NFC North Notes

The Bears put an internal fight behind them and had another impressive win, and the Lions are preparing for their annual Thanksgiving Day game coming off a loss and facing a tough opponent. Get news, notes and quotes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.


Right tackle Fred Miller played a good game Sunday, even for a guy whose jaw wasn't broken 13 days ago.

Miller all but made Panthers Pro Bowl defensive left end Julius Peppers disappear. Peppers was credited with just two tackles, and although he had 5 1/2 sacks in his previous four games, Peppers never got near Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, who was not sacked for the second straight game. It was the first time the Bears have gone two straight games without allowing a sack in nearly four years.

Miller said the fight with center Olin Kreutz that caused his injury is history.

"We've already put it behind us," Miller said. "It's you guys (the media) who still want to write about it and care about it. We had to go out there and win a ballgame no matter what."

Miller sat out the previous week's game, ending his streak of 110 straight starts, and he originally was not expected to play until next week.

"It's very satisfying," he said of his return. "I'm a football player. I love to go out there and play football, especially to play in the fashion that we did. It's a special thing to go out there and play. It was a lot of fun."

Miller said he didn't take any memorable shots to the head, he still had to play through some pain.

"I could tell it was there," he said of the pain, "but the main focus is on the game. You can't worry about what's hurting you. Everybody out there has something hurting. I just wanted to keep my focus on the game and make sure I don't turn a (defensive lineman) free and make sure I put a body on a body and let the skill guys do the rest."

After the game, it was back to reality.

"I already feel it starting to swell up," he said in the locker room. "I'm going to go get some ice and keep the swelling to a minimum."


  • Nate Vasher's pair of first-quarter pickoffs against Carolina gave him six this season and shot him into a tie with the Bengals' Deltha O'Neal for the NFL lead.

    He returned the first one 46 yards to the Panthers 6-yard line, setting up a touchdown. He took the second back 22 yards to the Panthers' 18, setting up a field goal. Vasher credited the defensive line for his good fortune.

    "You got Alex (Brown), Wale (Ogunleye) and Tommie (Harris) running down your throat, of course you're going to force some stuff," Vasher said. "Because of the pressure, the ball was coming out sooner than (Panthers quarterback Jake) Delhomme wanted.

    "Once the ball comes out, you just have to be a football player and make a play, and that's exactly what I did. We've got good players on the back end, and we're just making plays and trying to keep the momentum going."

    The Bears led the NFC with 14 interceptions before the game. Vasher had three picks in the first two games but just one in the next seven.

    "I've been consistent all season," Vasher said. "But I haven't had a lot of action in the past couple weeks. I started off the season really hot but cooled off for about five to six weeks."

    Vasher's interceptions ended the Panthers' first two possessions, and the defensive line sacked Delhomme five times on the last two possessions.

    "We started out fast, and we finished strong," Vasher said. "We're still hungry, though. We've got Tampa (this) week."

  • The Bears have been desperately seeking a complementary receiver to Pro Bowler Muhsin Muhammad, and Justin Gage stepped up Sunday with a career day: seven catches for 81 yards.

    Asked if his team-best totals make him the clear-cut No. 2 guy, Gage said: "I would like to say, ‘yeah,' but this is one game, and we've still got a lot of season left. We have some other receivers that are real good, but yeah, I'm looking at it that way."

    Muhammad, who had three drops Sunday, was held to six catches for 49 yards but appreciated Gage's contributions.

    "We've got other players on this team," Muhammad said. "We've got Justin Gage. He came out today and performed."

  • The Bears entered Sunday's game with the No. 1 red-zone defense in the NFL, having allowed opponents just four touchdowns on 22 trips inside the 20-yard line, and the Panthers had the No. 1 red-zone offense in the league, with 22 touchdowns on 30 opportunities.

    But the Bears kept the Panthers out of the end zone on their only two opportunities.

    The Panthers didn't cross the Bears' 20-yard line until less than 11 minutes remained in the game, when they made it to the 18, but they were held to John Kasay's 38-yard field goal. The Panthers reached the Bears 17-yard line with 1:32 left, but Delhomme was sacked twice in the next three plays and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.

  • DE Alex Brown had two sacks against Carolina. He came into the game leading the Bears in QB pressures but with just one sack. He also forced two fumbles.

  • DT Tommie Harris moved into a tie for third on the Bears with his third sack.

  • RB Adrian Peterson got just four carries — because Thomas Jones was back in the lineup — but he picked up 37 yards a week after his career-best 120-yard effort against the 49ers. In his last three games, he's averaging 6.3 yards per carry with 215 yards on 34 carries.

  • QB Kyle Orton completed just 15 of 26 passes for 136 yards, but his receivers dropped at least five passes, including three by Muhsin Muhammad and two by tight end Desmond Clark.

  • WR Bobby Wade, who entered Week 11 leading the NFL in punt-return yardage, had three returns for 3 yards and two fair catches. But he didn't fumble once after losing three a week earlier.


    The good news for the Lions this week is that they have only a couple of days to wallow in the misery of their 20-7 loss at Dallas.

    The bad news is that it is the Atlanta Falcons providing the diversion as the opponent for the Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game.

    "I hate playing in this short a week, having to prepare and not get the kind of rest we've been getting," tight end Marcus Pollard said, "but it gives me the opportunity to get it out of my system. Hopefully, we'll get a win against Atlanta."

    If the Lions have an edge in the Thanksgiving Day game, it is that there is nothing new about it. Only this year's rookies and players new to the team have not had the experience of preparing for a Thursday game with what is essentially just one day of work.

    Coaches get as much preparation as possible out of the way in the previous week, install as much of the game plan as possible on Monday, hold a full practice on Tuesday, try to do some fine-tuning on Wednesday and play on Thanksgiving Day.

    Players say they draw some inspiration from the fact that most of the country is watching the Lions game before Thanksgiving dinner, but — as Pollard noted — that's not always a good thing.

    "That can be good or bad," he said. "If we go out and get smoked like we did against St. Louis in the opportunity we had on Monday night (in the preseason), that can be good or bad. Hopefully, we're preparing for the best. Hopefully, we'll get a win with everybody in the country watching us.

    "To me it's better than the Monday night game because everybody and their mama's at home watching football on Thanksgiving."

    Although Pollard is in his first season with the Lions, the game Thursday will be his second consecutive Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field. He was with the Indianapolis Colts last year when they lambasted the Lions 41-9.

    Pollard was asked what he remembered from that game.

    "All those touchdowns, and I was the only guy who didn't get a catch in that game," Pollard said, laughing. "That's what I remember."


  • Wide receiver Charles Rogers is growing impatient with his role as a fourth or fifth receiver in the Lions offensive packages and says he deserves to be back in the starting lineup.

    "I think I won my spot back," Rogers said after catching four passes for 41 yards in the Lions' 20-7 loss Sunday at Dallas. "I came out there and did what I was supposed to do. When my number was called , I feel like I performed. No doubt about it, I feel like I won my spot back."

    Rogers, the second player taken in the 2003 NFL draft, seemed to have fallen into disfavor with the Lions offensive staff even before he sat out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

    Since coming back from the suspension, he was inactive for one game because coach Steve Mariucci felt he hadn't practiced well enough, and he caught just one ball in the game against Arizona a week ago.

    "It's been like that since before the suspension," Rogers said. "It's been like that since the first week I was playing. It's not a routine I'm used to."

    Asked if he felt he should be back in the starting split end position, Rogers responded: "Damned right."

    Regardless of how he is playing, there is another distraction clouding Rogers' situation.

    The Lions are seeking to recoup more than $10 million of his original signing bonus, apparently because of a clause in his contract relating to possible drug suspensions. He declined to discuss that situation.

    "That's what my agent and my lawyers are for," Rogers said. "That's what I pay them to do, to handle situations like this. They'll handle it, and we'll see what happens."

  • In the true spirit of the brotherhood of NFL coaches, Falcons coach Jim Mora stepped up for his pal, Lions coach Steve Mariucci.

    With the Lions seemingly stumbling toward a fifth consecutive losing season — their third under Mariucci — the former San Francisco coach is taking heat from Lions fans and the Detroit media.

    In a teleconference with Detroit reporters, Mora was asked what he would tell the critics in defense of Mariucci.

    "Ummmmm, I don't know," he said, laughing. "I've got my own problems."

    A moment later, however, Mora gave a serious answer.

    "Obviously, I think a lot of the guy and hold him in tremendous regard," Mora said. "The guy knows how to do it.

    "No matter what, in this business there's going to be people that criticize you, but he's one hell of a guy. I know that."

    Mariucci and Mora became close friends during the six years at San Francisco when Mariucci was the head coach and Mora was his defensive backs coach and later his defensive coordinator.

  • The Lions are hoping that their penalty-filled performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday will be nothing more than a one-time phenomenon.

    They were penalized 17 times for 129 yards in the loss to the Cowboys but, in fact, that was out of character for the team. Going into the Dallas game, they had been penalized 61 times in nine games for a total of 437 yards.

    "That hasn't been the case for a lot of our games," Mariucci said, referring to the Dallas game. "We're not typically a team that has a lot of penalties. There were too many penalties; some I agreed with and some I didn't.

    "We'll just keep coaching the rules, get off on the snap and play like we should."

    Mariucci declined to say how many plays he sent to the NFL for review, but he was particularly indignant that he was not able to get a timeout call from the official standing two feet from him before Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff booted a 56-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half.

  • QB Jeff Garcia might or might not be ready to play in the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game against Atlanta. Garcia has missed the past three games with pain in his left leg (which was broken in early September), and coach Steve Mariucci says he won't announce the starting quarterback — Garcia or Joey Harrington — until Thursday because he wants to keep the Falcons guessing.

  • QB Joey Harrington has started the past three games while Jeff Garcia recovers from leg injuries, but Lions coach Steve Mariucci won't say whether it will be Harrington or Garcia in the lineup for the Thanksgiving Day game against Atlanta.

  • CB Dre' Bly has missed the past four games after suffering a dislocated wrist that required surgery after the Oct. 23 game at Cleveland. He is hoping to play in the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game against Atlanta. Bly has been practicing with a cast on his right wrist but feels he is ready to play if he is cleared by the Lions medical staff.

  • LB Teddy Lehman, the Lions' fourth linebacker and a regular in their nickel defensive package before he suffered a severe mid-foot sprain Oct. 30 against Chicago, was put on injured reserve Monday. He will be lost for the season.

  • WR Mike Williams has missed the past two games, one because of a foot injury and the other because of the practice time he had missed with the injury. With all of the Lions receivers healthy again, coach Steve Mariucci probably will have to decide on which receiver will sit out the Thanksgiving Day game against Atlanta.

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