The Bears had young players step up in a rout of the 49ers, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna loves playing in Mike Martz's system, and David Martin is starting to fulfill expectations in Green Bay. Get those stories and many more notes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.
Some of the biggest plays in the Bears' 41-10 rout of the 49ers Sunday were made by young players or those who aren't normally difference-makers.
made his first start of the season replacing Mike Brown at strong safety, and there was no noticeable drop-off in the play of the Bears' defense, which is the NFL's best in fewest points allowed.
Actually, Johnson's play stood out. He tied for fourth on the team with five tackles and forced a fumble.
"Todd played very well," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "He did a couple things that were exciting for us. He had a couple big hits. He played very well for us in man coverage. We put him in a couple spots having to run with the tight ends, and we were very happy to see him play the way we feel he's capable."
Not only did Johnson contribute his usual intimidating hits, but he fit seamlessly into the defense, which held its 10th straight Soldier Field opponent to 10 points or less.
"He's a big hitter," coach Lovie Smith said. "He had one strip, and for the most part he blended in with our defense, and he made the plays he was supposed to. He just fit in with the rest of the defensive guys out there."
Special teams had a gaggle of standouts, not counting the still-perfect Robbie Gould
whose 36- and 43-yard field goals gave him 22 straight connections, including 20-for-20 this season. Gould also launched four of his eight kickoffs into the end zone, two of which weren't returned. Brendon Ayanbadejo
, a Pro Bowl alternate last year as a special-teams coverage whiz, had a remarkable six tackles against the 49ers. Adrian Peterson
added three, to preserve his slim 14-13 season lead over Ayanbadejo.
Rookie Devin Hester
, who's been an impact player all season, got just one opportunity to bring back a punt Sunday. But that's all he needed to convince the 49ers that it wasn't a good idea to allow him to get his hands on the ball. Hester busted a 42-yard return on the second play of the second quarter to set up the Bears at the 49ers' 24-yard line for their fourth touchdown, which gave them a 31-0 lead. That padded Hester's NFL-best punt-return average to 14.6 yards. He's had at least one return of more than 20 yards in five of the Bears' seven games.
"It's another threat," Smith said. "We talk about scoring anyway we can, and that's what we've been able to get with Hester. Every time he touches the football he has a chance to score, and if not score, he at least has the chance to set our offense up with good football position."
Another rookie, fifth-round defensive end Mark Anderson
, added one to his season sack total of 7.5, which is tied for fourth in the NFL and leads all rookies.
"We got good pressure from the defensive line on their quarterback," Smith said. "Mark getting another sack, those numbers just keep going up for him."
Second-rounder Danieal Manning
, who was picked 42nd overall, 15 spots ahead of Hester, started his fifth straight game and had five tackles, leaving him tied for fifth on the team with 31 hits for the season.
QB Rex Grossman's passer ratings in home games this season are: 148.0, 100.5, 101.2 and 137.4, and he has been sacked just six times all year on 224 pass plays and just twice in four home games.
RB Thomas Jones is still averaging a modest 3.9 yards per carry and has just one run of more than 17 yards, but he has 98 yards or more in three of the past four games.
TE Desmond Clark leads all NFL players at that position with 391 receiving yards and a 15.0-yard average.
WR Muhsin Muhammad has a total of 122 receiving yards and a 9.4-yard average per catch in the last four games after going over 100 yards in two of the first three contests.
WR Bernard Berrian has gone two straight games without a reception of 20 yards or longer (7 catches, 72 yards) after having five receptions of 40 yards or longer in the first five games.
DE Mark Anderson has at least one sack in four straight games and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 7.5, which also leads all rookies.
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo had six special teams tackles against the 49ers, a team best for the season.
LB Brian Urlacher followed up his 25-tackle performance on Monday night with just five tackles against the 49ers, not surprising since San Francisco ran just 46 plays and Urlacher was used frequently, and effectively, as a pass rusher.
DE Adewale Ogunleye returned to the lineup after missing two games with a strained hamstring and picked up one of the Bears two sacks, giving him 2 1/2 for the season. He had 10 last year.
SS Todd Johnson, in his first start of the season in place of injured Mike Brown, tied for third on the tem with five tackles and forced a fumble.
It would seem logical for Jon Kitna to wish that he had run into Mike Martz a long time ago.
Nothing, though, could be further from the truth.
Kitna is having a career year with the Detroit Lions, but he's not sure his younger self could have handled Martz's style.
"When I was 25, I wouldn't have been ready for this," he said. "I needed to get some experience before I would have been able to appreciate what he is doing."
Kitna leads the NFL in completions with 167, despite having already had a bye week, and is fifth in yards with 1,853 in seven games.
"I love this system," Kitna said. "You don't realize how much Mike studies. He sees every piece of film that exists, and he knows how to attack the defense."
Kitna especially enjoys that Martz's system isn't about taking what the defense is giving them.
"We aren't making adjustments or calling audibles," he said. "We are attacking. If you make a mistake you hear about, but if you do your job and it doesn't work, he takes the responsibility."
Kitna could be excused for some smug looks in the direction of the Cincinnati Bengals, who replaced him with Carson Palmer, but he scoffs at the idea.
"I don't feel vindicated at all," he said. "What happened in Cincinnati was part of the process that got me here.
"It's not like they thought I was a bad quarterback — they just had a commitment to Carson. And, to be honest, working with Carson has helped me become the quarterback I am today."
Lions coach Rod Marinelli is a little concerned by Kitna's turnovers — he has nine interceptions and three fumbles in seven games — but that's his only complaint.
"We need to work on his ball security," Marinelli said. "Other than that, he's been very, very good for us."
QB Jon Kitna is among the league leaders in several categories, but is just 18th in passer rating at 81.2. His nine interceptions are third in the league, trailing the 11 thrown by Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Frye.
RB Kevin Jones is only 19th in the NFL in rushing yards with 474 - 22 behind Michael Vick - but seventh in total yards with 740. Jones has blossomed as a receiver this year, and his 37 receptions trail only Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook among running backs.
TE Dan Campbell was brought in this season as a blocker, then missed most of training camp with an elbow injury, but has surprised the team with his pass-catching skills. He has only eight catches, but five have gone for at least 20 yards and six have resulted in first downs.
WR Roy Williams feels that his two-catch performance on Oct. 22 against the Jets will be good for him in the long run. "They did some things that I hadn't seen before, but now I know how to bust them," he said. I hope someone else tries the same things against me."
WR Mike Furrey started training camp as an afterthought in what was supposed to be a deep Detroit receiving corps. But, while better-known players like Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Corey Bradford and Az Hakim have failed to make an impact, Furrey has firmly established himself as the No. 2 wideout. After catching 21 passes in his first three years, and spending most of last season as a safety for the Rams, he has 37 receptions for 431 yards and three TDs this year.
LB Boss Bailey appears to have lost his starting job as the Lions linebacker corps begins to recover from a rash of injuries. With Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis possible for Sunday's game against the Falcons, Marinelli is going to shift Bailey from the starting MLB job to an outside rotation with Lewis and rookie Ernie Sims. Paris Lenon and Lehman would play inside.
DT Shaun Cody is expected to miss the Atlanta game as he recovers from a dislocated toe sustained in the Oct. 15 win over Buffalo.
DT Shaun Rogers will also miss the Falcons game, which will be the second of his four-game league suspension. Rogers tested positive for a banned substance during training camp, believed by teammates to be a weight-loss aid.
With T Rex Tucker (knee) and G Ross Verba (hamstring) planning to play against Atlanta, the Lions offensive line will be juggled. Tucker and Jeff Backus will start at tackle, Verba will play left guard and Dominic Raiola will be at center. That leaves Blaine Saipaia, Rick DeMulling and Barry Stokes to battle for the start at right guard.
P Nick Harris will be in the lineup against the Falcons, despite rumors that the team would look at Todd Sauerbrun over the break. After a spectacular season that saw him drop 34 punts inside the 20 last year with only two touchbacks, Harris has drawn coach Rod Marinelli's ire this season. In seven games, he has only had six punts downed inside the 20 with eight touchbacks.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
It has taken more than five years, but David Martin is finally living up to expectations as a tight end who was converted from receiver as a rookie.
As such, the perennial injury-prone backup has moved ahead of Bubba Franks as the team's top tight end - at least in a statistical sense. Martin has 15 receptions and two touchdowns through seven games, compared to 12 and zero for Franks.
"David is starting to do things that I always thought he could do, but he was never being able to stay healthy," offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said.
Jagodzinski was Martin's tight ends coach with the Packers from 2001 to ‘03. They reunited this year when Jagodzinski, who had been fired after the 2003 season and coached the next two years with Atlanta, was brought back to be first-year head coach Mike McCarthy's right-hand man for the offense.
Of Martin's first five years in the league, the sixth-round draft pick out of Tennessee played a full season only once, in 2003. He missed a total of 14 games because of a litany of health reasons but hasn't sustained an injury of consequence this season. Martin took a shot to the jaw near the end of the Packers' 31-14 win over Arizona on Sunday, but he said afterward that he would be OK for this week.
"It feels like it's coming together a little bit," Martin said. "I'm trying to get the confidence of (quarterback) Brett (Favre) and the coaches, and that's really what it's all about. Try to get some more plays."
Martin is on pace to surpass his career-high numbers of 27 receptions and three touchdowns from last season. Both of his touchdown grabs came in the last two games. Martin had four catches Sunday for a season-high 48 yards, 5 short of his personal best.
The contributions of Martin in the passing game have been vital because the Packers have been shorthanded at receiver the last three games. Robert Ferguson suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 4. Koren Robinson received a one-year suspension as a repeat offender of the league's substance-abuse policy two weeks ago. Rookie standout Greg Jennings was out Sunday with a sprained ankle.
"(Top wideout Donald) Driver is almost out there by himself. It's a young group (of receivers) out there," said Martin, who's often split out in three-receiver formations. "I think with having a veteran group at tight end, it was our job to step up and make plays."
The versatile Martin also has become a cog in the Packers' steadily improving rushing attack. He's periodically lined up at fullback on early downs. Martin could get more snaps there Sunday at Buffalo because starter Brandon Miree likely will be out with an elbow injury, which leaves declining veteran William Henderson as the only healthy fullback on the roster.
"Whatever happened in the past (with Martin), I did not see that. I really don't," McCarthy said. "I always judge people and players (by) my interaction with them. He's a heck of a football player. I'm glad he's on our team."
RB Vernand Morency will miss at least the next two games because of a lower back injury sustained toward the end of the 31-14 win over Arizona on Sunday. Morency, a second-year player, rushed for a career-high 101 yards in only 11 carries as a change-of-pace back. Noah Herron is expected to fill Morency's role.
FB Brandon Miree suffered a hyperextended elbow in the second half of the last game and is doubtful to play Sunday at Buffalo. Miree, a second-year player, was the lead blocker in the last four games ahead of veteran William Henderson, who likely will regain his starting job this week.
WR Greg Jennings is considered questionable for the game against the Bills but should practice at some point this week. The rookie was held out of Sunday's game after he didn't practice last week because of a sprained ankle. Ruvell Martin started in Jennings' place.
WR Donald Driver suffered a twisted ankle late in the game Sunday but managed to return and finish it. The injury isn't considered serious, so the team's top receiver should be ready for the upcoming contest.
CB Charles Woodson was nursing a sore knee after sustaining the injury in the first quarter Sunday. Woodson was injured while trying to break up a third-down incomplete pass and wasn't able to handle his punt-return duty on the next play. He returned for the next defensive series and finished the game, in the process making his second interception in as many weeks.
RB P.J. Pope signed with Green Bay. Pope, a 5-foot-9, 218-pound rookie from Bowling Green, had signed with the Bears as a non-drafted free agent this past spring. Chicago's leading 2006 rusher during the preseason, he gained 153 yards on 40 carries (3.8 avg.) with one touchdown. He also had four catches for 43 yards (10.8 avg.) in non-league action. A four-year letterman at Bowling Green (2002-05), Pope finished his career as the school's only player to rush for more than 3,000 yards and accumulate more than 1,000 receiving yards.
C Chris White was released by Green Bay. White, a second-year player, dressed but did not play in each of the Packers' first seven games.
RB Ahman Green starred in the win Sunday with 21 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Green and Morency became the first Packers to rush for 100 yards in the same game since Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis on Dec. 1, 1985. Green passed Hall of Famer Paul Hornung for second place in team annals with 51 rushing touchdowns in his Packers career. Hall of Famer Jim Taylor has the record with 81.
QB Brett Favre scored on a 1-yard keeper in the third quarter Sunday, his first rushing touchdown since Dec. 3, 2001. Favre celebrated by jumping into the first row of the stands near the end zone for what the team's 15th-year starter believes was his first Lambeau Leap. Favre has 14 career rushing touchdowns, including the playoffs. Thanks to a big running day by the team (203 yards), Favre had a season-low 25 pass attempts and completed 17 of them for 180 yards and a touchdown. He didn't have an interception for the third straight game - the first time that's happened since early in the 2002 season.
TE Bubba Franks didn't have a catch for the second time this season. The three-time Pro Bowler has been unproductive in the passing game thus far, with only 12 receptions for 123 yards and no touchdowns.
DE Aaron Kampman is tied for the league lead in sacks with a career-high 8 1/2. Kampman eclipsed his previous high of 6 1/2, attained last season, when he dropped Cardinals rookie Matt Leinart twice in a third-quarter series.
CB Al Harris has rebounded from a lackluster start by stringing together three quality performances shutting down the opponent's top receiver. Cardinals All-Pro Anquan Boldin had only four receptions for 47 yards Sunday. Before that, Miami's Chris Chambers had only two catches for 29 yards, and St. Louis' Torry Holt had just three receptions for 40 yards.