NFC North Notes

Thomas Jones continues to produce for the Bears despite the lack of a supporting cast, but the Lions and Packers are both trying to overcome a rash of injuries. Get the news and notes from the Vikings' division rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears' offense continues to lurch along inconsistently despite the contributions of running back Thomas Jones, who already has 641 yards on 134 carries, and is on the verge of career numbers after just six games.

The most amazing aspect of Jones' season is that he's been able to produce such impressive numbers without the benefit of a complementary passing game. The Bears entered Week Seven ranked 30th in passing yards and average gain per pass, and it's doubtful they moved up by virtue of the 133 aerial yards they accumulated against the Ravens on 31 passing plays.

Nevertheless, Jones rambled for 139 yards on 25 carries, a 5.6-yard average, boosting his season average to a very respectable 4.8 yards per carry. The six-year veteran, who has never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, is on pace for 1,709 yards this year.

Jones has played the past two games wearing a brace to stabilize his sprained right knee, and he's taken a pain-killing injection before each game.

While the Bears aren't doing much in the passing game to help Jones, rookie quarterback Kyle Orton has been efficient and is avoiding mistakes. He's thrown just one interception in the past three games while tossing four touchdown passes.

"We know that if the offense moves the ball effectively, we don't necessarily have to put up 400 yards and 28 points every week for us to win," tight end Desmond Clark said. "Would we like to? Yes, but we know we don't have to, because we have a defense that's going to limit teams to a minimum amount of points. As long as we keep moving the ball like we're moving it and provide something for the defense to work with, we'll be OK."

But there are times when the Bears' offense, even with Jones, is less than OK. It had minus-6 yards for the entire second quarter on Sunday. Most of the third quarter wasn't much better. On their final scoring drive, which resulted in Robbie Gould's 23-yard field goal with 2:52 left that put them ahead 10-6, the Bears moved the ball 29 yards, while Ravens penalties moved them 30 yards.

NOTES

  • Defensive lineman Michael Haynes, who was inactive last week for the first time since being drafted in the first round in 2003, was back on the field Sunday, and he showed up at critical times.

    Haynes stopped Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for a 2-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, he and tackle Alfonso Boone split a sack with the Bears clinging to a 10-6 lead.

    After sitting out last week in favor of defensive end Israel Idonije, Haynes got a blunt critique of his early-season performance from general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith. It hit home.

    "It was a very humbling experience," Haynes said. "They really told me what they thought and what their expectations were, and they expressed that I was not meeting their expectations, and that's the reason that I didn't dress."

    With the Ravens expected to pound the ball on the ground, the Bears wanted an extra lineman on the field, so backup ends Haynes and Idonije were both active.

    "We realized it was going to be a big defensive game, so we needed all of our horses," Haynes said. "So coaches made sure we had all of our guys available."

    Haynes believes he raised the level of his performance, but he won't find out exactly what the coaches think until today's film review.

    "I hope I played better, but coach will definitely tell me whether or not I met their expectations. I know this was just an opportunity. I realize it's going to be a week-to-week thing, so I have to go out and produce."

  • On last Wednesday's conference call with the Chicago media, Ravens coach Brian Billick mistakenly referred to Bears running back Thomas Jones as "Terry."

    Billick didn't mean to slight the Bears' running back, who is among the league leaders in yardage this season, and Jones shrugged it off. But some of his teammates took it personally, and weren't shy about saying so after Jones rushed for 139 yards on 25 carries.

    "I'll bet you Billick knows his name now," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "I'll bet they know who he is now."

    By now, just about everyone in the NFL should know Jones' name. It was his fourth 100-yard game in the last five and sixth in his last eight.

  • Tight end Desmond Clark had two short TD catches last week, and his 26-yard reception got the Bears' offense kick-started against the Ravens, even though it wasn't part of a scoring drive.

    After the offense went three-and-out on its first two possessions, rookie quarterback Kyle Orton found Clark deep downfield at the Ravens' 42-yard line, where he was hammered by safety Chad Williams. But Williams bounced off and landed on the wet turf, while Clark jogged back to the huddle.

    "It changed field position, and we knew this was going to be a field position game with the two great defenses," Clark said. "That kind of gave us the edge early, so we got on their side of the field. But I can't lie, I felt it. He made a good hit and got me in the chest, but as a tight end, you know you're going to take those hits. That's just part of our job description."

    Clark led the Bears with 50 receiving yards and tied rookie Mark Bradley for team honors with four catches.

  • WR Muhsin Muhammad did not lead the Bears in receiving yardage Sunday for the first time this season. Muhammad, who was frequently doubled, had season lows of three catches and 39 yards.

  • WR Mark Bradley had the most productive day of his rookie season with four catches for 37 yards. His numbers could have been much better, but he was overthrown on a couple deep balls after he had beaten the coverage.

  • RB Cedric Benson continues to be an afterthought in the Bears' offense. The fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft had two carries for six yards.

  • WR Bobby Wade, the NFL's leading punt returner with a 14.7-yard average entering the game, had three returns for 34 yards, an 11.3-yard average.

  • P Brad Maynard, questionable for the game with a strained right calf, kicked seven times for a mediocre 35.9-yard net average, but two of his punts were downed inside the Ravens' 10-yard line.


    DETROIT LIONS

    When the Lions went to training camp three months ago, coach Steve Mariucci was elated with the depth he had at his disposal.

    For a team coming off a 6-10 season, he felt the Lions were surprisingly deep on both sides of the ball. They had no major injury issues being carried over from the previous season, and he was confident the Lions could weather just about any storm.

    That confidence is now being put to the test by a rash of injuries that includes all three of the Lions' Pro Bowl players — cornerback Dre' Bly, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and kick returner Eddie Drummond.

    "We talked about that earlier in the season — in training camp — that I thought this was the deepest team we've had since I've been here," Mariucci said Monday. "It's proven to be true, proven to be of use, certainly at the receiver spot."

    Mariucci isn't looking for sympathy. He understands that all teams go through difficult times in the NFL, but he's hoping the Lions don't get hit much harder than they've been hit the past few weeks.

    Bly (dislocated wrist) and Rogers (right MCL) were among the injured Lions in their 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Cleveland. Preliminary indications are that both will lose playing time, but will not be gone for the season.

    Not so fortunate was wide receiver Kevin Johnson, a veteran possession receiver signed to give the Lions depth behind their three first-round wide receivers — Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams. He suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon and will require season-ending surgery.

    Drummond (hyper-extended knee) and Roy Williams (strained quadriceps) have missed all but a few plays of the past three games and, to make matters worse, Rogers still has one game remaining on a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse rules.

    It remains uncertain if Roy Williams and Drummond, a backup receiver, will be back for the Lions game Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

    Mariucci is just hoping he doesn't lose any more players; a few more injuries and the depth he knew and loved in August will be completely depleted by the end of October.

    NOTES

  • For the first time since the third game of his rookie season in 2002, Joey Harrington went to work on Monday knowing the Lions starting quarterback job was not his.

    Harrington, who had started 51 games in four seasons — including the last 37 in a row, was benched in favor of three-time Pro Bowl West Coast veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia, and the Lions responded with a 13-10 victory at Cleveland.

    Harrington said it was "very, very weird" to be watching from the sidelines with Garcia running the game. "I told people it just kind of seemed like a preseason game at first because that's the last time I've been on the sidelines and watched," Harrington said.

    Considering Harrington's limited success in coach Steve Mariucci's West Coast offense, it seems unlikely he will regain the starting job as long as Garcia can remain healthy.

    That leaves his future with the Lions in doubt, but he says it won't affect the way he approaches his job.

    "I'll support him and support this team," he said. "That's my job and I'll do it well. Like I said all last week, no matter what happens, this isn't going to crush me, this isn't going to beat me.

    "I'm not going to go in the tank on this, and I'm not going to go in the tank because of this. I refuse to let this be a distraction to anything that goes on. My job is to be in support of Jeff and this team, and that's what I'm going to do."

  • Almost overlooked in the story of Jeff Garcia taking over the team and producing the victory was the impact of the win.

    With the NFC North division on hard times, the Lions are tied with the Chicago Bears for first place with a 3-3 record. The two teams will meet in a showdown game next Sunday at Ford Field.

    "It's a huge win, a huge win," coach Steve Mariucci said. "Our backs have been against the wall. That's nothing new. We kept fighting and practicing hard, playing hard and to stay on top of the division... that's a huge win."

    It has been suggested that the NFC North might be won with an 8-8 record or even a sub-.500 record. The two pre-season favorites — Green Bay and Minnesota — are struggling. Minnesota is 2-4 and the Packers are 1-5 but, of course, they're still within easy striking distance of the division leaders.

    "We're right in the thick of this (race)," Mariucci said. "As I've said many times, it's going right down to January in this division."

  • Quarterback Jeff Garcia got the Lions a win in his first start for them Sunday but he's promising bigger and better things as he gets more work and completes his recovery from the broken left fibula that kept him out of the team's first five games.

    Garcia said the injury did not limit his mobility or his ability to make plays, but the time off the practice field might have had an impact in other ways.

    "I think obviously I needed to shake some of the rust off as far as my huddle procedure, my on-the-line-of-scrimmage procedure, not wanting to get delay of game penalties and stuff line that," he said. "That stuff has to be eliminated, and I'm not going to make any excuses as it being the first game back. But those are things that I need to improve upon and also take my game to another level.

    "I think I was barely scratching the surface yesterday. Just being able to get out there, being able to compete and not worry about dealing with an injury but fight through it, being able to make plays and get some drives going, I'm not at all satisfied or excited about the fact we didn't get the ball in the end zone more than one time. There's nothing really to be excited about that."

    Garcia said he was excited about getting a win on the road, however, and helping the defense, which has been giving up relatively little in recent weeks.

  • DT Shaun Rogers has a strained MCL in his right knee and will probably be on a week-to-week basis, Lions coach Steve Mariucci said Monday. Rogers was hurt in the 13-10 victory Sunday at Cleveland. He was sore Monday, and there is doubt regarding how soon he might be able to return to practice.

  • CB Dre' Bly could be facing surgery to repair damage done to his right wrist in the Lions' game Sunday at Cleveland. Bly had bones dislocated and left the game in the second half. The surgery — if necessary — probably would not be season-ending, but would require him to play with his right hand in a cast of some sort. Bly, a two-time Pro Bowler, had four interceptions in the last three games.

  • WR Kevin Johnson, who leads the Lions injury-depleted receiving corps with 17 receptions for 133 yards, has been lost for the season with a ruptured right Achilles tendon. Johnson was injured in the Lions' game Sunday at Cleveland and will require surgery to repair the damage.

  • QB Jeff Garcia said he had some soreness, but nothing extreme or severe after playing Sunday in the Lions' 13-10 victory at Cleveland. It was Garcia's first appearance since suffering a broken left fibula and badly sprained left ankle in the Sept. 2 preseason finale at Buffalo.

  • LT Jeff Backus, who played in the Lions' 13-10 victory Sunday at Cleveland despite a sprained ankle, was feeling considerable discomfort in the ankle Monday, but he apparently did no additional damage. Backus did not practice last week until Friday, and he might be facing the same situation this week, but it appears he will try to play in the game against Chicago next Sunday.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Bad news continues to be the storyline of what's shaping up to be the worst Packers season since before the start of the Brett Favre era in 1992.

    Head coach Mike Sherman announced Monday that featured running back Ahman Green will miss the remainder of the 2005 campaign because of a ruptured tendon in his right quadriceps. Green sustained the injury with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of the 23-20 loss at Minnesota on Sunday.

    He will undergo surgery later this week.

    Green is the fourth player on offense — and the second running back — the 1-5 Packers have lost to a season-ending injury.

    The four-time Pro Bowl halfback started Sunday's game at less than 100 percent. He had strained the same tendon in the quad and suffered a bruised right knee during the Oct. 3 defeat at Carolina. Green missed the next game before the Packers had the bye on the schedule.

    "This (injury) is significant enough to keep him out the rest of the season," Sherman said. "My understanding is that he'll be ready to go next year."

    Question is, will Green be part of the Packers' plans in 2006? The 28-year-old is in the final year of his contract, and his lackluster production in the early part of the season left open the possibility the team would allow Green to become a free agent.

    Green gained only 49 yards in 16 carries Sunday before being taken off the Metrodome turf on a cart. For the season, he mustered all of 255 yards in 77 carries and didn't have a touchdown. He hasn't rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games, dating to mid-November last year.

    The loss of Green comes just two weeks after top backup Najeh Davenport sustained a season-ending broken ankle.

    Consequently, third-stringer Tony Fisher will assume the lead role in the backfield for at least the short term, starting Sunday at Cincinnati. Fisher, who's primarily been utilized as a third-down back since making the team as an un-drafted rookie in 2002, has gained only 20 yards in 14 carries this season.

    Fisher, though, responded in his lone career start with 25 carries for 96 yards, including a game-winning, 14-yard touchdown in the closing moments, against Minnesota on Dec. 8, 2002. The previous week, Fisher came on in relief of an injured Green and had 91 yards in 17 carries with a touchdown in a win over Chicago.

    "As far as what he can handle, he's been a very resilient, reliable back for us," Sherman said. "He's not Ahman Green, but he is a different type of back and someone we're going to have to lean on."

    Second-year ReShard Lee, signed as a free agent three weeks ago, will back up Fisher and figures to get a significant amount of playing time Sunday. The Packers, who had yet to fill Davenport's spot on the roster, are expected to add another running back in the next few days.

    Meanwhile, once Green is put on injured reserve, the team undoubtedly will use the spot to sign a wide receiver.

    The receiving corps, already without top playmaker Javon Walker (knee) and Terrence Murphy (neck) for the rest of the season, lost Robert Ferguson for up to a month because of a sprained LCL in his left knee. Ferguson sustained the injury as he came down making a 44-yard catch early in the second quarter Sunday.

    The Packers were down to starter Donald Driver and young backups Antonio Chatman and Jamal Jones for the balance of the game.

    Sherman said it's possible Ferguson, a resilient fifth-year veteran, would be able to get back on the field in two weeks.

    "Ferguson has done some miraculous things and pulled some Lazarus stunts in the past, where he's come out there and made quick recoveries. Hopefully, this will be the case," Sherman said.


    NOTES

  • The Packers actually came out of Sunday's stunning 23-20 setback at Minnesota with only two healthy receivers.

    Besides losing starter Robert Ferguson for up to a month because of a sprained LCL in his left knee, Jamal Jones suffered a shoulder contusion.

    It's not known whether Jones will have to miss any practice time later this week as the team prepares for the game at Cincinnati on Sunday.

    Jones, a first-year player, was promoted from the practice squad to the No. 4 spot after rookie Terrence Murphy suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 3 at Carolina. Jones didn't have a catch Sunday. He returned three kickoffs for an average of 18.3 yards.

  • C Mike Flanagan is slated to return to practice Wednesday after recovering from Oct. 5 surgery to repair a sports hernia.

    "Hopefully, he'll be ready to go this week. (But) no guarantee on that," head coach Mike Sherman said of Flanagan's status for Sunday.

    Scott Wells started in Flanagan's place the last two games.

  • FS Nick Collins will be questionable for the game Sunday because of a bruised left quadriceps. He underwent an MRI on Monday afternoon.

    The starter missed most of the second half with the injury. Fellow rookie Marviel Underwood replaced Collins.

  • DT Cullen Jenkins also is a question mark for the next game because of a strained calf, which he sustained late in the fourth quarter.

    Sherman said Jenkins will be "limited" in practice this week.

    Corey Williams would be the logical choice to replace Jenkins in the starting lineup.

  • OLB Robert Thomas, the starter on the weak side, suffered a shoulder "stinger" early in the fourth quarter but returned to finish the game.

  • CB Jason Horton injured his shoulder in the game, and the backup underwent an MRI on Monday.

  • FB Vonta Leach sustained a shoulder "stinger" early in the fourth quarter, but later returned to complete the game.

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