Around the NFC North

The Bears failed to generate much of a pass rush in a loss to the Bucs and has some questioning their value. Lions GM Matt Millen is staying the course (a losing one) despite an increasing chorus of ‘Fire Millen.' The Packers are still waiting for final word on CB Al Harris, who could be done for the season. It was a rough start to the week for every team in the NFC North besides the Vikings.

CHICAGO BEARS

It still boggles the mind that the Bears' filthy-rich defense failed to sack the Bucs' physically limited Brian Griese even once while he was throwing 67 passes last Sunday.

Even more distressing, the Bears were able to "hurry" Griese only six times, according to statistics released by the team after coaches' review of the game film.

You have to wonder what the Bears' extremely well-paid (some might say overpaid), but underachieving defense was doing on those other 61 plays.

Players on losing teams are fond of pointing out that the other guys — the ones who have just defeated them — get paid too. Fortunately, none of the Bears defenders used that irritating copout of a cliche after the loss to the Bucs. Maybe that's because they know they're getting paid so well but playing so poorly.

Tackle Tommie Harris got a $40 million, four-year extension this year. Right end Alex Brown got a two-year extension for $15.5 million in new money, and left end Adewale Ogunleye is playing out a six-year, $33.4 million deal that runs through 2009.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher got a one-year extension for $18 million in new money tacked on to his original nine-year, $56.65 million deal. Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs got a new six-year, $36 million contract.

Cornerbacks Charles Tillman (seven-year, $41.5 million extension that runs through 2013) and Nate Vasher (five-year extension for $28 million that runs through 2012) are also financially set for life with their most recent contracts.

Now it's time for the defense to produce an effort commensurate with their respective pay checks — for a full 60 minutes.

Free safety Mike Brown had 17 tackles against the Bucs, and Tillman was second with 11, but it's never a good sign when players in the secondary are the leading tacklers. Usually that means the guys up front aren't doing their jobs or the secondary is allowing a lot of passes to be caught, and in this case, there were 38 of them.

What is the solution?

One may be to give Harris a rest, since he rarely practices during the week and could probably use it. He's clearly not the same player he was before a knee injury slowed him last season and required postseason surgery. In three games, Harris has a total of two tackles, including one solo, plus one tackle for loss. Sure he gets double-teamed, two tackles wasn't even a good one-game total for him in 2006 and most of 2007, and he was getting double-teamed then too.

Meanwhile, a healthy Anthony Adams, who was third among Bears linemen in tackles last season, has been inactive for each of the first three weeks. Adams won't help much in the pass-rush department, but he had at least four tackles in seven of his nine starts last season and seven tackles in a game he didn't start.

Bears coach Lovie Smith is a firm believer in rotating his defensive linemen to keep all of them fresh, and he may need to add Adams to the rotation, either as a short-term replacement so Harris can get healthier or to give him and the other tackles more rest.

The Bears also need better play from their ends. Alex Brown leads the team with two sacks, but his one tackle for loss vs. the Bucs was the only hit he was in on. He has four tackles for the year, and Mark Anderson, the third end, has just three.

"Everything starts up front with us," Smith said.

But it's finishing that has been the problem for the Bears' front and for the entire defense. They've failed to hold second-half leads of 14 and 10 points in the last two games.

It's time to start performing up to their contracts since most of them got new deals because they had supposedly outperformed their old deals.

NOTES

  • QB Kyle Orton threw for a career-high 268 yards in Week 3 with a passer rating of 83.9, including a pair of TD passes and interceptions.

  • RB Matt Forte had seven receptions for 66 yards to go with his 89 rushing yards on 27 carries, but he allowed a contested ball in the end zone to deflect off his chest and into the hands of Bucs LB Barrett Ruud, who made the interception while falling on his back.

  • TE Desmond Clark had two catches for just eight yards, although he came in averaging 16.8 yards on his first four catches.

  • WR Brandon Lloyd took a major step toward becoming Kyle Orton's go-to guy with six catches for 124 yards, including a 19-yard TD and a two-point conversion, all in the second half. Two of the catches were difficult, leaping grabs, which have become Lloyd's trademark.

  • WR Rashied Davis caught three passes for 37 yards but had a horrible drop in overtime that would have put the Bears in FG range. Davis could be in danger of losing playing time to Marty Booker.

  • CB Charles Tillman forced his second fumble of the season and had 11 tackles, including 10 solos, but his unnecessary roughness penalty after the whistle allowed the Bucs to have a fresh set of downs instead of having to punt from their own end zone, and they capitalized with the game-winning FG drive.

  • NT Dusty Dvoracek leads all linemen by a wide margin with 14 tackles.

  • WR Marty Booker had his 60-game streak of at least one reception snapped, but he could get an expanded role in the offense as soon as this week.

  • FS Mike Brown had a game-high 17 tackles and leads the Bears with 26 for the year. He also has a sack and a pass breakup.


    DETROIT LIONS


    Lions fans have been chanting "Fire Millen!" Now even Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. has joined the chorus.

    The son of owner William Clay Ford was attending an event at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, after Sunday's 31-13 loss at San Francisco that dropped the Lions to 0-3.

    A reporter asked Ford Jr. about the game.

    "It was an embarrassment, the fans deserve better, and if I had the authority, I would have fired the general manager," Ford Jr. said.

    That would mean Matt Millen. The Lions are 31-84 since he took over as team president in 2001.

    Asked again a few minutes later if he would fire Millen, Ford Jr. said: "Yes, but I don't have that authority."

    That authority rests with one man, Ford Sr., and there is no indication anything is imminent. Ford Sr. has always been supportive of Millen, despite the protests of fans and media, and Millen has always said he will not quit.

    The Thursday before the San Francisco game, Millen shrugged off the "Fire Millen" movement and fans who have jumped off the bandwagon already.

    "That's their choice," Millen said.

    Millen nodded toward the coaches and players on the practice field.

    "It's not their choice," Millen said. "They're not jumping."

    Though he said Ford Sr. has high expectations and is frustrated — and though he took full responsibility for the state of the team — Millen stuck to his guns.

    Millen said he believes in coach Rod Marinelli more than ever before because Marinelli has remained consistent amid adversity. He said he still believes in the coaching staff and players — and that if the Lions just do what they've been doing, they will win this year.

    "Stay the course," Millen said. "It's a little bump. ... It's not like you have to panic. You don't have to make wholesale changes. You don't have to do all that stuff. It's all right there."

    Millen echoed comments Marinelli has made — that the Lions have improved their professionalism in their preparation, but now they have to take that into the games.

    "I said at the beginning of the season, ‘Come on out, and you'll like what you see,'" Millen said. "And I think the people who came out (to training camp), they like what they see because they see discipline. They see the approach is right. They're practicing right. All the little things."

    What about the fan who says, "That's practice, but these are games"?

    "Well, if a fan says that, then they don't understand the game of football, because it can't happen on the field if it doesn't happen here," Millen said.

    Why does Millen believe it will happen in games?

    "The foundation's laid," Millen said. "Now, you have to keep on doing what you're doing, take it to the game field. They will."

    This year?

    "Yes," Millen said. "Absolutely."

    NOTES

  • QB Jon Kitna suffered a sprained right knee Sunday at San Francisco and was undergoing more tests Monday. He said the Lions medical staff didn't think there was any structural damage. He had another poor game, completing only 50 percent of his passes and throwing an interception, and sounded upset with the Lions' new offensive philosophy.

  • RB Rudi Johnson took over for rookie Kevin Smith and had 14 carries for 83 yards. Smith started, but Johnson got hot and the Lions stuck with him. Johnson, who signed just before the season, looks more comfortable in the offense and is expected to contribute more after the bye week.

  • TE Michael Gaines had one catch for 15 yards, but he could have had more if not for at least two drops. When Gaines signed as a free agent in the offseason, he said he wanted to show he was a complete tight end, not just a blocker. But he has had trouble catching the ball.

  • WR Calvin Johnson was a nonfactor with only four catches for 40 yards, after posting big totals in his first two games. His first catch didn't come until the third quarter when the Lions were in catch-up mode.

  • WR Roy Williams complained about not getting the ball enough, then didn't get the ball enough. He finished with only two catches for 18 yards and reiterated his desire for the Lions to use more four-receiver sets.

  • LB Ernie Sims led the Lions with 13 tackles Sunday. Still, even he has not had a strong first three games. He does not look like the future Pro Bowler he has seemed to be in the past.

  • DE Corey Smith was the only Lion to sack J.T. O'Sullivan, who took 12 sacks over his first two games. The Lions kept allowing O'Sullivan to escape the rush.

  • DT Cory Redding was a game-time decision with a high ankle sprain. But he started and the ankle did not seem to be an issue. He is expected to play after the bye week.

  • CB Travis Fisher's injury was described as a groin strain. The Lions gave no timetable for his return.

  • RG Stephen Peterman had an MRI on his broken right hand, and coach Rod Marinelli indicated the Lions were waiting to see if he needed surgery.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Cornerback Al Harris was scheduled to receive a second medical opinion Tuesday for an injury that was widely reported Monday night as being a ruptured spleen.

    The seriousness of the injury came to light a day after Harris played for all but a quarter in the Packers' 27-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

    Depending on the severity of the tear, Harris could be out the remainder of the season. He has never missed a game in his 11-year pro career and has started 83 straight games since being traded by Philadelphia to the Packers in 2003.

    Harris' agent, Jack Bechta, told reporters that Harris could miss anywhere from a month to 12 weeks but the more likely scenario is to shut down one of the top shutdown corners for the season.

    "That hurts," Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar said. "He's a great player, a lockdown corner. It hurts to lose a player like that."

    Harris apparently suffered the injury when he collided with linebacker A.J. Hawk as they tried to break up a pass to the Cowboys' Patrick Crayton eight minutes into the first quarter. Harris was said to have had the wind knocked out of him, and he walked off the field under his own power.

    He returned to the game two plays later. Toward the end of that same Dallas possession, which ended with an interception by safety Nick Collins, Harris left the game again — and for good — after he tackled running back Marion Barber.

    Harris subsequently was taken to the locker room for what initially was attributed to cramping. Head coach Mike McCarthy announced after the game that the medical staff kept Harris off the field when blood was spotted in his urine, a symptom of a ruptured spleen.

    The Packers managed without Harris for most of the game Sunday. Charles Woodson went into the game with the coverage assignment over Harris on Terrell Owens, who was held to two catches for 17 yards. Tramon Williams was promoted from nickel back to replace Harris in the base defense. Williams had a satisfactory performance, although he allowed Miles Austin to get behind him for a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Dallas some breathing room.

    Harris, who turns 34 in December, was accustomed to taking the opponent's top receiver the last five years with the Packers. A move was made, however, to give Woodson those responsibilities the last two weeks against Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Owens after Harris was overmatched by Owens in a regular-season matchup last season and then the New York Giants' Plaxico Burress in the NFC championship game.

    NOTES

  • FS Nick Collins faces a week of perhaps more rehab than practice after sustaining a bruised back that kept him out of most of the second half of the Packers' 27-16 loss to Dallas on Sunday night. Collins will be a question mark to recover in time for Green Bay's game at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Charlie Peprah played in his stead.

  • SS Atari Bigby didn't play Sunday because of a strained hamstring, an injury that could keep him out of action again this weekend. Aaron Rouse, who had an inconsistent performance against the Cowboys, would remain Bigby's starting replacement.

  • MLB Nick Barnett suffered a strained left elbow in the first quarter Sunday night but returned for the remainder of the game. The injury isn't believed to be serious but will be worth monitoring as the week progresses.

  • WR James Jones aggravated a right knee injury on the first play of the game Sunday, and his status for the upcoming game doesn't appear promising. Jones was sidelined for three weeks, including the season opener, after he suffered a torn PCL in the knee Aug. 22. Jones also sustained a wrist injury in the brief time he was on the field Sunday.

  • RB Ryan Grant could be ready to take on a heavier workload in the running game Sunday. Grant was limited to no more than 15 carries in each of the first three games as he continued to cope with soreness from a hamstring injury sustained early in the preseason. He came out of Sunday night's game, in which he gained 54 yards on 13 carries, no worse for the wear.

  • RB Kregg Lumpkin suffered a strained hamstring in the game Sunday. The injury for Lumpkin, a rookie who's third on the depth chart at halfback, isn't considered as serious as that incurred by RB Ryan Grant seven weeks ago.

  • C Scott Wells seems to be a good bet to return to the starting lineup Sunday for the first time this season. Wells was activated Sunday night as an emergency backup after being out since aggravating a strained lower back a week before the season opener. Should Wells reclaim the starting job, Jason Spitz would move from center to right guard, where Tony Moll has struggled.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers had accuracy issues Sunday night, completing only 22 of 39 passes, but he is one of only three quarterbacks in the league to not have thrown an interception through the first three weeks. The others are Washington's Jason Campbell and Oakland's JaMarcus Russell. Rodgers has a passer rating of 102.9, ranking seventh in the league.

  • WR Greg Jennings solidified his league lead for receiving yards by leading the Packers with eight catches for 115 yards Sunday. Jennings, who has had at least five receptions and 90 receiving yards each of the first three games, has 373 receiving yards. Denver's Brandon Marshall is next with 321. Jennings, though, still is without a touchdown.

  • WR Donald Driver complemented Greg Jennings on Sunday with four receptions for 76 yards, including a 50-yard grab on an uncovered deep route that set up a third-quarter field goal.

  • TE Donald Lee equaled his receptions output of the first two games combined with five catches for 41 yards Sunday. Lee has yet to score a touchdown.


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