NFC North News

The Bears are feeling confident after a win against the Vikings while the Lions are considering benching Joey Harrington. What's new, right?


In an amazing coincidence, Bears rookie quarterback Kyle Orton finished Sunday's game with the identical number of completions (16) and passing yards (117) and the same solid passer rating (84.9) that he had a week earlier against the Browns.

The big difference was in the outcome of the two games. In the 28-3 victory over the Vikings, Orton and the offense proved that they could capitalize on opportunities. The way the Bears' defense and special teams are playing, they're likely to get a lot more.

Against the Vikings, the Bears' four TD drives covered 49, 3, 62 and 1 yards.

"I thought we really took advantage of the short field, and that was important because we do get great field position with our defense," Orton said. "It's tough to go 80 yards on a drive, I don't care what offense (it is). But when you get the ball at the 50-yard line, that's when you have to put points on the board. We did that, so I'm really happy about that."

After a conservative game plan against the Browns, the Bears talked all week about airing it out, stretching the field and opening things up. They did — a little. On the first play of the game, Orton barely overthrew an open Muhsin Muhammad on a deep post. Halfway through the fourth quarter, safely ahead 21-3 and at midfield, Orton went deep to Muhammad again. This time, he was picked off by Minnesota's Corey Chavous at the Vikings' 15-yard line.

So, at the end of an efficient performance that included 2- and 3-yard TD passes to tight end Desmond Clark, Orton still didn't have a completion longer than 16 yards. The job is clearly Orton's, but for now, the job is to manage the game, not to win it.

"I think they trust me," Orton said. "I threw a pick, but it was in a situation to take a chance, so that's not too bad. The better I play, maybe the more opportunities I get to throw the ball. But trust-wise and putting me in a situation where they're going to say we can't throw the ball because we don't trust this guy to take care of the football, I'm not worried about that."


  • Bobby Wade gambled — and the Bears won big.

    The offense was struggling mightily, having managed a total of 38 yards with 3:32 left in the first half, and the Bears were trailing the Vikings 3-0.

    So Wade risked fielding a punt at his own two-yard line, even though that's usually a no-no. In most situations, returners are supposed to allow the ball bounce into the end zone for a touchback and let the offense start at the 20.

    But Wade brought it back 49 yards to set up the Bears' first touchdown, which was all the scoring they needed in a 28-3 victory.

    "We needed a spark and it came," Wade said. "That was the spark that we needed."

    Wade entered the game leading the NFL with a 12.4-yard average, and he had 3-for-63 yards Sunday. Coach Lovie Smith did not complain about Wade's gamble.

    "That punt return was huge for us at that point in the game," Smith said. "Bobby Wade continues to do a good job for us."

    As a rookie in 2003, Wade fumbled a punt inside his 10-yard line and spent the next four games on the bench. But he said he couldn't resist this opportunity.

    "You're not supposed to catch it within the 10, but we knew (Vikings punter Chris Kluwe) was hanging the ball up, we knew he was out-kicking his coverage, and we know that our punt-return team, the other 10 guys, can hold them up at the line of scrimmage. The rest is just running where you need to run."

  • For the first time in his three-year NFL career, backup defensive end Michael Haynes, the Bears' first first-round pick in 2003, was a game day inactive. Haynes has struggled this season, getting limited playing time behind both defensive end starters and accumulating just eight tackles, including one solo. He was replaced by Israel Idonije, who was active for the first time this year.

    "Yeah, I'm surprised," Haynes said. "It was a shock. But hey, we won the game, so look on the bright side."

    Haynes was selected 14th overall, eight picks before Rex Grossman was chosen. That left the Bears with just three of their own first-round draft picks on the field vs. the Vikings: linebacker Brian Urlacher (2000), defensive tackle Tommie Harris (2004) and running back Cedric Benson (2005).

    Haynes might have difficulty working past Idonije on the depth chart, since the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder can play end and tackle and also contributes on special teams.

    "No. 71 (Idonije) did a pretty dog-gone good job on special teams," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "That's probably one of the biggest factors, that ‘Izzy' worked special teams and did a tremendous job.

    "I know coach (Lovie) Smith had to make a tough decision on that. That's going to be up to coach Smith (in the future). He made the decision based on what ‘Izzy' gave us on special teams."

  • TE Desmond Clark had the first two-TD game of his career, catching scoring passes of three and two yards after missing the last two days of practice with flu-like symptoms.

  • WR Mark Bradley had just one catch for 15 yards in his second NFL start.

  • MLB Brian Urlacher had two sacks, giving him six for the season, more than any linebacker in the league, and tied for the second-most in his career. Only in his rookie year of 2000, did he have more, when he had eight.

  • FS Chris Harris had his first NFL interception; just one week after the sixth-round rookie gave up what proved to be the winning touchdown against the Browns.

  • CB Charles Tillman had his second interception of the season, after having been burned for four TD passes in the previous three games.


    The heat is on quarterback Joey Harrington — again — and the question coach Steve Mariucci is getting from every angle is whether Harrington will be his starter for the Lions' game Sunday at Cleveland.

    As of Monday — 24 hours after the 21-20 loss to Carolina in which the offense struggled unproductively — Harrington was still the No. 1 quarterback, but it was clear that Mariucci was thinking about a change.

    "I told the team we're going to look into every possibility of what we do, who does it, what else do we need to try, stay open-minded and stay creative," Mariucci said. "And find a way to get the ball in the end zone.

    "I don't necessarily care how, I don't necessarily care who, but that's one of the things we need to figure out, make decisions and go forward."

    There is no doubt that the Lions offense is muddled. They cannot run the ball effectively, cannot pass effectively and they currently have several key players — including fullback Cory Schlesinger, wide receivers Roy Williams and Charles Rogers, and backup quarterback Jeff Garcia — out of action.

    There is also no doubt that the fault does not fall entirely on the quarterback. The offensive line has been a major disappointment and the play-calling has been less than brilliantly creative.

    As usual, however, it is the quarterback who is taking the criticism, but Mariucci has very little flexibility in considering a change. Garcia is recovering from a broken left fibula and sprained ankle, and Dan Orlovsky is a rookie who has thrown only six passes in one NFL regular season appearance.

    "Whether it's a quarterback, whether it's a guard, whether it's your tailback, whatever the position is, if you want to make a change or try somebody else, you've got to have good reason and then you've got to have an alternative," Mariucci said.

    "If we were to choose to do that — if, I say — then we have to say, ‘Well, who is it? Who would it be?' And, if so, when would it be? And we haven't made that decision yet.

    "We have one guy that's been hurt, we have one guy that's a rookie and very under-practiced. The other alternative is to keep getting Joey better and better."

    Garcia was injured in the Sept. 2 pre-season game at Buffalo. He began limited practice last week, but it won't be known until Wednesday whether he has been cleared to participate in all of the team work.


  • Damien Woody, the former Pro Bowl center now holding down the right guard position on the Lions' beleaguered offensive line, knows what to expect next week in Cleveland, and probably for the remaining 10 games after that.

    Blitzes, blitzes and more blitzes.

    That's what the Lions got Sunday in their 21-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers and they didn't handle it well.

    "They were bringing it and they were bringing it a lot," Woody said. "Just like last week. They were bringing it."

    So Woody knows what's going to happen next.

    "I guarantee you Cleveland's going to do it, too. And Chicago — when we play them — they're going to do it again. Because this is a copycat league; everybody knows that. If teams have success bringing pressure and you can't capitalize on it, then it's going to keep coming every week.

    "It's like getting a field goal blocked. If a team blocks your field goal, you will see the same thing every week for about the next month."

    So far, the Lions have not shown they can take advantage of opponents' blitzes. The blitzes either get to quarterback Joey Harrington or they hurry him so badly he can't make a play, and — with the running game bogged down hopelessly — the Lions offense has been totally unproductive.

    The answer?

    "I don't know, to tell you the truth... I'll give the company answer — hard work," Woody said. "How about that?"

  • It has been said that every NFL game eventually boils down to three or four plays; the team that makes them wins, the team that fails loses.

    In the case of the Lions, they can point to two particular plays that could have changed their 2-3 record to a 4-1 record.

    The first play is tight end Marcus Pollard's sliding catch in the end zone at Tampa Bay. Officials ruled he did not have possession until his leg had crossed the line into out of bounds territory. Although some replays indicate he had possession while still in bounds, the Lions were denied the touchdown and lost the game, 17-13.

    The second play was a defensive lapse in the final minute of their 21-20 loss to Carolina on Sunday. Panthers backup quarterback Chris Weinke came off the bench after starter Jake Delhomme was injured and threw the game-winning touchdown to Ricky Proehl, who was open because the safety bit on the play action.

    The result is a frustrated Lions locker room.

    "I think they're frustrated in our record, they're frustrated in being close-but-no-cigar," coach Steve Mariucci said, during a discussion of possible lineup changes for the game Sunday at Cleveland.

    "Would we be having this conversation if we were 4-1? No. Change two plays in the season and we wouldn't be. I think the frustration lies with the record; losing and we're just tired of it. We all are. We're looking for reasons and solutions; that's where we are."

  • Rookie quarterback Dan Orlovsky is not campaigning for Joey Harrington's job as the Lions starting quarterback, but if he's asked to play, he says he believes he will be ready.

    "If I didn't, I think I'm in the wrong profession," Orlovsky said Monday. "My job is to be ready to play and have confidence in myself that I can get the job done. And I feel that way. That's my job."

    The Lions drafted Orlovsky in the fifth round and, although his only regular season experience was in the final minutes of a 38-6 loss Sept. 18 at Chicago, he showed potential playing in all four preseason games. He completed 29-of-54 passes (53.7 percent) for 356 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions and a 65.0 passer rating.

    With veteran Jeff Garcia out of action recovering from a broken left fibula and sprained left ankle, Orlovsky has been the No. 2 quarterback during the regular season, resulting in at least a few chances to work with the first offense during practice.

    It has been suggested by some that the Lions start Orlovsky to get a look at him in regular season play. He does not give the impression of being awestruck to be included in the discussion.

    "No matter what, it's the nature of that position to get more credit than you deserve and more blame than you deserve," Orlovsky said. "It's just like when a team's not doing well; a lot of fault goes to the head coach, no matter what sport it is.

    "When a baseball team's not doing well — like the Yankees, this year — everyone thought it was Joe Torre. It's just the nature of the position. Is it weird? Yeah, absolutely, but it's the nature of the position."

  • LT Jeff Backus, who hasn't missed a start since the Lions drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft, has a sprained left ankle and might not be in the lineup Sunday at Cleveland. Backus has started 69 consecutive games but, in addition to the injury, has struggled this season.

  • OL Kyle Kosier, signed as a backup to four offensive line positions, would probably get the start at LT if Jeff Backus (ankle) is unable to play Sunday at Cleveland. Kosier had been alternating with Rick DeMulling at LG until Backus was injured in the Lions' 21-20 loss Sunday to Carolina.

  • DE James Hall, who has missed virtually all of the past three games with a groin injury, is making improvement in his recovery, but it remains uncertain if he will be able to practice this week or play Sunday at Cleveland.

  • WR Roy Williams sat out the Lions' 21-20 loss to Carolina with a left quadriceps injury, but the Lions are hopeful he will be able to ease his way back into practice at some time this week in time to be ready for the game Sunday at Cleveland.

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