The Bears are an impressive 5-0 but aren't about to be satisfied, the Lions are the opposite – winless and overcome by fourth-quarter ineptitude – and the Packers have just one win thanks to a defense that is having difficulties communicating. Get the stories, notes and quotes from around the NFC North.
The Bears have scored the most and allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL this season, which shows precisely how well they've played, according to coach Lovie Smith. But the 5-0 Bears haven't achieved anything of significance, according to the coach, who isn't in danger of straining a rotator cuff congratulating himself on a fast start.
"Once they start giving out trophies or something after five games, then you can start patting yourself on the back," Smith said. "We're 5-0 right now. We haven't accomplished any of our goals right now. We have so much football left to go, those games seem like they happened last year. We just can't wait to play the Arizona Cardinals
Who wouldn't look forward to playing the 1-4 Redbirds on Monday night, especially since rookie quarterback Matt Leinart
will be making just his second NFL start? Although Leinart lit the Bears up with 12 consecutive completions during a 23-16 Arizona victory in the preseason, Smith isn't worried about a repeat performance when it counts. But the Heisman Trophy winner was impressive at times in his first start Sunday, even though the Cardinals lost to the Chiefs 23-20.
"Matt Leinart is a good football player, but this is the first time we will have played him, as I see it," Smith said. "The preseason games are glorified practices to me, so we're anxious to play them again. They were able to have some success against us back then, but it's a totally different mindset."
The mindset Smith will try to maintain for the time being is that the Bears have a long way to go before they even improve on last season. As Smith sees it, the Bears are where they're supposed to be. After all, three of their victories are against teams with a combined record of 3-12.
"I like the position we're in right now," Smith said. "(But) we all had high hopes. I think when you start the season, you set those goals, and everyone assumes you can achieve them. So, as we were drawing up our record, we didn't say, ‘This team would beat us.' As we looked at the first five opponents, we thought we had a chance at (winning) all those football games, so I can't say that we've exceeded our expectations. I think we're about where we thought we would be."
It appears the Bears' biggest obstacles in the next month could be overconfidence and boredom. Their next three opponents - home games against the 49ers and Dolphins follow the trip to the desert - have a combined record of 4-11. And they have the added luxury of a bye week after the Cardinals.
"There's always the chance of a letdown, but hopefully that won't be the case with us," Smith said. "We have a lot of veteran players in there that I think won't let that happen."
It might take a lot of convincing if the Bears look too closely at the numerous statistics that demonstrate how thoroughly they have dominated so far. Their point differential of 120 (156 scored; 36 allowed) is the greatest in the NFL since 1999.
But Smith said there is still room for improvement.
"As a team, I don't think you can peak after five games," Smith said. "There's just too much football left to go, and I'm watching the tape. We haven't peaked."
QB Rex Grossman has 10 TD passes in five games after throwing just four TDs over the course of eight games in his first three seasons in the NFL.
RB Thomas Jones has increased his total yards and average per carry in each of the past three games, rushing for 54, 98 and 109 yards with averages of 3.0, 4.1 and 5.0.
TE Desmond Clark had his least productive game of the season with just one catch for 12 yards, but he is still on pace for the most productive season of his eight-year career, with 16 receptions for 244 yards.
WR Bernard Berrian leads the Bears with 413 receiving yards after a 97-yard game in Week Five, and he has a touchdown and a catch of more than 40 yards in four of five games.
WR Muhsin Muhammad had just two catches for 10 yards along with a couple drops last week, but the Bears' leading pass catcher is on pace for his fourth 1,000-yard season with 26 catches for 334 yards.
DE Alex Brown had his second career interception last week, his third sack of the season and moved into a tie for third place on the team with 25 tackles.
LB Lance Briggs got his first interceptions last week, and he leads the Bears with five tackles for loss. No one else has more than one.
CB Ricky Manning Jr. picked off his team-high third pass last week, all in the past two weeks. No other Bear has more than one interception.
S Todd Johnson will step in for Ricky Manning Jr. as the Bears' nickel corner if Manning receives a suspension from the league for his arrest on assault charges in April.
RB Cedric Benson has gotten double-digit carries as a backup to Thomas Jones in four games and picked up a season-high 48 yards last week (on 14 attempts).
The numbers are so startling, they virtually jump out at you: In the fourth quarter of their first five games of the season, the Lions have been outscored, 47-13.
The impact can be softened somewhat by the realization that 23 of those 47 points were scored by the Minnesota Vikings as they overcame a 14-point third quarter deficit in their 26-17 victory Sunday but the fact remains the Lions are not a strong fourth quarter team.
They managed to hold their own (3-3) in the fourth quarter of a tightly-contested 9-6 loss to Seattle in the season opener but they have been outscored in the final period by their other four opponents - 3-0 in a 34-7 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears, 7-3 in a 31-24 home-field loss to Green Bay, 11-7 in the 41-34 loss at St. Louis and, of course 23-0, in the nine-point loss at Minnesota.
And, although the Lions have not shown they are close to competing with Chicago for the NFC North division honors, they could have avoided their current 0-5 start if they had been able to stage strong finishes against Green Bay and St. Louis in two winnable games.
Coach Rod Marinelli addressed the subject this week, suggesting the Lions mindset has to be re-programmed after five years of a steady diet of losing.
"I know that's how you do it," Marinelli said. "The best way to do it, it's all about discipline and discipline isn't just a light switch, OK? ‘We're going to be disciplined now;' you turn it on and, ‘Oh, we're disciplined.' Then, ‘Oh, now we're not.' It just doesn't work that way. I think it takes a mind change, a willingness to change."
Marinelli has been hammering at the discipline angle - along with the necessity for a strong work ethic - since he was hired last January and he said he will work at it again this week as the Lions prepare for their game Sunday against Buffalo. Regardless of injuries or which players are on the field, they have to play better in the fourth quarter.
"That's when your discipline - if it takes hold, if it's really engrained - it becomes stronger than the excitement or the fear of the game," he said.
"That's when it's got to kick in. We haven't come to that point yet where late in that fourth quarter we're doing everything exactly right."
QB Jon Kitna could be facing another difficult assignment Sunday if the Lions don't get any of their injured offensive linemen back. Playing without three starting linemen at Minnesota, Kitna was brutalized to the tune of five quarterback sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble, and he virtually never had time to set up, view the field and throw the ball. It appears RG Damien Woody (foot) will not play but the Lions are hoping to get LG Ross Verba (hamstring) or RT Rex Tucker (knee) back.
RB Kevin Jones will be looking for a fresh start Sunday against Buffalo after being shut down (eight yards on 10 carries) at Minnesota. Playing without both starting guards and the starting right tackle, the Lions had no success running the ball against the Vikings and could face a similar situation against Buffalo if they cannot get back any of the offensive line regulars. Jones is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry for the season.
TE Dan Campbell remains one of the Lions' most dependable weapons in the passing game although he has just seven receptions in five games. He is averaging 17.1 yards per catch and his only catch at Minnesota went for a 12-yard touchdown. He is also invaluable as an additional blocker in the running game.
WR Roy Williams' status for the Lions game Sunday against Buffalo probably won't be known until later in the week. Williams suffered a stinger in his upper back and missed all but the first three plays of the Minnesota game. Coach Rod Marinelli said his status will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. Williams is the Lions leading receiver with 26 catches for 391 yards and a touchdown.
WR Mike Williams finally got a pass thrown to him in the Lions' 26-17 loss at Minnesota but the ball was slightly low, he bobbled it and then dropped it. After that play, offensive coordinator Mike Martz did not send him back into the game. Other receivers, who also had dropped balls, played instead.
DT Shaun Rogers had two sacks in the Lions' season opener but has had none in the last four games. In the 26-17 loss at Minnesota, Rogers was credited with three tackles and two quarterback hurries but he also was called for two penalties - the first for encroachment and the second for roughing the passer. Both contributed to Vikings scoring drives.
CB Dre' Bly, considered the Lions' most dangerous defensive playmaker with 16 interceptions in his first three seasons with the team, has no interceptions in the first five games of this season. It is the longest he has gone as a Lion without an interception.
DT Shaun Cody was on crutches early in the week after suffering a dislocated toe on his left foot in the Lions' 26-17 loss at Minnesota. Cody's status as the starting nose tackle probably will not be known until later in the week.
PR/KOR Eddie Drummond continued to upgrade the Lions return game after a slow start. He had a 29-yard punt return against Minnesota, raising his season average to 7.6 yards on 11 returns, and had a 98-yard kickoff return called back by a penalty. He had kickoff returns of 44 and 65 yards in the previous two games.
TE Marcus Pollard, who led all Lions receivers with 46 catches in 2005, has caught just six passes for 46 yards in the first five games. He lost the starting job to Dan Campbell, a stronger blocker, and is less involved in the offense than he was a year ago.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
A fundamentally sound professional football team, the 1-4 Packers are not.
Following a day off, the players reconvened Tuesday for the first of three straight practice days during the bye week. The workouts Tuesday and Wednesday were earmarked for review of the two most recent games with a heavy emphasis on getting back to the basics.
"Those are the root of our improvements and the root of our corrections is fundamentals," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's always the little stuff. You can go through every position, every phase of the game, and there's just little things that we need to continue to work on. We're getting better in a lot of them ... most of them, actually. But, there's still some things we need to get cleaned up and continue to work."
Prominent on the weeding-out list is shoring up the communication breakdowns and misalignments on defense that have engendered a slew of big pass plays for the opposition each and every week so far. The Packers have allowed an astounding 35 completions of at least 16 yards, which the coaching staff chalks up as explosive plays.
It's also incumbent on defensive coordinator Bob Sanders during the week off to get the substitution signals straight with players between plays. Three times incredibly in the 23-20 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, the defense had either 12 or 10 players on the field.
"It's like most anything - football, life, it's all about communication," McCarthy said. "There's nothing wrong with the structure, but we need to get it fixed because it's been a reoccurring problem.
"We reviewed it (Monday) in (the coaches') meeting and will apply more of an emphasis on it in the practice environment, in the classroom environment to make sure we get it fixed because it's a reoccurring problem."
The offense hasn't been beyond reproach, either.
There's been at least one fumble by a running back in the last four games. Vernand Morency, who again started in the absence of an injured Ahman Green, was benched early Sunday after he had a costly miscue for the second straight game.
The offensive line is coming off its first solid complete game run blocking, but it's not where it needs to be in the zone-blocking system. What's more, a blown protection by rookie Tony Moll, who stepped in for an ailing Jason Spitz at right guard, resulted in a last-minute fumble by Brett Favre that prevented the Packers from getting a potential score-tying field goal or a game-winning touchdown Sunday.
WR Koren Robinson is appealing a one-year suspension that was reportedly imposed by the league within the last two weeks. Robinson will remain with the team, pending the outcome of the appeal. He already has been ordered by a state of Washington court to serve 90 days in jail for violating the probation stemming from a drunken-driving offense last year. Robinson was arrested in August near Mankato, Minn., for another DUI incident and has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Oct. 17.
QB Brett Favre, who turned 37 on Tuesday, wasn't able to engineer a last-minute comeback Sunday against St. Louis. Favre led the offense from the Packers' 21 to the Rams' 11, but Leonard Little stripped the football from Favre's hand and St. Louis recovered at the 13 with 36 seconds left to seal a 23-20 victory. The Packers lost for the first time in 44 games at Lambeau Field when Favre didn't throw an interception.
RB Ahman Green was deactivated for the second straight game because of hamstring soreness. He will benefit from the bye week and should be ready to return game duty Oct. 22 at Miami.
RB Noah Herron didn't start Sunday's game in Green's absence but wound up starring in the defeat. The second-year player stepped in as the featured back after Vernand Morency fumbled twice (one turnover) in the first quarter. Herron finished with a career-high 106 yards in 20 carries and had a 1-yard touchdown, the Packers' first by run this season.
WR Donald Driver managed to play the entire game despite having lingering soreness in his ribs and hip from a hard hit he took in the previous contest six days earlier at Philadelphia. Driver said he wasn't limited, but few balls were thrown his way and he had only three catches for 24 yards.
WR Greg Jennings started the Packers' fourth-quarter comeback from a 23-13 deficit with a streaking 46-yard touchdown catch with less than seven minutes left. Jennings had the second 100-yard receiving game of his rookie season with five receptions for 105 yards.
TE Bubba Franks had two catches for 16 yards Sunday, adding to his unproductive start this season. Franks has all of 11 receptions, his lowest total through his first five games of a season in his seven-year career. He also doesn't have a touchdown in 2006.
CB Al Harris turned out to be a goat in the latest loss. He dropped a pass thrown right to him by Marc Bulger and had daylight in front of him for what would have been a 95-yard touchdown return late in the third quarter with the Rams ahead 17-13.
LT Chad Clifton suffered a shoulder injury on the ill-fated final offensive play in which Favre fumbled. He's considered questionable for the next game Oct. 22.
CB Charles Woodson came out of the last game with knee and ribs injuries. Woodson finished the game but will be questionable for the next game.
FS Nick Collins also is iffy for the matchup with the Dolphins after he took a hit to the head late in the game Sunday. Collins finished the game, though.
DE Aaron Kampman registered a sack, bumping his team-leading total to 5 1/2, which is one shy of the career high he attained last season.