The Bears overcame a good amount of adversity on enemy turf against the Vikings last weekend, and they could find out as early as Sunday night at 7:15 how much carryover effect they'll reap from that character-building comeback.
At home, before a national audience, the Bears finally get a chance to play the defending NFC champion Seahawks, who they had hoped to meet during the last postseason, before the 29-21 loss to Panthers eliminated them from the playoffs.
"We definitely think there is carryover," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of last week's 19-16 victory. "It's one thing to think you can do the job and that you can overcome it. But you have to go through it and get that accomplished. So that was a big hurdle (Sunday). To overcome some of those bad things that happen on the road and in a hostile environment says a lot about your football team."
The Bears generated next to nothing in the running game and gift-wrapped 7 of the Vikings' points when one of Rex Grossman's two interceptions was returned seven yards for a touchdown. Grossman responded with the first fourth-quarter touchdown pass of his career after Tommie Harris forced a fumble — with the Vikings trying to run out the clock — that Wale Ogunleye recovered with 3:25 left.
"We learned that we can overcome some (of the) adversity that you go through," Smith said. "You look at the latter part of the game, they had the ball, and they needed to make one play. We had to make a play, get the ball back, and a lot of other things had to fall in place for us.
"Wale recovering the fumble and just giving the offense a chance, you could feel something special was about to happen."
Like the Bears, the Seahawks are also 3-0, and they are coming off their best game of the season, a rout of the Giants, which they won 42-30 but led 42-3 in the fourth quarter. They will, however, be without running back Shaun Alexander, the league MVP last season. Alexander suffered a non-displaced fracture of a non-weight-bearing bone in his left foot against the Giants and is not expected to play.
Last season, Alexander rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns. But he has just 187 yards and an average of 2.9 yards per carry this season. His career average is 4.5 yards per rush. He has gained fewer than 100 yards in each of Seattle's three games this season, his first such streak in two years.
Just as beating the Vikings in Minnesota represented another level of difficulty for the Bears following their victories over the Packers and Lions, the Seahawks present another step up in class.
"For us to take another step, we have to be able to beat the best," Smith said. "They're playing very well. They dominated the Giants. It's just another chance for us to see exactly what we have in front of a national audience, in front of our home crowd. We wanted to be 3-0 in this position against Seattle. We had a good idea they might be 3-0 right now, so we look forward to the opportunity. We think we match up well with them, and we're anxious to see Sunday."
After beating the Vikings, linebacker Brian Urlacher was asked if he thought the Bears were starting to get noticed outside the NFC North.
"Don't care," Urlacher said. "We know what we are."
"What are you?" he was asked.
"Three-and-oh," he replied.
That's 3-0 with some carryover.
"I know I wasn't pouting, come on, that's not me," Benson said. "You really think I was sitting on the sideline whining about not playing after a win like that? No. I was very excited about the win. I was excited to be a part of a team like that, having a quarterback like that."
Benson was one of the first to congratulate quarterback Rex Grossman on his game-winning TD pass with 1:53 left, but after the game he walked off the field without showing much emotion, which is understandable for a player who didn't get to contribute to the victory.
"Naturally you wanted to be a part of it," Benson said. "Dang, yeah, it sucks that I didn't get to play. But hey, we won. I'm able to get up every morning and come into this building every day and work hard every day knowing that the sail is going to turn. I know it will, and I'm just going to be patient on that and let it work itself out and make great things happen when it does turn."
Neither Benson nor starter Thomas Jones has had much success this season. Benson is averaging 2.8 yards per carry, while Jones is at 3.0 with 181 yards on 60 carries.
Benson carried 11 times in the season opener, when the Bears rushed 36 times, and he got 10 of the team's 34 carries the following week. Jones carried 21 times in each of the first two weeks. But the Bears had only 21 running plays Sunday, and 3 of them were kneel-downs by quarterback Rex Grossman. The dearth of running plays was the only reason Benson didn't play according to coach Lovie Smith.
"There is some inaccurate information coming out of here about Cedric Benson," Smith said. "I just would like our fans to know that Cedric Benson practiced very well last week. He's doing everything that we've asked him to do. He's a big part of what we're going to do around here. I couldn't be more pleased with how he's handling playing behind a good player in Thomas Jones. Hopefully this week we'll get him some more playing time. He had another excellent practice (Wednesday)."
Manning, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Tyler Ebell — all former UCLA football players — were accused of attacking the man near the UCLA campus, kicking and punching him in the face until he lost consciousness. That's not the story Manning told.
"I said, ‘What are you doing on this (laptop) computer?' " Manning said he asked the victim. "He responded to me aggressively. He told me to go (blank) myself. I didn't understand why he did that. I came to find out later, the guys that he got into it with were messing with him when he was on the computer before I got there.
"So I got in the guy's face and told him, ‘Don't talk to me like that,' and I did push him in the face. The (restaurant manager) came over there and said, ‘Do you want me to call the police?' I said, ‘No I'm just going to leave.' I left it at that. I walked away from the situation. Maybe I shouldn't have responded to it at all."
The three former teammates left the restaurant in an SUV but were pulled over by police when their vehicle was spotted from a helicopter. The assault charge against Jones-Drew was dismissed in June because of insufficient evidence. Ebell's felony assault charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, and he was freed on bail.
Manning claims his plea wasn't an admission of guilt but a way of avoiding potentially bigger problems. He was already on probation for a similar misdemeanor offense in 2002, also near the UCLA campus.
"If I don't plead to this, I have to go to trial during the season," he said. "It would be a lot more money, and then I would have to put it in the hands of a jury. I've been through this before. There's a ton of things that can happen with a jury. They can say that I conspired with those other guys and because of my involvement this guy got beat up. I just can't risk that. I would rather put it all in my hands, be on probation, keep my nose clean and not get in any trouble."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo called the incident "embarrassing" and said he was "disappointed" with Manning's involvement.
"It is embarrassing that I have to go through this," Manning said. "I feel embarrassed. I feel embarrassed for the team. I feel embarrassed for the guys upstairs also. I was accused of something. It's still kind of a little unfair because I'm still being punished like I did do it."
The concern now is that the NFL could still come down on Manning with a suspension, despite his plea.
"We all know the rules, and the rules say the NFL will handle those types of situations," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We would like to say that if there is punishment, let's do it at this point. If something comes up from there, we're prepared to go on without him."
The play began with 17 seconds left, but the Bears couldn't stop the clock. They had spent their first timeout when John Tait, who had suffered an elbow injury, was slow getting on the field for Gould's 41-yard field goal in the first quarter. Less than 90 seconds later they used timeout No. 2 on an unsuccessful challenge of an official's ruling on the field. The third and final timeout was used earlier on the final possession.
"There are a lot of things I would like to do differently," Coach Lovie Smith said. "I didn't like the way we handled the end of the first half (and) some of the decisions I made with that. We got the win, but there are a lot of things I need to improve on and (so does) our football team."
"As a defense, you can commit to stopping one thing, and teams have committed to stopping our run, and they've done a pretty good job of it," coach Lovie Smith said. "But we're 3-0 with them doing that."
BY THE NUMBERS: QB Rex Grossman has thrown for more than 260 yards in each of his three starts this season, although he hadn't done it once in his first three seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have total confidence in what he can do out there. He plays like a warrior out there, a really courageous guy. When he's under pressure, you can tell how relaxed he is out there. He doesn't panic." — WR Muhsin Muhammad on QB Rex Grossman
Mike Martz isn't talking this week. At least, he's not talking to the media for publication.
He's talking to his players, putting together an offensive game plan for the Lions' game Sunday at St. Louis.
Even there, however, the Lions' offensive coordinator isn't revealing his feelings regarding his return to St. Louis to coach against the team that sent him packing at the end of the 2005 season.
"No, no," said wide receiver Roy Williams. "It's the same thing every week, he wants to win every week and we're 0-3."
But anyone even remotely familiar with Martz has little doubt that he has special feelings about playing the Rams and that he will have something special cooked up for the Lions when they get to the Edward Jones Dome.
After all, Martz was the offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil on the 1999 St. Louis team that won Super Bowl XXXIV and he was the head coach of the 2001 team that lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Martz was considered the architect of the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that prospered with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for a good seven seasons. But he missed the final 11 games of the 2005 season with a heart problem and, by the time he was ready to return, the Rams had decided they no longer needed his services.
Instead of seeking another head coaching job immediately, Martz eventually was persuaded by Lions new head coach Rod Marinelli to take the offensive coordinator position in Detroit. That's where he is — installing his own brand of offense with a team that has struggled the past five years and is now struggling to get back on track.
With the Rams game next on the schedule, the media was eager to talk to Martz but he sent word through the team's public relations staff that he would not be available to talk this week.
That doesn't mean that the media — or the Lions players — don't have a pretty good idea how badly he wants a win in St. Louis.
"Oh yeah, who wouldn't?" said Williams. "If I get traded and I come back here to Detroit, I want to put on a good show. It's just the nature of this game ... you especially want to beat your old team."
Cornerback Dre' Bly was a rookie on the Rams' Super Bowl championship team and played the next three seasons under Martz and said "it's going to be big" for Martz to go back to St. Louis.
"You know Mike's been looking forward to this game ever since he left. I still don't understand why he was fired; he took us to two Super Bowls and had a winning record as a head coach. Whatever happened, happened. I was glad that he came here and we're just moving forward but I know he's very excited to go back, have an opportunity to go do what he does best in the city that he did it best in. I'm looking forward to going back to St. Louis also."
The players were in morning meetings when the incident was revealed across the country so most of them were reluctant to talk about it.
"I just found out about it when you just said it," wide receiver Roy Williams told reporters.
"It's surprising when anybody tries to kill themselves especially the type of player T.O. is but it's not my deal. My prayers are out to him if he feels that way."
Other Lions players simply declined to comment on Owens.
"It's kind of like being in that tunnel," Marinelli said. "You're digging, right? And when the light comes, what do you start doing? Digging faster? That's the wrong way to do it. See? That's wrong.
"You dig when you expect no light. That's what I'm about. I'm just going to keep digging, digging, digging until you make your own light."
In other words, when things are the most difficult — as they seem to be for the Lions as they attempt to pick up Marinelli's offensive and defensive systems — is when the players should be working the hardest.
"Because the other way's easy: ‘Hey, the light's coming, we'll all go play fast.' That's just not the way it is. That's not life. So we'll move forward."
Veteran wide receiver Corey Bradford, a nine-year veteran who occupied a starting position through training camp, the pre-season and the season opener, was deemed expendable and was released Wednesday.
In the first three games, Bradford caught three passes for 36 yards. In the 31-24 loss Sunday to Green Bay a pass ricocheted off his chest for an interception the Packers returned for a touchdown.
Coach Rod Marinelli declined to get into specifics regarding the decision to release Bradford.
"We just felt this was the right move for our team right now," he said. "It's a good move. We like some of the young guys that are coming up right now. It's an opportunity for some of these young guys.
"We had to make a move, somebody. And that was the position we're the deepest at on the football team. And it was the healthiest."
The Lions needed a roster spot to add backup lineman Blaine Saipaia, who provides depth at guard and tackler, where the team has been besieged with injuries.
Although Marinelli did not identify the young receivers he feels will get more playing time with the departure of Bradford, the team has a number of players who fit that category — among them Mike Williams, Shaun Bodiford and Eddie Drummond.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 — Total of Lions road wins over the past five seasons. They lost 24 in a row on the road during the 2001-03 seasons, won three on the road in 2004 and two on the road last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We see him as one of the best backs in the league. He proved it a little bit this past Sunday; we need a little bit more. I know the fantasy gurus need him a lot more and hopefully he'll show up Sunday." — Wide receiver Roy Williams on the Lions need for running back Kevin Jones to have a productive day Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Brett Favre has never had three successive 300-yard passing games in his 15-year starting career in Green Bay.
Monday night might be as good a time as any for Favre to hit the trifecta. On the heels of a second straight 340-yard, three-touchdown showing that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the first time since 2004, Favre likely will have to still be sensational for the Packers to have a shot of upsetting heavily favored Philadelphia.
With no run game to speak of and a 31st-rated defense that's going into a hornets' nest against the Eagles' top-rated offense, Favre and his receivers will have to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Question is, does Green Bay have enough firepower to withstand Philadelphia's tenacious defense and hold its own in a shootout?
Based on last Sunday's 31-24 win at Detroit, the answer is a cautious yes. The offense was dynamic and prolific at the same time because Favre stayed true to the short, quick passing game of the West Coast system.
Most of his 36 passes, of which 25 he completed, were of the dink-and-dunk variety on underneath routes and checkdowns. Even the most impressive play of the game, a 75-yard touchdown pass to rookie Greg Jennings that started the scoring, evolved out of a simple 5-yard slant.
Tight end Bubba Franks thought the conservative game plan that was executed impeccably by Favre might be a turning point for the veteran quarterback, who's expressed skepticism in weeks prior about the youthful cast surrounding him.
"Brett's going to go out and give you what he has every game. I think it's more of on the other guys," Franks said Wednesday. "Everybody's looking at it as, ‘It's Brett's fault if we lose; this is why he's doing this and that.' Sometimes, he gets caught up into thinking that he has to gunsling it all the time. He has a team there to support him. This last game, with him having 10 different receivers, hopefully that gives him enough confidence to know he's got guys here for him."
Getting better support from the defense would be helpful, too.
The Packers are a maligned bunch, especially in the secondary, which was originally regarded as the strength of the team. Through three games, Green Bay has allowed 25 "explosive" plays — considered to be passes of at least 16 yards and runs of at least 12 yards. Just those few breakdowns have accounted for 54.5 percent of the opponents' total yardage.
"It's surprising. You don't want it," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's a talented group, and we need to get better at being on the same page. It's a problem."
There would seem to be no end in sight, at least for another week considering that the Eagles lead the league with 20 plays of at least 20 yards and have 29 explosive plays in all that have accounted for 58.9 percent of their staggering yardage output thus far.
"I hate doing this with statistics, (but) you sit there and talk about the other 85, 90 percent and it's really good defense," McCarthy said. "But, that's a problem we need to get fixed, and we're playing against the top-ranked offense in the league. They've played wide open their first three games, so I anticipate they're going to be playing wide open Monday night. It's a great challenge for us, and I think it's an opportunity for our secondary to have a big day."
If the big plays that have been given up ad nauseam are to be replaced by big stops, McCarthy believes cornerback Al Harris must be at the heart of the turnaround. The talented veteran and onetime Eagle has been abysmal in pass coverage, which isn't lost on the coaching staff.
"I don't know how many times they'll throw the ball this week or how much they'll challenge us, but it just needs to be more consistent," McCarthy said.
SERIES HISTORY: 37th meeting. The Packers lead the series 22-14 but have lost four straight dating to the 2003 season. The interdivisional teams are playing in Philadelphia for the fourth consecutive season, an odd occurrence that started with the Eagles' fourth-and-26-inspired 20-17 overtime win in the 2003 NFC divisional playoffs. The Eagles also won the teams' other postseason meeting, 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship at Philadelphia.
The 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown by rookie Greg Jennings in the 31-24 win at Detroit last Sunday was Favre's 10th scoring pass of at least 75 yards. He shares the all-time league mark with George Blanda, Ed Brown, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Snead.
Tight end Bubba Franks' season all but came to a premature end when he took a hard hit from Eagles safety Brian Dawkins in the first half. Franks was taken off the field on a stretcher and had to be hospitalized in Philadelphia overnight with neck and back injuries. Franks played the following week against Chicago but absorbed another shot at the outset of the game and didn't play again in 2005.
The Packers are 1-1 in Monday night matchups with the Eagles, winning 39-13 in 1996 and losing 17-14 in 2003. Both games were in Green Bay.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — Instances in which quarterback Brett Favre has passed for 300 yards and three touchdowns in back-to-back games during his ongoing 244-game starting streak with Green Bay since 1992. He attained the feat with identical 340-yard, three-touchdown performances the last two weeks against New Orleans and Detroit.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not positive. That's why they're on the other side of the state." — Packers head coach Mike McCarthy on the sentiment Pittsburgh natives, of whom he's one, have for Philadelphia.