QB Rex Grossman survived a rough week in Chicago and played his best game in a month on a national stage, Detroit's veteran kicker Jason Hanson has been a rock solid on a rocky team, and the Packers have already begun preparations for their game next Thursday against the Vikings. Get those stories and more news and notes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.
Besieged Bears quarterback Rex Grossman
played well enough in a back-and-forth first half to keep his job, as the Bears clung to a 14-13 lead over the Rams.
In the second half, Grossman played even better; the best he's played in a month, since the second half of the 38-20 victory over the Giants. His Monday night performance on national TV provided a spark that had been missing for weeks and resulted in a 42-27 Bears romp at the Edward Jones Dome.
"Rex went through a lot this past week," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "His game has been dissected by everyone that knows anything about football. There was a lot of pressure on him. I thought he really stepped up to the plate and played outstanding ball. He did exactly what we expect him to do."
It was widely rumored that Grossman would be yanked at halftime if he struggled as he had in the previous two games. In the first half he completed just seven of 15 passes, but they produced 100 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass and no interceptions for a passer rating of 91.0, 89.7 points higher than his rating a week earlier. He finished with a passer rating of 114.4, his best in six weeks, as he completed 13 of 23 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Grossman hadn't passed for more than 176 yards in any of his previous three games, nor had he completed more than 50 percent of his passes. That and six interceptions against just one touchdown pass had prompted repeated calls for backup Brian Griese
to take over at quarterback.
"I was very impressed with Rex," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said, "but not surprised with his decision making. He ran the offense and didn't try to do too much."
Turner said he had to work on Grossman's confidence during a brutal week of outside criticism, "but not too much," he added.
Mostly, Grossman didn't turn the ball over at all; it was a nice respite from the 18 turnovers he had in the previous seven games
"It felt really good to play well and get out of a slump," Grossman said. "I was able to relax, even though there was a lot of pressure on me. I had to do that. The best way to describe it, is I was efficient and decisive. I played with a sense of rhythm and got the ball to the right guys."
RS/CB Devin Hester established an NFL record with his fifth kick-return TD of the season with a 94-yarder in the second quarter and then added to the standard with a 96-yarder. It was just his second game of the season as the Bears' kickoff return man. He's also scored on three punt returns and a missed field goal.
RB Thomas Jones suffered a sprained ankle on his 30-yard TD run midway through the third quarter and didn't return, although the injury isn't considered serious. The TD was Jones' longest run of the season and left him with 76 yards on 11 carries for a 6.9-yard average, his best of the season.
RB Cedric Benson got a season-high 16 carries because starter Thomas Jones suffered a sprained ankle in the third quarter, and Benson responded with a season-high 64 yards.
OLT John Tait missed a series in the first half with a sprained ankle but returned and finished the game.
PK Robbie Gould missed two field-goal attempts, from 37 and 49 yards, after having hit 26 of 27 this season, including his first 24 in a row. His only previous miss was on a blocked kick. The two misses Monday night were both wide right.
For the past 27 seasons, the Lions might as well have hung a sign on their locker room door: Kickers need not apply.
Throughout the tumultuous times covering the arrival and departure of seven head coaches, three interim head coaches and hundreds of players at other positions, the Lions have had only two placekickers.
Eddie Murray arrived in 1980, a seventh-round draft pick from Tulane, and gave the Lions a high level of consistency in their kicking game for 12 seasons.
Jason Hanson, a second-round pick from Washington State, was the hand-picked successor, brought in by then-special teams coach Frank Gansz in 1992 and is still putting them between the uprights.
Hanson, 36 and playing his 15th NFL season, still ranks among the league leaders in field goal percentage (.846 on 24 of 26 attempts) and has 10 touchbacks on his kickoffs.
He is one player the Lions haven't had to worry about replacing since he took over the job.
"You just want it to be where your coordinator isn't going like, ‘We have to get 10 yards closer because Hanson can't hit these,'" Hanson said. "We can do whatever we need to do, so that feels good."
Coach Rod Marinelli makes no secret of his willingness to send Hanson onto the field for a field goal attempt anywhere from 55 or 56 yards out. So far this season, Hanson is five-for-six between 40 and 49 yards, and is three-for-six on attempts of 50 yards or more.
He has been successful on attempts of 53 yards (twice) and 52 yards, and has missed from 56 yards and 52 yards (twice).
Hanson is one of four NFL kickers with at least 30 field goals of 50 yards or more but he feels just as good about his overall consistency, a trait he shares with his predecessor.
"Eddie and I both were real consistent," Hanson said. "Eddie was great; he did it year after year and I've always tried to do that. You show up in year 15 and try to do it the same as you did it in year one, two, three, four. I feel like I can do the same things I've always done."
Which means the Lions will probably have the same sign on the door next year when Hanson comes back for year 16. No additional help needed.
QB Jon Kitna's 3,484 passing yards put him among the NFL leaders in that department despite the fact he is on a streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one interception. During those 11 games Kitna has been intercepted 19 times while throwing 14 touchdown passes. It appears he will have to shoulder an even greater share of the Lions offensive load because of a foot injury that has knocked RB Kevin Jones out for the rest of the season.
RB Kevin Jones has been diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot and will be lost for the remaining three games of the season. There are also questions whether he will be ready for the start of the 2007 season. He is expected to undergo surgery and the recovery from a Lisfranc injury can take up to a year or more to recover. Jones finished the season with 689 yards rushing and 520 yards receiving, plus eight touchdowns. He was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Lions' 30-20 loss to Minnesota.
TE Dan Campbell has been the most productive of the free agents signed by the Lions during the past off-season. Campbell was signed primarily to give the Lions blocking help but he ranks as their fourth-leading receiver with 19 catches for 277 yards and three TDs.
WR Roy Williams is on his way to a possible 1,400-yard season if he maintains his current production pace through the Lions remaining three games against Green Bay, Chicago and Dallas. Williams has 69 catches 1,116 yards and four touchdowns in the first 13 games but he accumulated virtually all of his catches and yards in 12 games. He was injured and missed all except the first offensive series with a neck stinger in the first Minnesota game.
WR Mike Furrey is one of the players the Lions are expected to sign to a contract extension before he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Although he came to the team as an unheralded receiver-turned-safety with offensive coordinator Mike Martz during the off-season, Martz quickly moved him back to WR. Furrey has a team-high 74 receptions good for 857 yards and four TDs.
DE Kalimba Edwards, by his own admission, is having a disappointing season after signing a new contract last spring. He moved into a starting DE job eight games ago because of injuries but has recorded only one QB sack for a six-yard loss and has been credited with 45 tackles for the season.
LB Paris Lenon, signed by the Lions as a UFA last spring after four full seasons and a year on the practices squad at Green Bay, has started all 13 games, splitting his time between MLB and SLB, and trails only rookie WLB Ernie Sims in tackles with 71 in 13 games.
S Daniel Bullocks, a second-round draft pick last April, has started seven of the Lions' first 13 games and has been a productive player in the defense. Bullocks originally was expected to compete for the FS job with Terrence Holt. Although he did not win the job, he got a chance at additional playing time when SS Kenoy Kennedy missed several games with injuries. He has played well against the run with 66 tackles by press box stats.
LB Donte' Curry, who was named the Lions' special teams captain before the start of the season, has lived up to expectations as one of the top producers on the special teams coverage units. In the Lions' first 13 games, he leads all special teams players with 25 tackles.
QB Josh McCown is back to his fulltime job as the backup QB, after catching two passes for 15 yards in the Dec. 3 game at New England. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has described the athletic McCown as the Lions' disaster receiver, able to step in and run routes when the team is short on WRs because of injuries.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Once the players return Wednesday from a two-day break — they were given Monday off following the 30-19 win at San Francisco on Sunday — they will have little free time for more than a week.
The coaches were busy cramming two games' worth of preparations in their game-planning day Tuesday. The Packers host Detroit on Sunday, then come right back and play Minnesota in a Thursday night game Dec. 21.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said this week's schedule for the players won't be out of the ordinary. Even though they'll have two games in five days, McCarthy won't be cutting his guys much slack. The players will continue to practice in pads Wednesday and Thursday.
"It's important we get the reps for Detroit but to get the carryover also for Minnesota," McCarthy said.
Win or lose Sunday, McCarthy already has slotted Monday as an off day. The team will have its only practice before the game against the Vikings on Tuesday, then be engrossed in a walk-through and extended meetings Wednesday.
The short turnaround will pose a late-season challenge for the league's youngest team. Only 13 players on the 53-man roster were with the club when it last endured a similar two-game stretch in 2003 because the Packers played at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Working in Green Bay's favor for the upcoming games, however, is they have a good feel for both teams after playing their division rivals earlier in the season. What's more for the offense, it has to prepare for only one defensive scheme, since the Lions and the Vikings both run a Cover 2.
"As far as our defense, they're playing two different systems of football. Whatever carryover you can have, you try to maximize that and build it into this week's practice," McCarthy said.
McCarthy made a point of emphasis to get more of his younger players involved in the last game. A liberal substitution pattern will be in order to try to get guys through the next two games.
"This is something that is really on the forefront for us to take advantage of this week because we need to play more guys going into the Detroit game," McCarthy said.
WR Ruvell Martin was expected back in Green Bay on Monday night after he was held overnight in a San Francisco hospital for observation. Martin suffered a bruised chest in the 30-19 win over the 49ers on Sunday. The availability of Martin, the team's No. 3 receiver, for Sunday's game against Detroit won't be known until at least Wednesday. The first-year player had his first NFL touchdown in the last game, getting wide open for a 36-yard catch in the first quarter.
WR Donald Driver sustained a shoulder injury Sunday and likely will be held out of practice Wednesday. Driver managed to play with the injury the entire second half, when he had a 68-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and finished with nine receptions for 160 yards. Head coach Mike McCarthy was optimistic Monday that Driver would play in the next game. On Sunday, Driver became only the fourth player in team annals to attain 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, joining James Lofton (1983 to ‘85), Sterling Sharpe (1992 to ‘94) and Antonio Freeman (1997 to ‘99). Driver has 1,103 yards this season, just 118 shy of his career best last season.
WR Greg Jennings aggravated an ankle injury in the second quarter Sunday but returned in the second half and had five receptions for 50 yards. The rookie remains stuck on three touchdowns, however, all of which came in the first five games.
CB Charles Woodson aggravated a shoulder injury in the second quarter Sunday but also made it back for the final two quarters. Woodson had his first fumble recovery of the season, increasing his team-leading takeaway total to six. He's had four takeaways in the last three games.
RT Mark Tauscher might get back on the field before the end of the season. The veteran starter has missed the last four games because of a groin injury. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated Monday that Tauscher has a decent chance of playing Dec. 21 against Minnesota, if not sooner in Sunday's game against Detroit.
RB Ahman Green needs just 238 yards to become the Packers' all-time rushing leader. Green, who had 77 yards in 21 carries Sunday, has 7,970 yards in his seven seasons with the club. Jim Taylor has the 40-year-old record of 8,207 yards. Green also is on the verge, with 867 yards, to attain his sixth 1,000-yard rushing season with the team, which would break a tie with Taylor for the franchise record. Green had a 1-yard touchdown Sunday, only his fifth rushing TD of the season.
QB Brett Favre was a mistake-free 22-of-34 passing for 293 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, moving him within seven TDs of Dan Marino's league record of 420. Favre also extended his NFL record of consecutive seasons with 3,000 passing yards to 15.
TE Bubba Franks had only one catch for the third time in the last four games and is teetering on having his least productive season in a seven-year career marked by three Pro Bowl selections. Franks doesn't have a touchdown and has just 20 receptions, five short of his career low last season, when he missed six games because of injury.
WLB A.J. Hawk had his first interception as a pro in Sunday's game. Hawk made a heady play in downfield coverage on fellow first-rounder Vernon Davis and picked off an underthrown pass from Alex Smith in the front of the end zone in the fourth quarter. Hawk was credited with 10 tackles by the coaches in their film review and leads the team with 136 this season.
RDE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had his playing time reduced to less than 50 percent Sunday, as Cullen Jenkins replaced Gbaja-Biamila on the majority of early downs. Gbaja-Biamila, who has only five sacks, was better for the diminished role and effective as a pass rusher, getting three early pressures on Smith.
LDE Aaron Kampman halted a three-game drought without a sack by assisting Jenkins on the only sack of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Kampman has a team-high 10.5 sacks.