It doesn't bother Bears quarterback Rex Grossman that he still has many doubters and detractors. It comes with the position, especially for a young, unproven player, which Grossman admits he still is.
"I've played eight games, so there isn't a lot to go on," said the four-year veteran, who just turned 26. "Sometimes it feels like I'm judged on every pass that I make, whether it's a good one or a bad one. If I make a good pass, I'm a good quarterback. If I make a bad pass, I'm a bad quarterback. That's just how it is when you aren't really established."
After three injury-riddled seasons, Grossman intends to make this the season in which he proves himself to be the best quarterback for the Bears and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But it's a game-by-game process, staring with Sunday's 3:15 p.m. kickoff at Lambeau Field against the Packers.
"That's definitely one of my goals this year is to get established as a quarterback for this franchise and the league," he said. "But really, I'm not worried about it too much. I'm just worried about going and beating the Packers Sunday and that all should take care of itself."
Grossman is 4-4 as a starter, including the 29-21 loss to the Panthers in the divisional-round playoff game last season. He's thrown 5 TD passes and 7 interceptions and has a modest regular-season passer rating of 68.8. Because of a torn ACL in his right knee in 2004 and a broken ankle in 2005, Grossman has started just one of the Bears' last 29 regular-season games, although he was slated to be the starter both years.
Because he was a first-round pick in 2003 (22nd overall) there are high expectations for Grossman, and the anticipation is heightened because of limited play over extended time. The knowledge that he plays on a team with a stout defense helps, he said, because he knows he's got plenty of support.
"I have a great opportunity knowing we've got a good team," Grossman said. "It's not all on my shoulders to win the game. We've got a great defense and great running game. I just need to make a few passes in the game and put up some points and we should be all right. If I just play the game the way I always play it, everything should be fine."
For the Bears to take the next step up the NFL ladder, their offense, that was No. 31 in passing yards last season, has to step up. Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner is confident enough in Grossman to put some of the burden on him.
"I'm expecting him, like everyone in the offense, to go out and play well, execute, play with good efficiency and make plays when they're there," Turner said. "Rex is talented. I expect a lot more production."
It's ironic that Grossman and Packers quarterback Brett Favre both come into Sunday's game with something to prove. Even though Favre has had a Hall-of-Fame career, he slumped badly last season, leading to speculation that he's already hung around the game too long.
"Obviously we're at complete opposite of the spectrum," Grossman said. "I'm out for respect, trying to get established. He's about the most established guy in the league. Everyone knows what he can do. I think we're pretty different in that aspect. But people are doubting, me and that's a motivating factor for me. And I'm sure it's the same way for him right now."
SERIES HISTORY: 172nd meeting, including one playoff game. Bears lead 87-78-6 and have won three of the last four, including two straight at Green Bay. Prior to that, the Packers won 18 of 20 against the Bears, including 10 in a row from 1994-98. It is the most frequently played rivalry in NFL history.
"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder about how last season ended," Muhammad said of the 29-21 playoff loss to his former Carolina Panther teammates. "I still feel like I can dominate this league playing wide receiver. I didn't really have a lot of opportunities last year. I didn't really and truly have a chance to contribute the way I wanted to, so that's really been my motivation."
Muhammad's 64 catches last season were 31 fewer than he had in 2004, and his 750 receiving yards were 655 less than the previous year. His TD catches plummeted from 16 to 4, and he had 11 drops, tied for the second most in the league.
Lance Brigs is the only linebacker in NFL history to return an interception for a touchdown in each of his first three seasons, and 2 of them came against Brett Favre: a 45-yarder in 2003 and a 10-yarder last season.
"He's been right on the target," Briggs said, laughing. "I'm kidding. He's a competitor. He always goes out to win games."
Briggs said he and Favre will both know where the other is on Sunday.
"I know where he is," Briggs said. "After the game I'm definitely going to run up and get a handshake or hug or anything I can from Brett Favre."
Bears quarterback Rex Grossman always appears cool, calm and collected, but he admits he sometimes needs a little help relaxing the night before a game.
"Just going over my notes, studying a little bit more so I'm fully prepared calms me down a little bit," Grossman said. "There's got to be some relaxation in there. To be honest, most of the time I have to take an Ambien to go to sleep. That relaxes you no matter what."
Bears center Olin Kreutz doesn't go face-to-face with the Packers' Brett Favre, but he's grown to respect the quarterback's body of work over the course of 16 meetings the past eight years.
"I've got about as much respect for Brett Favre as you can have for somebody on the football field," Kreutz said. "He's one of the best players ever and one of the toughest guys ever."
Favre has started 221 straight games. Kreutz has started 79 of the last 80 games, missing only one game after an appendectomy in 2002.
BY THE NUMBERS: Packers QB Brett Favre has thrown 396 touchdown passes. Bears QB Rex Grossman has thrown just 195 passes. But Sunday they'll have the same goal.
QUOTE TO NOTE: ""If you look at the career stats and all that, they're at two different ends of the spectrum. But as far as quarterbacking this season, they're all the same. Brett's trying to lead his team to a win this weekend and to a good season, and Rex is trying to do the same thing." — Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
It happens every two or three years in these parts and now it's Rod Marinelli's turn to launch a new era of Detroit Lions football.
If he can win seven games, it will be a high-water mark in the administration of president Matt Millen, who has presided over the hiring and firing of two coaches — Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci — and watched the floundering franchise produce 21 victories in 80 games over a span of five seasons.
The belief is that Marinelli is just what the Lions need in this difficult time. That theory will get its first meaningful test Sunday in the season opener against defending NFC champion Seattle at Ford Field in Detroit.
The Lions will be noticeably tougher. They will be infinitely more disciplined. They will no longer be a soft football team.
But can they win? That is still the question to be determined over the course of the next 17 weeks.
Despite the intensity and hard work to which the Lions were subjected during the off-season workouts and training camp, there was little evidence in the four preseason games that Marinelli and his coordinators — Mike Martz on offense and Donnie Henderson on the defense — have gotten little more than a toehold on the job they undertook last winter.
The Lions won only one of their preseason games while learning the new system, and frequently looked ragged.
On the other hand, they certainly didn't give anything away in the preseason. The Seahawks are obviously aware of Martz's voluminous playbook but have no way of knowing what to expect in the season opener.
As quarterback Jon Kitna noted after getting the first game plan of the season Wednesday: "We have a few new wrinkles but it's not that much different. We've been having over 200 plays a week during the preseason. We just haven't used them."
They're almost certain to bring out more than they have shown in the dreary preseason but it's doubtful they will get all of the wrinkles — new or old — ironed out in their first test against the team that played its last meaningful game on Feb. 5 in the Super Bowl.
The best the Lions and their long-suffering fans can hope for is that the first game will be only a starting place for a team on its way up, that the Lions will follow in the footsteps of the Miami Dolphins of 2005, starting slow and gaining momentum as the new coach's system kicks in.
"I think we're comfortable," Kitna said. "Are you ever satisfied or content? (Do I ever think), ‘yeah, we've got this.' No, I don't think that. I think we'll get better each week but I think we have a good chance to win this one."
Marinelli, a career position coach until the Lions called him eight months ago, admits he's eager to get to his first game as a head coach.
"Not so much butterflies as I'm really anxious," he said, in response to a reporter's question about feeling butterflies for the Seattle game. "All the things you believe in as a coach — everything I believed from day one, the whole time — I get a chance to see it come, see if the habits are there. That's what I'm really wired in on."
SERIES HISTORY: This is the tenth meeting between the Lions and Seattle with the Seahawks holding a 5-4 margin in victories. The Lions are 2-1 at home against Seattle but this will be the first meeting of the two teams at Ford Field. The Seahawks won the last game, 35-14, at Seattle in 2003.
Sims says he started talking trash to opposing player when he got to Florida State and he has no intention of stopping now as he launches what he hopes will be a successful NFL career.
"You gotta have fun," Sims said. "I don't see how you can go through playing this game and not having fun. You'll play a miserable career if you don't have fun while you're doing it."
As a high school player, Sims spent a good part of his time with the offense, where trash talking isn't quite as natural. But when he got to Florida State, that changed, along with his on-field demeanor.
"In high school, I ran the ball quite a bit so I kind of had the offensive perspective," he said. "Now, when I got to Florida State, I kind of got that mean streak of defense where you want to hit somebody. It keeps your adrenaline going, it keeps you wired in."
Sims says he tries to keep his trash talking at a respectable level, however.
"I wouldn't bring family or nothing like that into the occasion," he said, laughing. "It's just trash talking like, ‘I'm going to shut you down, you ain't gonna get nothing right here, you're gonna have a bad day.' It's nothing personal or nothing like that.
"I keep it to football. I don't want to talk about another man's family because I don't want him to talk about my family. I'm going to respect him and I want him to respect me."
And it was obvious from the moment Marinelli announced the captains that he holds them in high regard.
"These men represent our team," he said. "This is the Detroit Lions right here. For me, I don't like to shift the mandates. Bam, that's who we are. They're going to take the sword and here we go."
Each player and coach got a vote, and the result was cornerback Dre' Bly and defensive tackle James Hall as the defensive captains, quarterback Jon Kitna and center Dominic Raiola as the offensive captains and Donte' Curry as the special teams captain.
"There's responsibility," Marinelli said. "Tremendous responsibility goes when you're a season captain. Ups and downs, still got to be a captain. If you're injured, you still got to be a captain. Nobody's in the tank. The men they've chosen, I was tickled to death with."
The result was that the former first-round draft pick — the second player taken in the 2003 draft — was sent packing by coach Rod Marinelli in the final cut of the season.
Marinelli declined to elaborate on his reasons for releasing the former Michigan State star wide receiver. "That's behind us," Marinelli said. "I wish him the very best and we just move on."
But to close observers, it seemed that — for a number of reasons — Rogers never got back to the form that made him such a highly-regarded rookie.
He caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the first five games that year, then suffered a broken collarbone that finished him for the season.
The next year he suffered another broken collarbone and missed the entire season; and when he finally got back on the field in 2005, he was suspended for four games for testing positive illegal substances.
When he came back from the suspension, the coaches felt he was not practicing hard and when the Lions announced they wanted back $10 million of his original signing bonus on the grounds he had violated a clause of his contract regarding the NFL's substance abuse policy, a stake was driven permanently between Rogers and the team.
Although Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz prodded and encouraged him, Rogers did not show enough in training camp and the preseason to earn one of the 53 roster spots.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Number of projected starters who were not in the starting lineup for the final game of the 2005 season. The list includes offensive linemen Ross Verba and Rex Tucker or Barry Stokes, tight end Dan Campbell, wide receiver Corey Bradford, quarterback Jon Kitna, defensive tackle Shaun Cody, linebackers Ernie Sims, Boss Bailey and Paris Lenon, cornerback Fernando Bryant and free safety Terrence Holt.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's everything and more. It feels good, I see it on TV all the time but now it's actually happening and I'm being asked about last year's offensive MVP. That's really exciting." — Rookie linebacker Ernie Sims on preparing for his first NFL regular season game against the Seattle Seahawks and running back Shaun Alexander.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The season has yet to start, and thoughts in Green Bay already have turned to what the future holds for Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Brett Favre.
Faced with the prospects of another dismal season on the heels of last year's unfamiliar 4-12 nosedive, Favre has publicly conceded for the first time that winding down his career with another team isn't far-fetched.
Favre told HBO's Bob Costas in an interview, which aired on the cable TV channel Wednesday night, that he might be compelled to seek employment elsewhere if the Packers want to move on without him.
"I can't say it wouldn't happen," Favre said. "If it comes to a point where (the Packers) do start over and I feel like I can play and they say, ‘Brett, if you want to go somewhere else, go ahead, but we've got to start over. It's time for us to rebuild. It just doesn't make sense (to keep you around), so do what you want.' If I got the itch at some point, I can't say no."
Favre maintained the stance when the topic was broached during a post-practice news conference Wednesday at Lambeau Field, where Green Bay will host reigning NFC North champion Chicago on Sunday.
"I said (in the interview), ‘I've always said I'll play in Green Bay, love to play in Green Bay, loyal, this is home to me.' And, I still believe that," Favre told reporters, adding, "Would I consider playing for someone else? I guess I would. Do I think that'll happen? I'm 99.9 percent sure that that won't happen."
The ever-so-slightly ajar door for Favre's premature exit from Green Bay could open more and more as this season plays out. No matter which way the 36-year-old Favre turns in the huddle, on the sideline, in the locker room, he's surrounded by guys 12 to 15 years his junior.
Twenty-seven players — more than half of the Packers' season-opening, 53-man roster — have no more than a year of playing experience in the NFL. Thirty-two players have no more than two years of pro experience.
It's surely not the scenario Favre envisioned when he finally decided after three-plus months of contemplation in the off-season to return for another season. Yet, he's resigned to dealing with the unequivocal youth movement second-year general manager Ted Thompson has in place.
"I think I kind of skew the chart a little bit with 16 years (of experience)," Favre quipped. "But, he has a plan, and whether or not the fans or the media or the players agree with it, that's his plan. He has to think not only about this year's team but (those) in the future.
"Would I like to have some more experience? I can't say that I wouldn't. But, once again, there are some very talented guys on this team. But, that alone will not get it done. How we come together chemistry-wise in a hurry determines our outcome because there are some guys that there are some question marks about. But, time will tell. In this game, you only have 16 games, and you'd better figure it out pretty quickly."
For the first time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Packers will have four rookies in the starting lineup Sunday. Budding second-round receiver Greg Jennings earned a promotion last week, joining the guard duo of Jason Spitz and Tony Moll on the offensive side, with No. 5 overall pick A.J. Hawk entrenched at weak-side linebacker.
In all, the Packers have a league-high 14 rookies on the roster, including 10 of their unequaled 12 draft selections.
Another of the team's newcomers, Mike McCarthy, a first-time head coach at any level, backs how Thompson has assembled the roster and isn't buying into the prevalent notion that he must work with an inexperienced bunch.
"My outlook and vision is different," McCarthy said this week. "We have a football team. It's made up of individuals. We ask them to do things to put us in position to win football games. That is our focus, whether they're young or old.
"I don't concern myself with experience. I'm aware of (the lack thereof). But, to me, experience, youth, those are things that all factor in how you go approach a game. Our job as coaches is to put our players in position to be successful. That will continue to be our focus."
All the while, trying to atone for the disastrous 2005 season won't be compromised, the mostly young and the few older players insist.
"Of course, we're building for the future. But, we have a very capable team of winning games here," fourth-year linebacker Nick Barnett said. "I don't think this is a steppingstone or this is a building process. We're in here to win games."
SERIES HISTORY: 172nd meeting. The Bears lead the series between the league's oldest rivals 87-78-6. Chicago swept the season series last year for the first time since 1991, winning 19-7 in Chicago and 24-17 in Green Bay in a space of 22 days in December. The Packers had won 11 straight games against the Bears in Illinois. In their only postseason meeting, the Bears prevailed 33-14 in the 1941 NFL Western Division playoff at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Jennings, a second-round draft pick out of Western Michigan, is coming off a spectacular preseason in which he led the league with 328 receiving yards in 12 receptions for a gaudy per-catch average of 27.3 yards.
"Never thought that," Jennings said. "(But) it really honestly to me doesn't matter. It's the preseason. Now at the end of the season when I'm talking to you, then I might have a bigger smile on my face."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jennings' yardage output is the third-highest total in a preseason for any NFL player since 2000. Randy Moss, then with Minnesota, had 16 catches for 409 yards in 2000. Chicago's Mark Bradley had 17 receptions for 331 yards last year.
McCarthy is the first Green Bay coach to have Chicago as the opponent in his debut game since Lombardi in 1959. The Packers won that game 9-6 at Lambeau Field.
Lombardi's predecessor, Ray "Scooter" McLean, lost to the Bears 34-20 at Lambeau in 1958 in his debut game.
McCarthy will try to buck a recent trend that hasn't been favorable to rookie head coaches in Green Bay. Three of the four coaches preceding McCarthy lost their first games: Lindy Infante, 34-7 to the Los Angeles Rams in 1988 at Lambeau; Mike Holmgren, 23-20 in overtime to Minnesota in 1992 at Lambeau; and Mike Sherman, 20-16 to the New York Jets in 2000 at Lambeau.
Ray Rhodes won his debut game in 1999, 28-24 over Oakland at Lambeau. Incidentally, McCarthy was the Packers' quarterbacks coach that season.
Besides having a shot at attaining the touchdown record this season, Favre also can ascend to first place in NFL annals with 290 completions and 10 victories. The dubious interceptions record also is within reach — Favre can jump to the top with 23.
The league's oldest rivals are opening and closing the season against one another for the first time. The Packers will play at Chicago on Dec. 31.
Also, the name of the late Reggie White, who was instrumental in the championship season, will be unveiled on the east-side facade inside Lambeau. The ring of honor includes the names of the other 20 former Packers who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. White gained enshrinement in August.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — Draft picks out of nine made by the Packers in 2003 that are still with the team. Linebacker Nick Barnett, taken in the first round, is the lone survivor from former GM/head coach Mike Sherman's draft class.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have no indications that Brett Favre wants to play anywhere else. If I was a betting man, I'd bet he retires a Green Bay Packer." — Head coach Mike McCarthy responding Wednesday to comments made by the quarterback that he wouldn't rule out finishing his career with another team if the Packers were to tell him they want to move in a different direction in the future.