Monday night in front of a national TV audience would be a perfect opportunity for Thomas Jones to rub the Cardinals' noses in the fact that, after drafting him with the seventh overall pick in 2000, they traded him to the Bucs three years ago for wide receiver Marquise Walker.
Yeah, that Marquise Walker, the one who starred at Michigan but was cut by the Cardinals two months after they acquired him, then by the Bengals and Patriots.
Jones' career has gone a long way in the opposite direction since he escaped the desert. A solid second half with the Bucs in 2003 led to a four-year, $10 million deal with the Bears, where he has flourished. Jones rushed for 1,355 yards last season, ninth most in the NFL and 71 more yards than he picked up in three years with the Cards.
Now Jones and the 5-0 Bears head back to Arizona, where the 1-4 Cardinals are having a typical season. They've lost 10 games or more in 12 of the past 17 seasons. In the 18 years since they left St. Louis, the Cards have had one winning season.
But Jones, who has 388 rushing yards and is tied with for fifth in the NFC with younger brother Julius of the Cowboys, won't say, "I told you so."
"I don't care about the Arizona Cardinals," Jones said. "My past did. But that was my past. I'm a tough person. I try to put my past behind me and move on, and that's what I've done. So it's just another football game. I'm excited about playing on Monday night football and having the opportunity to be 6-0."
On a day when the Bears' locker room was inundated with national media in addition to the ever-increasing mob of locals, Jones could have gloated in his and his team's success. But the fact that the reticent Jones was receiving visitors was enough of a surprised for one day. Jones just doesn't seek the attention. But even he admitted that the notoriety that has arrived with being the NFL's dominant team is kind of nice.
"We're definitely being rewarded for our hard work and consistency," Jones said. "But you have to have a short memory in this league to be successful. We're not even halfway through the season yet. We're definitely excited about the attention we're getting, but we know the only way to keep that attention is to continue to do well and win football games, and that's what we're focused on."
The Bears' success has obscured almost anything negative or potentially divisive, such as the competition at running back between Jones and Cedric Benson. With the Bears' No. 1 offense controlling the ball and the No. 1 defense dictating the tempo, there has been enough playing time to keep both backs involved. Jones is averaging 21 carries a game and Benson has had double-digit carries in four of five games.
"There's no competition," Jones said. "We're both here to do our job and make plays. That's it."
Both players want to start, but Jones was one of the first to congratulate Benson last Sunday on his first touchdown.
"I want everyone to be successful on our team," Jones said. "He's a running back, just like I am. It's a great feeling to score a touchdown, especially your first one. I remember when I scored my first one, and I'm happy for anyone on this team that's successful or makes a good play or does something well.
"I'm excited for him and happy for him. We're all in the same group; we're all running backs and that's our goal to go out there and score touchdowns and make big plays, and that's what he did. So of course I'm going to be there to celebrate."
Jones wouldn't be doing much celebrating if he was still in Arizona, but he doesn't have to bother saying so.
SERIES HISTORY: 89th meeting. Bears lead series, 56-26-6 but they've played just four times ion the past 15 years. The Series dates to 1920, when the Chicago Cardinals defeated the Decatur Staleys 7-6. The following season, the Staleys became the Chicago Staleys and the next year the Chicago Bears. The Cardinals played in Chicago, on the South Side, from 1920-1959.
"I wouldn't say I'm completely in a rhythm," said Benson, who has 144 yards on 46 carries and scored his first 2 NFL touchdowns last week. "I'll probably never really get there, unless I get into the starting role. It'll be hard for me to get there coming into the game for a series and then sitting for three or four series and then coming back in for a couple series. I'll never really get into a groove. I'm going to try real hard to find it, though, on my couple of series."
The Bears' running game struggled through the first three games but, as expected, it's starting to assert itself. For the offense to maintain a strong ground presence throughout the season, coaches and players have been preaching since the off-season that they need Jones and Benson.
"Both of those guys are unbelievable backs, and I know they're both competitors," quarterback Rex Grossman said. "They both want to be out there, and from my standpoint, I think it's great. In this league, you definitely need two running backs. Those guys are a great mix, they have a little bit different running styles. They both deserve to start."
At Texas, Benson carried the ball 1,112 times in four seasons, so he's still not comfortable playing limited snaps, but he's adjusting offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.
"He told me before the (Bills) game, ‘I'm still not where I need to be. I'm still a little bit rusty, but I'm going to keep on working and get that rust off,'" Turner said. "He's been practicing really well, and he played really well last week. You can see his confidence growing all the time."
"Right now we have a pretty balanced attack," coach Lovie Smith said. "Those are the types of numbers that you like to have. We got our running game going (last Sunday with season bests of 39 carries and 155 yards). That's big for us when we say that we're a running football team."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner is convinced that an improved running game will make the passing game even better.
"It all starts with the running game," Turner said. "We're going to run the ball, and we have to be able to do it effectively and make plays in the passing game when they're there. They all tie in. We don't want to be strictly a running team, and we're not going to come out and throw every down. We have to be able to do both."
"He has a lot of God-given ability, great speed and quickness," coach Lovie Smith said. "He has a 40-inch vertical (jump). You don't find many defensive ends with those type numbers. As much as anything, we harp on having speed on the perimeter, and that's exactly what we have with him. We thought he was a steal when we got him in the fifth round and it's looking that way."
Against the Bills Hester handled 4 opportunities cleanly and had 42 return yards, including a long of 21 for a 10.5-yard average, improving his season mark to 10.2. He has 3 returns of more than 20 yards.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Bears are No. 1 in points per game and in points allowed per game. Their point differential of 120 (156 scored, 36 allowed) is the highest in the NFL after five games in the past seven years. (The 1999 Rams outscored their first five opponents by 123 points).
TE John Gilmore's seven-yard reception in the first quarter last Sunday snapped a streak of three straight catches that had resulted in touchdowns going back to last season, when his only catch was a one-yard TD against the Bucs on Nov. 27. The last time Gilmore caught a pass that didn't result in a touchdown was Sept. 26, 2004.
Gilmore had TD catches of five and three yards against the Lions in Week Two this year, his only receptions before Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of depth on our defensive line. No. 8 or 9 on our defensive line are pretty good football players." — Bears coach Lovie Smith
With losses in each of their first five games, the Lions aren't thinking beyond the game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
And the word "professionalism" is popping up more and more when they are asked about their motivation for the rest of what has the appearance of becoming a very bleak season.
"You're a pro," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "It doesn't matter what your record is, you're being paid to do a job and our job this week is to go out and try to get our first win against Buffalo.
"Whatever has happened in the first five weeks is irrelevant to what your job is. Your job is to go out and do the best that you can do. You shouldn't need anybody to motivate you or anything like that. For me, I'm going to just try to lead by example."
Despite the presence of a new coaching staff and a new attitude, the Lions' 0-5 record is all too familiar with the players and their fans.
The 0-5 start is the Lions' worst since the 2001 team lost its first 12 games on the way to a 2-14 record. And it isn't a lot worse than the 1-4 of 2001 or the 1-6 of 2003. If the Lions cannot turn the season around soon, they will be stuck with their sixth consecutive season of double-digit losses.
It is not what they wanted and not what they expected, but they're up to their knees in misery again this year and there is nothing they can do except follow coach Rod Marinelli's advice and keep pounding the rock.
Marinelli says the most important thing the Lions players can do — a theme he has stressed in this week's practices and meetings — is to play disciplined football. Every man must do his job and not stray from his own assignment.
"I mean, it's glaring to me still," Marinelli said, that some players were trying to do more than they should have in what is essentially a one-gap defensive system.
"One of the things you see is guys getting out of their gaps," he said. "Just spinning out of the gap."
At times, in the 26-17 loss at Minnesota, that meant that frequently a gap would be left unattended and Vikings running back Chester Taylor inevitably would find the seam and be off for a gain.
"So the integrity of the gap, we obviously have got to get better at that," Marinelli said.
The Lions also have to do a better job of tackling if they hope to play a more effective defense. They currently rank 28th in the NFL.
The offense showed signs of life in putting up 58 points in back-to-back losses to Green Bay and St. Louis, but there is a possibility — "a good possibility" according to Marinelli — that the Lions will be playing without three offensive line starters and possibly without wide receiver Roy Williams against Buffalo.
Right guard Damien Woody, a Pro Bowl player when he was at New England four years ago, was put on injured reserve after suffering a mid-foot sprain Sunday at Minnesota, and two of his o-line teammates — left guard Ross Verba (hamstring) and right tackle Rex Tucker (knee) — have been battling injuries all season.
Tackle Jeff Backus said it's just a matter of preparing and then doing the job, regardless of which players are out with injuries and which players are filling in for them.
"I think guys believe in what we're doing and the systems that we have," Backus said. "It's just a matter of everybody doing what they're supposed to be doing and playing within the scheme.
"We've got guys that will step in and play. It's their responsibility to be ready to go and to play at a winning level. We are professional athlete. We're paid to go out there and perform; we've just got to get it done."
SERIES HISTORY: 8th game in a series that is dead even after the first seven games at 3-3-1. The Bills have won the last two games, including the 24-17 win in the last meeting of the teams in 2002, and also knocked off the Lions in the final pre-season game this year.
Woody, along with left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola, was the strength of the Lions offensive line.
Coach Rod Marinelli, who has been doing a juggling act with the left guard and right tackle positions all season due to injuries, was obviously not happy to lose Woody.
"Oh, he's a good player," Marinelli said. "A good player."
According to athletic trainer Al Bellamy, the injury probably would have required six to eight weeks before Woody could even have resumed workouts, and Marinelli felt the Lions couldn't keep him on the active roster that long, considering all of the other injury concerns they have.
"We've just got too many guys on this list right now," Marinelli said. "We're still waiting on four or five guys to get back that we've kept on this list for awhile. So we're just hoping to get to the bye and through the bye, and hopefully get all these guys back."
The Lions have two more games — at home Sunday against Buffalo and at the New York Jets the following week — before they get to their Oct. 29 bye.
"I met Nate Robertson a couple of years ago and he said we played baseball against each other when we were younger, I think 10 or 11 years old," Backus said.
"Some baseball tournament out in the Midwest, maybe in Iowa. I grew up playing on a travel baseball team and we traveled all through the country playing. I guess he played for a team in Kansas and I was playing for a team from Georgia.
"And supposedly we played against each other. The reason he remembered me was that I was such a big kid at the time.
"A couple years ago we went down to Tiger Stadium and took batting practice with those guys, and he brought it up then."
Backus, who is now a 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, was obviously bigger than most of the other 10 and 11-year olds. He played first base, caught and pitched as a youngster before giving up baseball to concentrate on football.
Jauron was hired as the Lions defensive coordinator by then-coach Steve Mariucci in 2004 and he eventually replaced Mariucci as the interim head coach for the final five games of the 2005 season.
"One thing I liked about Dick is that he's a good man, to go along with a great coach," said linebacker Boss Bailey. "I really liked the guy a lot. I liked what he brought to the game and everything. He was all about getting the job done.
"He always said you get out of it what you put into it and that's pretty much it. Everything was cut and dried with Dick."
Bailey said he expects to talk to Jauron either before or after the game Sunday at Ford Field. "I'll make it a point to go see him," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 28 — Number of field goals of 50 yards or more in Jason Hanson's 15-year NFL career after he connected from 53 yards Sunday at Minnesota. Only Morten Anderson (40), Jason Elam (35) and John Kasay (32) have more. He has 16 game-winning field goals.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really believe we're close, we're a different team. If you haven't seen that, there's something wrong. We definitely play harder and we're close. We're going to keep fighting because we truly believe things could turn around; there's a lot of games left to be played." — Cornerback Dre' Bly on the chances for a turnaround by the 0-5 Lions.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Koren Robinson has big plans for the extended three-day weekend afforded the players during the bye week.
The embattled receiver was set to return to his home in North Carolina and throw a belated birthday party for his son, who turned five on Oct. 6.
Come Monday, when the players punch back in at work, Robinson intends to be preparing for another game and continuing with the personal rebirth he believes is taking place in Green Bay.
"Little by little, I'm showing the Packers and the fans and my teammates what I'm able to do once given the opportunity," said Robinson, who had his first significant action on offense this week with the team that took a chance on the talented, yet troubled veteran.
While Robinson fully expects to be in a Packers uniform through the end of the season, there's no telling how soon the league could kick him out for a year. It came to light in a national report Sunday that Robinson's camp is in the process of appealing a one-year suspension recently imposed by the commissioner's office.
The former first-round draft pick ran afoul of the law again in August when he was arrested for a drunken-driving offense outside Mankato, Minn., where Robinson was in training camp with the Vikings. Robinson faces multiple charges and has a pretrial hearing October 17.
Consequently, a judge in Kirkland, Wash., last week ruled that Robinson violated the probation handed down last year when he pleaded guilty to another drunken-driving incident and ordered him to serve 90 days in jail. The sentence can be served after the football season.
Robinson didn't speak directly Tuesday to the one-year league suspension that's hanging over him, but he asserted that he's not letting the off-field commotion take away from playing football.
"You can't dwell on something, especially if it's out of your hands," Robinson said. "I worry about what I'm going to do today, what I'm going to do tomorrow, what I'm going to do the day after. I can't do nothing about what happened in the past. As far as that situation, I can try to learn from it and try to better myself in a positive way. But, what's done is done, so why dwell on it?"
If and when the suspension would go in effect wouldn't be disclosed until the appeal process is exhausted.
Robinson's attorney, David Cornwell, reportedly asked the league to delay the hearing for the appeal until the legal situation in Minnesota is resolved, which could take several months. Precedent has been set, however, that the league wouldn't have to wait on a possible conviction for Robinson to rule that he's a three-time offender of its substance-abuse policy and must sit out a year.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said earlier in the week the team was aware of the possible implications of Robinson's latest offense when it signed him to a two-year contract Sept. 12 following his release from the Vikings.
"I'm very thankful that (general manager) Ted (Thompson) gave me the opportunity and the organization gave me the opportunity. I feel like they've got my back regardless of what happens," Robinson said. "We'll just see what happens."
The 1-4 Packers, who next play October 22 at Miami, seemingly need Robinson as much as he needs them for as long as he can continue playing. He's made some clutch third-down catches and is now at ease in Green Bay's version of the West Coast offense, to which Robinson was previously exposed with both Seattle and Minnesota. With Robert Ferguson out indefinitely because of a broken foot, Robinson fits the bill as the No. 3 receiver to complement Donald Driver and rookie Greg Jennings. What's more, Robinson has hit it off with quarterback Brett Favre.
"I think our (on-field) relationship is growing, week by week," Robinson said. "I feel like he's getting a better sense of where I'm going to be, and I'm getting a better sense of where he's going to throw the ball, what he's thinking on certain plays."
Robinson conceded that he will be given to quite a bit of thought while he's away this weekend.
"It's a good time for me to go home and be with my family, at the same also think about what I can be doing to better myself as a person and also as a teammate and a player for the organization," he said. "So, when I come back, I can be ready to go next week getting ready for Miami."
Head coach Mike McCarthy has excused the players Friday through Sunday. They will reconvene Monday.
An analysis conducted by the Elias Sports Bureau placed Favre as the fifth-oldest quarterback in history to have the most pass attempts in a season. He was 36 years and 83 days old at the end of last season.
Having turned 37 on Tuesday, Favre could be the second-oldest player to lead the league in the category at the end of this season. Vinny Testaverde (2000) is No. 2 on the list at 37 years and 41 days. Fran Tarkenton was 38 years and 317 days old when he threw the most passes in 1978.
The season totals for Jennings, who has 364 receiving yards and three touchdowns, project to 64 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Billy Howton (1952) owns the club rookie records for receiving yards with 1,231 and touchdowns with 13.
After five games, though, they have had the fourth-toughest start among the 32 teams. The Packers' initial opponents have a 17-8 record (.680 winning percentage). The early-season slate included losses to Chicago (5-0), New Orleans (4-1), Philadelphia (4-1) and St. Louis (4-1).
Ahead of Green Bay in the difficulty rankings are the New York Giants (14-4), Denver (14-5) and Tampa Bay (14-5).
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 — Seasons in the franchise's 88-year history in which the Packers have lost their first three home games, including this year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of guys know we have to win. We have to win games. Basically, that's our downfall right now — we haven't finished games off when we know we had the opportunity to win ‘em. Right now, we should be sitting at least 3-2 or 4-1. Instead, it's the opposite of that." — WR Donald Driver on the mindset of the 1-4 team in the midst of its bye week.