Bears quarterback Rex Grossman remembers his last start against the Lions as being a narrow defeat in which his late interception in the red zone wasted a scoring opportunity in the 2004 season opener on Sept. 12.
But the biggest play of that game was the result of a familiar maneuver by the biggest player on the field: the Lions' 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. The Bears were leading 7-3 in the third quarter and looking to pad the lead with a Paul Edinger field-goal attempt. But Rogers blocked the kick, and teammate Bracy Walker returned it 92 yards for a touchdown, reversing the game's momentum in a 20-16 Lions victory.
Rogers is in just his fifth NFL season, and he's blocked 9 kicks, more than anyone else has in the past 10 years. The Bears hope to keep him out of PK Robbie Gould's face at noon Sunday at Soldier Field, and out of Grossman's face, and out of the backfield on running plays.
"That's a special technique that he has," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Rogers' kick blocking. "He does it as well as anyone in the league. He has a lot of strength, he's an athletic guy who can get some movement and turn his body, and he's got a knack for reaching up and blocking it at the right time. If we knew exactly what he was doing, we'd try to do the same thing. He's the only guy in the league that can do it like that."
But blocking kicks has nothing to do with why the second-round pick from Texas has been voted to the past two Pro Bowls. He's a terror against the run, and he can collapse the pocket like a folding chair as a pass rusher according to Bears players and coaches.
"Whenever you have a dominant player like Rogers inside, it can cause you problems, (and not) just with the running game," Smith said. "He's close to the quarterback, so he can get there quickly on the pass, and a lot of times the running game goes to his side."
This is one week where the Bears might want to avoid Rogers' side.
"He gives us problems in the run game and pass game," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We've got to account for him at all times."
Center Olin Kreutz has already lined up across from Rogers eight times, and he knows what the Bears' offensive line can expect from the focal point of the Lions defense. Kreutz compares Rogers to Warren Sapp, who made seven straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2003 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"He presents probably the biggest challenge," Kreutz said of Rogers. "He's probably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Shaun is a big guy who can move so he's a tough challenge."
SERIES HISTORY: 153rd meeting. Bears lead 85-62-5 and the series has been split in 12 of the past 17 years.
"It's no big deal to me," Drake said. "I hope he thinks that they're going to win. We think we're going to win. But he got caught in that trap, where he was probably emotional after a tough loss. He probably shouldn't have said anything, but he'll learn from that."
But he won't take it back according to Drake, and Williams has the ability to back his words up with his actions. In his first two years in the league, the seventh overall draft pick in 2004 has 99 catches for 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"He's a competitive guy," Drake said. "He's not going to back down from it. I'm going to tell you what, he's capable of taking one over. He's got that kind of ability, which our guys know."
Drake said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Williams is not the kind of player he'd expect to issue a challenge in the media.
"He's a guy who doesn't go out," Drake said. "A guy who has probably never put anything illegal or (any) drink in his body. He's a great young man. He was a joy to be around, a joy to coach, very conscientious. He was a guy who, coming out of high school when we recruited him, didn't have a ‘C' on his transcript. It was all As and Bs. Just comes from a good family, a good mama, who wasn't afraid to put him over her knee, very humble, just a good all-around guy.
"He's one of the brightest football players I've ever been around. He could go up on the board and tell you what everybody's (supposed to be) doing, from the offensive linemen to everybody. He's a student of the game and just a really great football player. He's as smart as any player I've ever been around."
Bears cornerback Nate Vasher went head-to-head with Williams for four years at Texas, trash talking each other as friends all the way.
"Roy's a real passionate guy," Vasher said. "He's real emotional about playing the game of football, and he wants his team to perform well. If this is what it takes to get them going, then that's just what it is."
"It was a big game for us last week," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But it seems like that game was two weeks ago."
Both of the next two games are also against NFC North opponents, and both will be greater challengers to the Bears' NFC North title based on Week One results. The Lions lost 9-6 but kept the NFC-champion Seahawks, who were the NFL's highest-scoring team last season, out of the end zone. The Vikings won 19-16 over the Redskins, a 2005 playoff team.
"We've got three big games at the beginning of the season," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We could have a chance to start off really well."
But a Bears loss at home to the Lions Sunday would reverse any momentum generated from last week's victory.
"We've set the bar," Smith said. "But we have a lot of football left to go, and I think our football team realizes that. We realize that it's one game."
Friendships will be temporarily put aside, according to Smith, who said: "You're talking Rod Marinelli, the head coach of the Detroit Lions, right? Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions? That's how we know each other this week."
The Bears' last two playoff teams — in 2005 and 2001 — overcame 0-1 starts to make it to the postseason. However, the previous nine Bears playoff teams all won their openers, going back to 1978 and the beginning of the 16-game season.
Super Bowl winners are 33-6-1 in openers. Since 1978, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season, only 93 of 394 opening-game losers made the playoffs. While a first-game defeat doesn't bode well for the future, an opening victory doesn't guarantee success. Of the 394 opening-game winners, 207 made the playoffs, while 187 fell short.
BY THE NUMBERS: Bears QB Rex Grossman threw for 262 yards last week and had a passer rating of 98.6. Both were career-best marks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, because I didn't let him talk." — Bears WR coach Darryl Drake, when asked if Roy Williams ever made any guarantees when Drake was his position coach at Texas?
If Shaun Rogers had any doubt regarding the demands that would be made on him for the 2006 season, he probably won't have it much longer.
Rogers, the Lions' two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, was dominating in the team's season-opener against Seattle. He had two quarterback sacks, blocked a field goal attempt, clogged the middle and occupied Seahawks blockers so his linebacker teammates could get to Shaun Alexander.
By any measure you want to apply, Rogers was at the top of his game. Coach Rod Marinelli agreed. And then he asked for a little more.
"He could be better," Marinelli said. "He could still be better. He was dominating and he's really a heck of a player. I want to keep challenging him to be better and better."
Rogers, a second-round prize in the 2001 draft, has always been considered a quality player. The only question was whether he would dedicate himself to playing at the highest level on every play of every game, or whether he would be content to show his talent in bursts and spurts.
Marinelli, a long-time defensive line coach before being hired as the Lions' head coach last January, obviously likes what he has seen from Rogers but he apparently has no intention of letting him rest on his laurels.
"I was very impressed with his motor and his work ethic," Marinelli said. "I just like the guy. That position (the under tackle) is a motor of the whole defense. He's the guy that's got to create the havoc and chaos and he's got the ability to do that, and he's showed that right now.
"It's just the consistency, one — every snap just being better and better and better. I couldn't be more excited about him right now but he's still got to get better."
What is noteworthy regarding Rogers' first-game performance is that he did it with minimal practice time. He suffered a shoulder injury in the early days of training camp, missed all four preseason games and only got back to the practice field a few days before the season opener.
At 6-feet-4, 340 pounds (or more), he still has some conditioning to do before he is in regular season shape, but Marinelli had no complaints regarding his effort.
"I thought the one thing when I watched him very closely on tape, that level of consistency was pretty good," Marinelli said. "I really liked what he was doing in terms of that consistency, especially on a guy that only had a couple of days of practice.
"His game wind is not there, he's not carried his pads that long. I was really pleased. That part I was very pleased with — how hard he tried to go on every snap."
As far as Marinelli is concerned, it was a good start. The rest will be up to Rogers.
SERIES HISTORY: 153d meeting in the second-longest rivalry in NFL history. The series began in 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. They won the first game, 7-6, but the Bears hold an all-time edge of 85-62-5. The Lions lost both of last year's games, 38-6 and 19-13 in overtime.
"What I'm saying is if the offense does what they're supposed to do and the defense plays the way they played, I feel still — in my opinion — there is nobody in the league that can stop us," Williams said Wednesday. "Week in and week out, I believe and my teammates believe that we will win the game."
In the aftermath of the Lions' season-opening 9-6 loss to Seattle, Williams said he was frustrated with his own sub-par performance, not only as a receiver but as a downfield blocker in the running game.
"It's going to be a great game," he said Monday. "We'll win this game, we will win this game. Y'all can take this as a guarantee or what-not but we will win this game."
Asked if any of his teammates had cautioned him about guaranteeing a win and giving the Bears bulletin board material, Williams said: "Nobody said anything. I think everybody agreed with what I said. Everybody in this room believes that we can win. We put Seattle behind us, we're 0-1, we don't accept that but that's the way it is and we'll be ready Sunday."
The Bears obviously have their own feelings regarding Williams' guarantee but linebacker Brian Urlacher would not discuss it in a teleconference with Detroit reporters. When asked about it, his response was a curt: "Next question."
That's when they were rookie NFL coaches with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rooming together in one cramped room at the Holiday Inn Express.
"We had enough room for both of us to turn around," Smith recalled. "It seemed like we bumped each other every time we went by each other."
Tony Dungy had hired them straight off college coaching staffs. Smith had been coaching linebackers at Ohio State and Marinelli had been coaching the defensive line at Southern Cal.
Working together on what would eventually become known as Dungy's signature cover-2 defense, Smith and Marinelli became — and remain to this day — very close friends. That's one of the reasons the game Sunday at Soldier Field will be so interesting.
For one week, the old pals won't be talking football on the phone during the week. They'll be plotting and trying to take advantage of their familiarity with the other's game.
"It's not about Rod and Lovie," said Lions guard Damian Woody. "It's not about personal issues. It's about winning a football game."
Eddie Drummond, a Pro Bowl returner two years ago, is averaging 3.3 yards per punt return and 19.0 yards on kickoff returns, numbers that do not translate into advantageous field position.
"It's not drastic changes or anything like that," Marinelli explained. "It's just kind of going back to see where we broke down and why we broke down, are we getting set quick enough? Are we on our assignments?
"We go back and those basic things — it's not changing anything. It's not like, ‘Wow, we got to change all of this and all that.' No, you don't. You know what you want and you make it very clear to the players. We have to get on the details and get on the screws and we just got to do it."
Marinelli said he does not believe that Drummond's interest in winning a receiver job has detracted from his return ability.
"No, no," he said. "He loves that part of that."
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 — Consecutive games in which punter Nick Harris has had at least one punt downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He led the NFL with 34 punts downed inside the 20 last season and had only two touchbacks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Nobody's in this game to come close. If you feel good about that game, you're probably in the wrong business." — Lions quarterback Jon Kitna on the hard-fought 9-6 loss to Seattle in the season opener.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Three days, three noteworthy moves orchestrated by general manager Ted Thompson.
"We will continue to push the envelope in terms of trying to put the best 53 on our team," Thompson said Wednesday.
In saying that, however, Thompson insisted the free-agent signing of veteran receiver Koren Robinson, the corresponding release of serviceable fullback Vonta Leach and dealing Samkon Gado to Houston for fellow running back Vernand Morency weren't impulse moves triggered by the ugliness of last Sunday. The Packers were out of their element in losing 26-0 to Chicago in the season opener at Lambeau Field, their first defeat by shutout in 15 years.
This Sunday, the Packers will try to get on track when New Orleans pays them a visit. The series of roster moves notwithstanding, desperate times haven't hit Green Bay yet, so the boss argues.
"We don't look at it like that," Thompson said. "Obviously, we're disappointed that we didn't play better on Sunday. (But) we try not to be reactionary or anything like that.
"Obviously, if you see something that's staring you in the face and you say, ‘Well, we're not good enough at this,' you try to do something about it. But, that's not what this is about. We anticipated probably through the first couple of weeks having a little changeover in our roster because we knew there were certain teams that we were talking to and that things might happen. But, it happens when it happens."
In Thompson's defense, the Packers had the maligned Robinson on their radar a week before their first game. Thompson had him in for a visit, came away from the lengthy meeting with the faith that the Pro Bowl player will stay clean and sober after myriad alcohol-related problems off the field and surely put off signing the vested veteran until this week to save the expense of a full season's salary if ties are cut down the line.
Although he's facing a possible one-year suspension from the league following an arrest last month for drunken driving in Minnesota, Robinson should be on the field Sunday in a dual role as a receiver and kickoff returner.
"He's been received very well," head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "In the meetings today (and) at practice, he seems to fit right in."
Conversely, Leach and Gado were deemed to be not good fits for what McCarthy is trying to accomplish in his first season with the offense.
Leach was without peer in the backfield as a punishing blocker. Yet, the Packers' new zone-blocking scheme doesn't require a bulldozer plowing from the fullback position. What's more, Leach was a liability as a pass catcher.
Since the Packers had assurances veteran William Henderson is good to go after missing Sunday's game to rest a surgically repaired knee, disposing of Leach to make room for Robinson was feasible. McCarthy has been big on cross-training his tight ends and backup running backs to play fullback in a pinch.
Gado was one of those halfbacks who tried his hand at fullback in the preseason, but the audition went as well as the power runner's adjustment to the one-cut running scheme. Not satisfactory.
So, nine months removed from being last year's improbable rushing leader for the team as an undrafted rookie promoted from the practice squad, the feel-good story ended abruptly in Green Bay for the aspiring doctor. Gado's farewell was two carries for minus-7 yards Sunday.
"He probably wasn't as productive in the preseason as he would have liked to have been," Thompson said. "But, really this trade isn't about that. We were looking for a little bit of a change-of-pace guy."
The 5-foot-10, 212-pound Morency is a natural for the one-cut system and has a more pronounced pedigree than Gado did. Morency played four years of pro baseball in the Colorado Rockies' system, then concentrated on football at Oklahoma State. He flourished even in the shadow of current Denver back Tatum Bell, averaging 5.9 yards per carry with 23 touchdowns in three seasons.
Houston took Morency in the third round of the draft last year, and he was on the field for 12 games as a rookie.
"He doesn't fool around much (as a runner). And, he catches the ball very well out of the backfield," said Thompson, acknowledging the Packers had Morency rated high on their draft board.
Morency and second-year back Noah Herron give the team versatility as Ahman Green's understudies.
SERIES HISTORY: 20th meeting. The Packers lead the series 14-5 and have won four of the last five meetings dating to 1989. The teams are meeting in Green Bay for only the third time. The Packers destroyed the Saints 52-3 at Lambeau Field last season. Green Bay is 8-1 at home, including a 6-1 mark in games that were contested in Milwaukee.
The Packers' average age shot up slightly to 25.70 with this week's additions of receiver Koren Robinson and running back Vernand Morency, both 26, and the departures of fullback Vonta Leach, 24, and running back Samkon Gado, 23. Robinson was signed as a free agent Monday, leading to the release of Leach. The Packers traded Gado to Houston for Morency on Wednesday.
Green Bay also has a league-high 17 rookies and first-year players. Atlanta is next with 14.
The previously inept New Orleans offense set 10 team records, including an NFC-best 432 points as well as 49 touchdowns in 2002. Twenty-five individual standards also were established on McCarthy's watch.
The offense earned 10 Pro Bowl selections in that span, including multiple invitations to Hawaii for remaining Saints receiver Joe Horn (four) and running back Deuce McAllister (two).
The recent notables include predecessor Mike Sherman in 2000 (0-2 start), Mike Holmgren in 1992 (0-2), Lindy Infante in 1988 (0-5) and Bart Starr in 1975 (0-4).
Three coaches who lost their debut game didn't suffer the same fate the following week — Dan Devine in 1971 and Gene Ronzani in 1950 earned victories, while Scooter McLean in 1958 settled for a tie.
Favre, who took over as Green Bay's starter early in the 1992 season, had a streak of 221 straight regular-season games in which the Packers scored. It's a league record for quarterbacks.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Instances in which the Packers, who are coming off a 26-0, season-opening loss to Chicago, were shut out in back-to-back games during their 88-year history. The last occurrence was 1988 — a 28-0 loss at Buffalo, followed by a 20-0 defeat at Atlanta. It also happened once in 1922, ‘23, ‘25, ‘28 and ‘32.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a great guy. A lot of bad things have happened to him, but at the same time, you've got to understand we brought him in as a football player. You wouldn't think (the off-field problems would happen) because he comes in and works extremely hard in practice and plays extremely hard. You've got to give a guy another chance. He's got a clean slate. If you're going to keep pointing fingers at him, he's never going to get better. You have to embrace him and move on." — Safety Marquand Manuel on the signing of troubled receiver Koren Robinson. They were teammates with Seattle in 2004.