NFC North Notes

While the Bears have the division lead, their special teams could use a boost, and the Packers are taking drastic measures to try and get the players' attention. Get news and notes from the Vikings' division rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Bobby Wade had a difficult day, to say the least, returning punts against the Lions.

The NFL punt return leader after seven weeks with a 14.0-yard average, Wade totaled 4 yards on two tries, one of which he fumbled but recovered. On two other punts, Wade let the ball bounce and roll down to the Bears' 1-yard line.

"It was tough because they were kicking to the boundary, and it looked like the ball as going to go out and it hit and kind of came back," special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "I'd like to see him make a catch, but it was tough, it was way over here on the right side and it bounced to the left."

One tough day won't create any job insecurity for Wade.

"He's doing a good job," Toub said. "He's solid. There's not going to be any changes."

Wade still leads the NFL with a 12.5-yard average.

NOTES

  • WR Airese Currie has been on the non-football injury list all season, but the fifth-round pick practiced Wednesday for the first time this season and could be in uniform Sunday.

    The Bears are in need of speed after deep threats Bernard Berrian (thumb) and Mark Bradley (knee) were lost in back-to-back games. Currie was a three-time all-ACC sprinter at Clemson with a personal best of 10.29 in the 100 meters.

    While Currie has been off the practice field, he's been running full speed on his own for months, and he's kept up with his classroom work. So wide receivers coach Darryl Drake believes he can help on a team that's down to five wideouts including Carl Ford, who has played exclusively on special teams.

    "I don't know about making an impact, but there's a place for him," Drake said. "He's been around, he's very studious, he's been in those meetings and he's taken notes. It'll take a little time, but he'll be able to come in and contribute and do some things to help us."

    Currie is anxious to get involved, since it's been almost a year since he's played in game.

    "It's been a long wait," he said. "It's been like (last) November since I put on the helmet and pads."

    Currie thought he could have been ready to play at the start of the season, but the Bears took the conservative route.

    "It was hard to come in every day and watch everybody else on film knowing that you want to be out there," Currie said. "But I did a real good job of staying focused, going over little things that coach was talking about, just staying in my playbook and trying to help myself out the best way I could."

  • Muhsin Muhammad leads the Bears by a wide margin with 34 catches and 386 yards, but his 11.4-yard average is 2 yards below his career average, and he's far from last year's pace, when he led the NFL with 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns on 93 catches for a 15.1-yard average.

    Offensive coordinator Ron Turner believes the connection with rookie quarterback Kyle Orton will get stronger as they gain more experience together.

    "It's just getting the timing; having a good feel for one another," Turner said. "It's knowing exactly where each other is going to be, how they're going to run their route, all that stuff. It all ties in. We're going to keep working at it. They'll get it. They'll hit it. We'll just keep doing it until we get that feel. And once it clicks it will be there more consistently."

  • Charles "Peanut" Tillman was voted NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his game-winning, 22-yard interception return for a touchdown.

    Other than the respect of his teammates, Tillman doesn't get anything for winning the award.

    "I'm fine if I don't get anything," he said. "You probably get a pat on your back from your teammates, which is fine."

    Tillman is tied with Nate Vasher for first on the team with three interceptions and for fourth with 52 tackles.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The Bears have scored seven touchdowns off interception returns since Lovie Smith became head coach in 2004, more than any team in the NFL.

    Kyle Orton has directed more victories than any Bears rookie quarterback since at least 1937.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never been in a situation where I didn't play until that late in the game. At the beginning of the game you're so amped, you're so ready to play. You don't get out there and play and it kind of drains you a little bit." - Rookie RB Cedric Benson, who didn't play until the overtime session last week.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    First-year general manager Ted Thompson caught his players' attention by releasing second-year cornerback Joey Thomas on Wednesday.

    Thomas learned of his fate shortly before practice started in the early afternoon. He had reported to Lambeau Field headquarters in the morning and put on his attire in the locker room prior to practice.

    Thomas, a third-round draft pick last year, worked as the nickel back the last four games. However, he was benched in the second quarter of the 21-14 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday after committing an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty that gave the Bengals a first down on a failed third-down play.

    Thomas was upset and somewhat outspoken after the game about the demotion, implying there was a double standard in place with the coaches. Ahmad Carroll, the starter at left cornerback, played the entire game despite drawing four penalties, three of which were enforced.

    Thomas took the release in stride, however.

    "I just want to say that I'm not bitter toward the Packers," he said. "I appreciate Green Bay because they did draft me, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to play in this league. Things didn't work out. There's no bad blood toward the organization. This definitely gives me a fresh start."

    Carroll, incidentally, lost his starting spot for only a week because of a rash of infractions in the season opener, which allowed Thomas to make his first pro start in Week 2. However, Thomas sustained a concussion in that game, which kept him out the following week.

    A committed off-season enabled Thomas to supplant Carroll as the starter on the other side of Al Harris heading into training camp. Thomas, though, was beset by calf and hamstring injuries most of the preseason and relinquished his hold on the job.

    Rookie Mike Hawkins, who replaced Thomas on Sunday, will take on the duties in the nickel package.

  • WR Robert Ferguson was listed as doubtful on the initial injury report because of the torn lateral collateral ligament he sustained Oct. 23.

    "He's making a lot of progress, and I'm hopeful that at some point here we can get him back on the field sooner rather than later," coach Mike Sherman said Wednesday.

    Antonio Chatman started in place of Ferguson on Sunday and responded with eight catches for 97 yards, both career highs.

    The Packers have been decimated at receiver, with top playmaker Javon Walker and budding rookie Terrence Murphy on injured reserve.

    Andrae Thurman and Taco Wallace, both of whom were signed to the team last week, are the backups to Donald Driver and Chatman until Ferguson returns.

  • Meanwhile, there's no guarantee the offense will have its full complement of three tight ends Sunday.

    Top backup David Martin, who was deactivated Sunday, didn't practice Wednesday as he continues to rehab a strained groin he suffered toward the end of practice last Thursday. Martin is questionable on the injury report. His availability for Sunday won't be known until later in the week.

    Starter Bubba Franks isn't out of the woods with the knee injury that kept him out essentially three straight games earlier in the season. Franks experienced soreness in the knee after the game Sunday. He was held out of contact drills Wednesday, though he's probable for the upcoming game.

  • The Packers changed up their practice squad Tuesday, adding linebacker Atari Bigby, fullback Greg Hanoian and wide receiver Reggie Harrell. All three players are undrafted rookies who spent time with different teams in the preseason before being released.

    Wide receiver Craig Bragg and linebacker Zac Woodfin were cut from the practice squad. Bragg was a sixth-round draft pick this year out of UCLA.


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