For the first time since the preseason opener, the Bears' defense was at full strength for the season opener, and the group gave every indication that it was ready to take the next step after a sometimes-dominant campaign in 2005.
Strong safety Mike Brown (Achilles), defensive end Alex Brown (shoulder) and cornerback Nate Vasher joined the rest of the starters, and the result was the first shutout of Brett Favre in his 14-year Packers career. Mike Brown and Vasher, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last season, had played in only the preseason opener, and Alex Brown, a Pro Bowl alternate, missed the preseason finale.
"We're a pretty good defense with everyone on the field," coach Lovie Smith said. "It was good to see Mike Brown back out there leading the defense. He was able to make it through the game without any trouble."
Alex Brown had one of the Bears' three sacks and two other quarterback hurries, despite suffering a separated shoulder on Aug. 25. His shoulder popped out of joint, but team trainers were able to manipulate it back into place. Brown predicted then that he'd play in the opener, but hardly anyone believed him.
"When they put it back in, it felt OK," he said. "It hurt a little bit, it was a little weak, but we have good trainers here they helped me get back. I don't like being out. I don't like missing games. If I can go, I will. If I was going to hurt the team by being out there, then I wouldn't have played."
The Bears allowed just 267 total yards in the 26-0 blanking of the Packers and forced three turnovers. This week in their home opener, the Bears face a Lions offense that was No. 27 in yards last season and No. 28 in scoring.
"It makes a huge difference when you have those type of players," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "We're talking about Pro Bowl players and near-Pro Bowl players. Any time you've got your full complement of starters out there you should have some success and that's what we've got."
A year ago, Mike Furrey led the St. Louis Rams in interceptions; one game into the 2006 season, he is leading the Detroit Lions in receptions.
Unusual? Maybe to an outsider looking in but certainly not to Furrey, who came to the NFL three years ago from the Arena League as a receiver, switched to free safety a year ago and is now a slot receiver in the Mike Martz offense being run by the Lions.
"Whatever it takes," Furrey said. "Whatever. I'm on a journey right now and every time I go out there I just try to give it everything I have and leave it at that."
Furrey, 29, is obviously a gifted athlete, although he was ignored in the NFL draft after a record-setting college career at Northern Iowa. He spent parts of two summers in camp with Indianapolis and the New York Jets but got his only playing experience in the XFL and AFL before landing a roster spot with Martz and the St. Louis Rams in 2003.
After modest production as a receiver in 2003-04, Martz asked Furrey to move to defense. He did and started the final 11 games of the season at free safety, leading the team with four interceptions, including one he returned 67 yards for a touchdown.
The idea originally was for Furrey to play on the Rams special teams and be both the fifth safety and fifth receiver, thereby saving Martz a roster spot on game days.
"I went through OTAs and then some summer stuff, and they told me I had a chance to start if I wanted to go over there," he explained. "For me, I don't care what I'm doing as long as I'm playing, having fun and they said the word ‘start.' I said, ‘I'll be over there tomorrow.' "
When Martz was hired by Detroit, Furrey made the move also. He lost about 20 pounds — from 210 to 190 — to move back to wide receiver and caught five passes for 55 yards in the Lions' season-opening 9-6 loss to Seattle.
He says he uses the knowledge he gained as a defensive back to help him this year as a slot receiver.
"That has been my biggest advantage - understanding what defenses do, where they're coming from and what they're disguising," he said.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Conservative to a fault, Ted Thompson has played it close to the vest in his two years as general manager. With the exception of luring cornerback Charles Woodson with a seven-year, $39 million contract in April and a few other less-lucrative free-agent pickups, Thompson has been diligent about reshaping the roster with young players culled through the draft and the waiver wire.
So, the news Monday night that the Packers agreed to terms with troubled wide receiver/kick returner Koren Robinson on a two-year contract was out of character for Thompson. The perception is he acted out of desperation a day after the Packers were humiliated 26-0 by Chicago in the season opener at Lambeau Field.
Thompson insisted the risky addition of Robinson wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to the Packers' first shutout defeat in 15 years.
"We've been thinking about this for some time," said Thompson, who met with Robinson at length in Green Bay on Sept. 3. "It wasn't appropriate before (to sign him). It became appropriate now."
By waiting until after the first week of the season to sign Robinson, a vested veteran in his sixth year, the Packers won't be out his full minimum-base salary should they part ways at any point the rest of the season.
Thompson expects Robinson to play Sunday against New Orleans. Robinson will do so, however, with a shroud of uncertainty hanging over him. He faces a possible one-year suspension by the league.
Robinson's latest strike in a productive career tainted by alcohol-related problems off the field occurred Aug. 15. Trying to make it back to the Minnesota Vikings' training-camp headquarters in Mankato, Minn., to beat curfew, Robinson led police on a high-speed chase. Police clocked Robinson going 104 mph in a 55-mph zone, and they arrested him after he registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.11 in a field sobriety test that was administered.
The Vikings subsequently cut Robinson, who earned selection to the Pro Bowl last season as a kickoff returner.
The league has yet to make a determination on whether Robinson violated its substance-abuse policy for the third time, which would warrant the one-year suspension.
After his meeting with Robinson the previous week, Thompson is optimistic the 26-year-old will be on his best behavior in Green Bay.
"This is a good kid," Thompson said. "I'm not making excuses; he's made some mistakes. But, this is a good kid. He is a good character guy, for all intents and purposes."
Robinson said Monday he's already receiving treatment for alcohol abuse but refused to discuss his legal situation.
"I'm not a bad guy at all. I feel like I'm a good person," he said. "I think that everybody that knows me and has contact with me, interviewed me, played with me, coached with me, they'll tell you I have a good heart. I feel like I have an infectious attitude and personality. So, I wouldn't say I'm a bad person at all. I know I'm not. I'm far from that."
Thompson was Seattle's vice president of football operations when it selected Robinson with the ninth overall pick in the 2001 draft. The Seahawks cut him last year after he was arrested for drunken driving.
Robinson faces two court dates in the next five weeks stemming from both arrests the last couple years.
The Packers are thin at receiver and have a big need on kickoff returns. Pending the decision by the league regarding Robinson's playing status, he will be given the opportunity to contribute in both roles.
"He is an all-football guy," Thompson said. "He loves to practice. He loves to play the game. He's looking very much forward to playing in Green Bay."