NFC North Notes

The Bears are trying to work the numbers game at WR, injuries could start to catch up to the Lions, and the Packers are severely limited limited at running back. Get news and notes from the Vikings' division rivals.


Coach Lovie Smith downplayed Sunday's decision to make wide receiver Justin Gage one of the team's eight inactive players, but it was surprising considering Gage started the first two games of the season.

"The numbers didn't work," Smith said. "When you have a deep team, it's that way. Look at what we've done this year. Bobby Wade wasn't up one game; Michael Haynes wasn't. So we'll just have to look at the numbers and a little of it will have to do with what type of football team we're playing and if we feel like we need another player at a certain position."

Gage has just two catches this season for 31 yards.


  • After he was benched for Game Five, defensive lineman Michael Haynes credited a heart-to-heart talk he had with coach Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo for an attitude adjustment that resulted in increased playing time Sunday and an improved performance.

    The Bears' coach said it wasn't a big deal.

    "I try to talk to the guys always and not like there was some type of big sit-down powwow with Mike that has never happened," Smith said. "I try to communicate with all the guys to let them know exactly what they need to do to get more playing time or to keep the amount of playing time that they're getting."

  • Sunday was the first game this season in which Muhsin Muhammad didn't lead the Bears in receiving yards and at least tie for the lead in receptions.

    Tight end Desmond Clark and rookie wideout Mark Bradley both had four catches, one more than Muhammad, who had 39 receiving yards. Clark had 50 and Bradley 37, quieting talk - at least for a week - that the Bears' passing offense has become too reliant on Muhammad. Clark, with 15 catches, has been the secondary option after Muhammad, who has 30. But quarterback Kyle Orton insists he's not necessarily focusing on the tight ends if Muhammad is covered.

    "I don't think we have an emphasis on getting anybody the ball," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "It's just where the reads take you, and so far this year it seems like it's taken us to Des."

    A week earlier, Clark had two TD catches among his four receptions. All four of his catches Sunday resulted in first downs.

    "Desmond Clark continues to play well," coach Lovie Smith said. "That's two weeks back to back where we've gotten quite a bit of production from him."

  • Free safety Mike Green, who lost his job to rookie Chris Harris after the season opener, played as the third safety Sunday when the Bears anticipated a running play, and he filled in briefly at strongside linebacker when Hunter Hillenmeyer was shaken up.

    "It felt real good to be back out there next to those guys," Green said. "That's what we came in to do. They moved me up to the heavy personnel (package) because they have a good receiver at tight end in Todd Heap."

  • Thomas Jones has been able to work his way into the upper echelon of NFL running backs despite a passing attack that isn't much of a threat.

    "He's played the best of any running back I've seen throughout the league," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "They know he's getting the ball 25, 30 times a game, and he just runs so hard, and the offensive line is just doing such a great job."

    Jones is averaging just over 22 carries per game and averaging 4.8 yards per carry, which is more than the 3.6 yards he's averaging on his 13 receptions.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The defense accomplished something last Sunday that the Bears haven't achieved in more than 18 years, when it held a second straight opponent without a touchdown. The last time that happened was Sept. 20 and Oct. 4, 1987, against the Bucs and Eagles, during an 11-4 season.

    Opponents have scored just 1 touchdown on 13 opportunities from inside the Bears' 20-yard line, an 8.3 percent success rate, which makes the Bears' red-zone defense the best in the NFL by a huge margin. The Cowboys are second, having allowed 6 touchdowns on 17 possessions for a 35.3 percentage.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It would be hard for anyone to convince those guys that someone is better than them. When we started the season, we talked about having the best defense in the league, and that's what they'll say when you talk to them. That's the type of standard that we've set." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith on the defense.


    Coach Steve Mariucci has a lot of patching to do with his lineup for the game Sunday against Chicago. The question is just how much and how the personnel changes will affect the outcome of the game.

    One change that could affect a tight, low-scoring game was the Lions' change at the long snapper position. With Don Muhlbach out with a knee injury, they used Joe Maese the past two games with scary results. He had at least one bad snap in each game, so he was released Monday and replaced by Jody Littleton, who played with the Lions in 2003.

    Mariucci is also juggling personnel at the WR positions (Charles Rogers, Kevin Johnson and possibly Roy Williams and Eddie Drummond out), on the defensive line (DTs Shaun Rogers and Marcus Bell out or playing hurt) and in the secondary (Dre' Bly is out).

    Look for the Lions to put together a conservative offensive game plan involving as few risks as possible and hope their defense can continue to force turnovers, even if it's backup players forcing the action.

    The Lions made one change that was not injury-related. It appears Kyle Kosier will start at LG ahead of Rick DeMulling after splitting time with him in recent weeks.


  • The Lions might not have gotten an understanding of the real Jeff Garcia when he was trying to make a good impression during training camp - before he suffered a broken left leg in the final exhibition game - but they're getting it now.

    And it's not just his uncanny ability to keep a play alive with his feet that makes him a player out of the ordinary.

    He's not afraid to say what's on his mind and - regardless of how badly things worked out last year at Cleveland - he seems to have that certain intangible quality that makes some players natural leaders.

    Tackle Jeff Backus was not a critic of previous starting quarterback Joey Harrington but he admits that he likes Garcia's approach.

    "Don't get me wrong, I love Joey; he's a great guy," Backus said. "But Jeff is 35 years old. He's been around the block, he's got something about him.

    "He always has swagger. He always does, he's a confident guy. Any time you're a leader on offense, which is always a quarterback no matter what you say, any time he's arrogant and pushing us and believing in himself, it rubs off."

  • For the second time in as many years with the Lions, wide receiver Roy Williams' toughness has become a topic for conjecture.

    As a rookie, he was limited by a severely sprained left ankle that, in many cases, meant he could only line up on the right side of formation and run routes which allowed him to make cuts on his right ankle.

    Even then some wondered if the injury was really that bad or if Williams was a pampered Texas product who had trouble playing through pain.

    When Williams required surgery to repair the ankle damage at the end of the season, his reputation seemed to have been saved. There really was something seriously wrong with the ankle and he wasn't just playing soft.

    But with Williams missing the past two games with a strained left quadriceps, some of the whispers are surfacing again but coach Steve Mariucci says he is not paying any attention.

    "The athlete is the only one who knows what kind of pain they are going through," Mariucci said. "The coach and the doctor can't say for sure. He knows how it feels, how tight it feels, so he's got to work through that.

    "As you know, last year he had to work through an ankle all year. Limped around a lot, played hurt and that sort of thing, ended up with surgery after the season was over. So I don't doubt his toughness."

    Williams scoffs at suggestions that he could be playing with the pulled quadriceps muscle, which he says has been diagnosed as a grade 3 pull, which is the most serious.

    "You see it every Sunday," Williams said. "Guys are banged up and still go out there and do the job they're supposed to do. I thought about that but you can't do that with a pulled muscle.

    "You can do that with a sprained ankle or something to that affect but you can't do that with a muscle that makes your leg come up and down."

  • One of the unheralded receivers who has stepped in to pick up the slack with Charles Rogers serving a substance abuse suspension, Roy Williams out with a quadriceps pull and - the latest - Kevin Johnson out with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, has been Scottie Vines.

    Vines is listed as a second-year player but until he last Sunday his professional experience consisted of five receptions in eight games, primarily in brief relief roles.

    He had that many receptions last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, including one in which he spotted quarterback Jeff Garcia scrambling to get out of his own end zone and came back to get a pass.

    Garcia appreciated Vines' heads-up play and also noted his respect for the way Vines has earned a job in the NFL, going from an undrafted rookie to a practice squad player to a second-year veteran finally getting a chance to show what he can do in a critical situation.

    "He's just one of those guys," Garcia said. "He's not just been handed the opportunity, he's had to work for it. He's had to earn it and it's created certain character and attitude within him that makes him an asset on the football field.

    "He's had to battle through a lot of different things just to get someone to pay any sort of attention to him and when you're continually knocking on the door, banging on the door and nobody ever seems to answer, it can get frustrating. But he's the type of guy who's continued to battle ... finally he's gotten a crack to open up and he will be the type of player who blows that door open."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 6 - 50-yard field goal attempts Lions placekicker Jason Hanson had made without a miss, dating to the 2003 season. His last miss at 50 yards or more was Dec. 15, 2002. He was four-for-four in 2003, had no 50-yard opportunities last year and is two-for-two this season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I expect more out of myself, first of all. You can't expect anything else out of anybody until you expect more out of yourself. I expect myself to be perfect on the football field." - Quarterback Jeff Garcia on whether he is demanding of his Lions teammates.


    Pro Bowl halfback Ahman Green underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the torn quadriceps tendon in his right leg. Green suffered the season-ending injury in the fourth quarter of the 23-20 loss at Minnesota on Sunday.

    The free-agent-to-be faces a long recovery and isn't expected to return to the field until training camp next year.

    With Green's setback coming just two weeks after top backup Najeh Davenport sustained a season-ending broken ankle, the team has elevated third-stringer Tony Fisher to its featured back.

    Fisher, a fourth-year veteran, will make only his second career start Sunday at Cincinnati. He's gained just 20 yards in 14 carries this season, having made a greater impact in his familiar third-down role with 13 catches for 85 yards.

    The Packers also will count on young journeyman ReShard Lee, who's been with the team the last two games, and Walt Williams, whom they re-signed Tuesday. Lee has gained all of 7 yards in seven carries.

    Williams, a third-year player, has appeared in only one NFL game. It came with the Packers last November at Houston, where Williams started with a bang by rushing for 42 yards in six carries before he sustained a season-ending high-ankle sprain.

    Williams was plagued by an ankle injury in the preseason this year, then was cut by the team before the start of the regular season.

    "He comes (back) here fully healthy," head coach Mike Sherman said Wednesday. "He passed the physical without any issues. Maybe he is over that hump of chronic injuries. I'm hopeful that he is."

    Incidentally, Fisher appears on the injury report this week as probable and was held out of practice Wednesday. He was poked in the eye late in the first half Sunday.

  • The Packers also have done some major shuffling with their decimated receiver corps, which lost top playmaker Javon Walker (knee) and budding rookie Terrence Murphy (neck) to season-ending injuries in the first four weeks.

    Then, on Sunday, starter Robert Ferguson suffered a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee while landing after making a 44-yard catch in the second quarter. The gutsy Ferguson, who expressed optimism earlier in the week that he would be able to play right away this weekend, has been ruled out for the upcoming game.

    Ferguson is expected to be sidelined two to four weeks.

    Consequently, diminutive Antonio Chatman, who doubles as punt returner, has been elevated to the No. 2 spot behind Donald Driver.

    The Packers on Tuesday released Jamal Jones, who didn't have a catch Sunday, and replenished the depth at the position by signing free agents Andrae Thurman and Taco Wallace.

    Thurman was claimed off waivers from Tennessee, which cut him after he reportedly skipped a meeting prior to the Titans' game at Arizona on Sunday. Thurman was deactivated for the game. Tennessee had signed Thurman after the Packers released him at the end of the preseason. He led Green Bay with a kickoff-return average of 26.8 yards in the exhibition games despite playing with a broken thumb.

    Thurman, who had two catches in two games with the Packers last year, will be the third receiver Sunday. He also is a candidate to return kickoffs and is taking practice reps on punt returns as a possible replacement for Chatman, given his enhanced role as a starter.

    Wallace played sparingly his first two years in the league with Seattle before the Seahawks cut him at the end of the preseason this year.


  • QB Brett Favre, who leads the league with 14 touchdown passes, is on the verge of moving up a couple significant lists in NFL annals Sunday.

    With 7,225 pass attempts in his career, he needs only 26 to surpass John Elway for No. 2 all-time. Dan Marino has the record with 8,358.

    Also, Favre, with 51,305 career passing yards, needs just 171 yards to overtake Elway for second place all-time. Marino set the standard with 61,361 yards.

    Favre presently ranks second on the league charts for touchdown passes (390, 30 behind Marino) and completions (4,454, 513 behind Marino).

  • The most memorable game in the Packers-Bengals series occurred Sept. 20, 1992, at Lambeau Field. Green Bay QB Don Majkowski suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter, prompting head coach Mike Holmgren to bring in Favre off the bench. Favre made only his second appearance with the team after coming over from Atlanta in an off-season trade that year.

    He went on to complete 22 of 39 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard strike to Kitrick Taylor with 13 seconds left to decide a 24-23 comeback victory.

    Favre, though, wasn't credited with the win since Majkowski started the game. However, Favre was in the starting lineup the following week, marking the first of 231 straight starts (including playoffs) in his ongoing streak.

  • PK Ryan Longwell needs four points to attain 1,000 for his career, which has spanned nine seasons in Green Bay. Only 35 NFL players have reached the milestone. Longwell is the Packers' all-time leading scorer.

  • RB Ahman Green's season-ending torn quadriceps, sustained in last Sunday's loss at Minnesota, may cost him a shot at becoming the Packers' all-time rushing leader. He will be a free agent at season's end, and there's no guarantee the team will re-sign him.

    Green had 255 rushing yards this season, giving him 7,103 in his six years with the Packers. Jim Taylor holds the club record with 8,207.

  • The Packers will play their first game at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, marking the 40th NFL stadium in which Favre has played a game. Fourteen of those have since either been torn down or no longer are used by teams.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 51 - Individual 100-yard rushing games in the NFL this season. Not one belongs to a Packer. Green Bay's last 100-yard performer was Najeh Davenport with 178 yards in 19 carries in a 45-17 win over St. Louis on Nov. 29, 2004, at Lambeau Field. Davenport, like Ahman Green, is out for the rest of this season, having suffered a broken right ankle Oct. 9.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I think of Cincinnati, I'll always think of that being my first opportunity to play. But, that's a long time ago. Some of those guys were probably in elementary school. This is a much different football team we're playing. Time flies. Here we are 1-5 and struggling to win a game. This team that we're playing is one of the better teams in the league." — QB Brett Favre on how the fortunes of the Packers and the 5-2 Bengals have drastically changed, 13 years after he came off the bench and rallied Green Bay to a last-minute win over Cincinnati, the prelude to his record-setting starting streak of 231 games.

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