point and a short field goal, but did not play in the second game, at Chicago.

  • Former NFL wide receiver Shawn Jefferson, who played with the Lions in 2003, is back with the team, but in a completely different capacity — as a mentor to the team's young receivers.

    Jefferson spent training camp with the Lions on an NFL internship, returned this week after the bye, and will continue indefinitely as a coaching intern.

    "He talked to his wife about doing this," coach Steve Mariucci explained. "His family's back home — without dad, right now — and they're good with it, because he wants to pursue coaching as a career and we love having him here."

    Jefferson played seven games with the Lions at the age of 34 and caught just six passes for 46 yards before going on injured reserve.

    "I mentioned it to him when he was back home," Mariucci said. "I said, ‘Do you have any interest in coming back?' And he goes, ‘Absolutely.' He wants to pursue coaching, and this is a great opportunity for him."

  • After playing as poorly as they did in the 38-6 loss to Chicago before the bye, the Lions' coaches had plenty to work on when the players returned to work Monday.

    "We tried to zero in on a few of the things we feel we need work on and there were several," coach Steve Mariucci said. "So that's how the practices have gone."

    The Lions practiced three days last week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) before getting four days off for the bye weekend.

    "We only had one period, really, with the Tampa cards. The rest of it has been pretty much working against each other with some blitz, with some run game, some play action stuff, some special teams areas, some very competitive seven-on-sevens."

  • K Jason Hanson was more active in practice Monday, and hopes to test his strained right hamstring when the Lions return to work Wednesday in preparation for their game Sunday at Tampa Bay. Hanson missed the Chicago game with the hamstring injury, but had the bye week to rest the injury and believes he has a chance to play against the Bucs.

  • FB Cory Schlesinger is seven weeks beyond his broken left fibula, but it appears unlikely he will play Sunday at Tampa Bay. Schlesinger was on the practice field and did some light running Monday, but coach Steve Mariucci wants him to get a full week of practice before he returns to the lineup.

  • FB Casey FitzSimmons, the Lions' backup tight end, has taken a few reps at fullback to give the Lions additional depth at the position while FB Cory Schlesinger continues his comeback from a broken fibula.

  • DE James Hall, who suffered a groin strain in the Lions' Sept. 18 game at Chicago, did some work in the individual portion of the Monday practice, but was held out of the rest of the session to rest the injury.

  • CB Fernando Bryant, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder in the Lions' game at Chicago on Sept. 18, will see team physicians this week to determine if he will be able to get by with rehab and therapy or if he will require shoulder surgery to correct the problem.


    The bumbling, fumbling, stumbling early-season ways thought to be strictly the doing of the team's decidedly younger set have rubbed off on what little is left of the old guard.

    The Packers on Sunday suffered their third loss in as many games, 17-16 to visiting Tampa Bay, in great part because of a series of glaring miscues committed by their grizzled leaders.

    "You don't expect mistakes to come from guys you've always been able to depend on," head coach Mike Sherman lamented Monday.

    Quarterback Brett Favre, the longest-tenured Packer in his 14th season, remained a culprit for the third game in a row. He offset two long touchdown passes in the first half with three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that curbed Green Bay's efforts to overcome an early 17-6 deficit.

    Favre acknowledged afterward that he may have to tone down his vintage style of playing with reckless abandon and not force throws into coverage. He's coming to grips with the realization that his surrounding cast, devoid of injured playmaker Javon Walker for the rest of the season, isn't good enough to bail him out, as other receivers had a knack for doing in the past.

    "I always say I'm still the starting quarterback for Green Bay, and they expect me to lead this team to victory and to make plays and occasionally make plays maybe that are not there," said Favre, who has committed eight turnovers, including a career-worst seven interceptions for an opening three-game period.

    "I think the only difference is now you can't make plays — try to make plays that are not there — and not get away with it. You take a gamble and it doesn't pay off, you can't do that. We were able to overcome those (in previous seasons). Now, we're not able to overcome them. It's different, and it's hard to change the way I play because I want to be aggressive and I know I have to score points. It's such a fine line now."

    Fullback William Henderson, at 34, one year younger than Favre, felt that he set the tone the latest mistake-filled outing. His first rush since late in the 2002 season resulted in a fumble recovered by the Bucs in the first series of the game.

    Tampa Bay turned it into a 12-play touchdown drive that put them ahead to stay at 7-0.

    The Packers promptly responded with a 37-yard touchdown throw from Favre to Robert Ferguson. However, a high snap from Rob Davis and an equally uncharacteristic wide kick by Ryan Longwell cost the Packers the tying extra point.

    The two-pronged blunder involving the 36-year-old Davis and the 31-year-old Longwell proved to be the difference on the scoreboard.

    "I wasn't perfect. I'm paid to be perfect," said Davis, who has been the team's long snapper since 1997. "I prayed the whole game that point wouldn't come back to bite us, and it did."

    The extra-point miss was only the fourth of Longwell's nine-year pro career and snapped his franchise-record streak of 156 conversions, dating to late 2001.

    "We expect to make every single kick we try. It's alarming when we don't," said Longwell, dubbed "Mr. Dependable" by Sherman.

    The Packers' all-time scoring leader also was off the mark with a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter that kept the Bucs ahead 17-13.


  • Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley checked himself back into a Green Bay hospital Sunday following the Packers' 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay at Lambeau Field.

    Rossley, 59, was taken from the stadium by ambulance to the hospital shortly before kickoff after experiencing pains in his upper chest and shoulder area. Tests done were negative, and Rossley returned to occupy his seat in the coaches' box for the final three quarters of the game.

    Head coach Mike Sherman said Monday that Rossley still had some tension in the shoulder/chest area after the game and went back to the hospital, where he stayed overnight for further evaluation. Rossley was due to be released and able to return to work Monday afternoon.

    Sherman didn't anticipate Rossley having a reduced workload this week ahead of next Monday's game at Carolina, pending results from the tests.

    "If, in fact, those tests showed something that would cause him to be in a diminished role this week, we would certainly go in that direction," Sherman said.

    Sherman took over the play-calling duties from Rossley after he underwent an emergency angioplasty to clear a blocked artery five games into last season. Sherman has continued to handle most of the play calling this season.

  • Sherman said Monday that he won't abandon taking deep shots to his receivers down the field, never mind that Brett Favre is off to his worst three-game start with seven interceptions.

    Favre had three passes picked off Sunday, including two costly ones in the fourth quarter on heaves intended for Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson, respectively. The ill-advised seam throw to Driver was into triple coverage.

    "We have to be able to stretch the field to get people to play honest," Sherman said. "Do we want interceptions? No. But, when we take our shots, we have to make them count, that's for sure."

  • LCB Ahmad Carroll was beset with swelling in a knee following Sunday's game. He was to undergo an MRI exam, though the setback isn't believed to be serious.

    Carroll had a solid game in his return to the starting lineup in the base defense after being demoted the previous week because of four penalties in the opener. The second-year player made an impressive interception of a fourth-quarter pass by Brian Griese, giving the Packers their first takeaway of the season.

    "He played very well and certainly (is under) consideration to start this week," Sherman said Monday.

  • CB Joey Thomas, whom Carroll replaced as the starter opposite Al Harris, was deactivated Sunday because of recurring symptoms from a mild concussion he sustained in the Sept. 18 game.

    Thomas, who was bothered by headaches all last week and had difficulty functioning amid bright lights, will be further evaluated Wednesday.

    "I can't honestly say where he is right now," Sherman said.

  • TE Bubba Franks, who missed the first game of his six-year career Sunday, isn't likely to return to practice until later in the week.

    The three-time Pro Bowl player is nursing a bruised left knee sustained in the Sept. 18 loss to Cleveland.

  • WR Donald Driver sprained an ankle in the game Sunday and probably won't practice when the team reconvenes Wednesday.

  • LDE Aaron Kampman suffered a bruised quadriceps in Sunday's game and probably will be held out of practice Wednesday.

  • NT Grady Jackson expressed frustration after the game Sunday about not being on the field for the first series of the second half. Colin Cole replaced Jackson in the base defense.

    Sherman, though, said Monday that Jackson was hampered by a tight hamstring that he had to stretch out on the sideline.

    Jackson played 19 snaps in the second half after he logged 21 in the opening two quarters.

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