Around the NFC North

Everything is different this week in the NFC North, with the Bears suddenly feeling good about their chances and the Packers reeling. The Lions were off last weekend.


This time the defense refused to surrender a fourth-quarter lead, and as a result, the Bears are 2-2 and tied for first place in an NFC North that could be theirs for the taking.

With the Vikings at 1-3, the Lions at 0-3 and the 2-2 Packers possibly having to battle on without their No. 1 quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Bears' prospects are a lot more encouraging than they were before the 24-20 upset over the Eagles in front of a raucous, capacity Soldier Field crowd that couldn't celebrate until the final seconds ticked away.

By the time the Bears come back home, for an Oct. 19 game with the Vikings, there may be even more to celebrate. Because of blown double-digit leads in Weeks 2 and 3, the Bears could easily be 4-0. And in the next two weeks, they have extremely winnable games on the road — against the Lions this week and the Falcons a week later.

Defensive players continue to say they have been dominant in every game, and that's true for the most part, but they had crucial lapses in the two defeats. That trend was reversed in the prime time victory over the Eagles.
Time and again the defense picked up the slack created by an inconsistent offense, culminating in a goal-line stand for the ages, when the Bears stonewalled the Eagles three times from the 1-yard line in the waning minutes to preserve the victory. Matt Forte's 10-yard run helped the offense take all but 17 seconds off the clock after that.

The highly paid and publicized defense had taken flak for its inability to hold double-digit leads the previous two weeks, but it wrote a different story Sunday night in front of a national TV audience.

"The last couple weeks we haven't been able to finish," coach Lovie Smith said. "I thought we corrected some things."

Trailing 24-20, the Eagles had second-and-goal to go at the Bears' 1-yard line. Tony Hunt was stopped by Kevin Payne and Mike Brown for no gain. Then Correll Buckhalter went airborne over a mass of humanity to bring the nose of the ball within a foot of the goal line. Then Buckhalter tried again but was hammered by Alex Brown and Lance Briggs.

"They have some big guys up front, and we're not that big, so we expected them to run," Alex Brown said. "But (quarterback) Donovan McNabb could have run a bootleg, all that stuff goes through your mind.

"This very well could be a turning point for us."

But the Bears may have to play for at least awhile without two key components.

Brandon Lloyd has clearly been the Bears' go-to receiver this season, but Lloyd suffered an injury to his left knee while getting knocked out of bounds after a 24-yard reception in the second quarter. He did not return and left the locker room wearing a brace that extended from mid-thigh to his calf.

After catching two passes for 33 yards, Lloyd leads the Bears with 249 receiving yards and is second with 15 catches.

The defense might need Corey Graham to continue filling in for cornerback Charles Tillman, after the starter suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Tillman tried to return after spending some time on the sideline, but he was unable to stay on the field.

"Hopefully they're not too serious," coach Lovie Smith said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody was thinking the same thing, ‘Make a play.' It was a special way to end the game." — DE Alex Brown, who along with Lance Briggs made the tackle stopping Correll Buckhalter just short of the goal line on fourth-and goal with 3:40 remaining and the Bears clinging to a 24-20 lead.

LINEUP WATCH: Expect Marty Booker and Devin Hester to get more playing time if, as expected, Brandon Lloyd (knee) is sidelined for awhile. Likewise, Corey Graham may have to fill in for Charles Tillman at left cornerback. In addition, Nick Roach has been taking playing time away from Hunter Hillenmeyer, the starter the previous four seasons.


  • WR Marty Booker's 23-yard TD catch was his only reception of the game and just his third this season. The first two accounted for just 11 yards.

  • DT Tommie Harris (knee) was inactive Sunday after failing to be much of a factor in any of the first three games and rarely practicing since the start of the season.

  • DT Israel Idonije started in place of Tommie Harris and had a sack plus three solo tackles.

  • WR Devin Hester, who practiced sparingly this week because of torn rib cartilage, caught three passes for 27 yards, including a 20-yard TD. He also had 99 yards on three kickoff returns but looked lost on punt returns, netting one yard on three attempts.

  • RB Matt Forte was held to 43 rushing yards on 19 carries but had team highs with five receptions for 42 yards.


    Losers of two straight for the first time since 2006, the Packers (2-2) are in the throes of a health scare that could jeopardize at least the short-term future of their season.

    On the heels of losing Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris for at least a month to a ruptured spleen, Green Bay might have to soldier on without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    The first-year starter suffered what he alluded to after the game could be a separated right (throwing) shoulder in the Packers' 30-21 road loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but the it was diagnosed later as a sprain.

    "It hurt pretty bad," Rodgers said.

    The injury occurred when a scrambling Rodgers landed hard on the shoulder on a tackle by the Bucs' Elbert Mack in the third quarter. Rodgers stayed in the game for another series, in which he managed to put zip on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings.

    Rodgers then was relieved by rookie Matt Flynn for a series. Rodgers returned to the field late in the fourth quarter with the Packers down 23-21 but threw his third interception of the game two plays later and was held out for good.

    "When I threw the touchdown pass to Jennings, I was in pretty intense pain," Rodgers said. "As bad it hurt, I just wanted to try to give it one more go."

    Rodgers' status for the Packers' next game against Atlanta was in question, pending further evaluation and treatment this week. The injury was initially diagnosed as a bruised shoulder, though Rodgers mentioned Sunday the possibility of it being separated or dislocated a few times.

    "If there's any way I can go, I'm going to go," Rodgers said about playing this weekend.

    The shoulder injury adds to Rodgers' track record of being susceptible to physical hardships in his four-year pro career.

    When he was backing up iron man Brett Favre before this season, Rodgers suffered a season-ending broken foot in 2006 and a pulled hamstring that made him unavailable the final four games of the regular season last year.

    Rodgers' latest setback occurred on the same day Favre, who wasn't wanted by the Packers' brass after he rescinded his offseason retirement in training camp and was traded to the New York Jets, marked his 279th straight start with a career-high six touchdown throws.

    Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson didn't add a veteran backup for Rodgers and went into the season content with 2008 draft picks Flynn and Brian Brohm. Flynn, a seventh-round selection out of LSU, outperformed the inconsistent Brohm, a second-rounder from Louisville, in the preseason to win the No. 2 job.

    Packers head coach Mike McCarthy expressed confidence in Flynn's ability to step in, if needed, for Rodgers.

    Flynn was just two of five for six yards in his two-series relief effort Sunday.

    "We had plenty of ammunition, as far as play selection, as far as things we felt comfortable with, as far as what Matt Flynn and (quarterbacks coach) Tom Clements felt comfortable with," McCarthy said.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're not going to win in this league when you turn the ball over four times like that. It's disappointing. We've got to be very critical of ourselves. We're 2-2. We have a tough stretch coming up, three games before the bye week, and we need to get back to playing the kind of football we feel like we're capable of playing. We haven't put together a whole game yet — four quarters where we're playing our style, which is executing, keeping drives alive." — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the Packers' mistake-prone offense in a 30-21 loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — Sacks allowed by the Packers in the last two games, after they gave up only one in the first two contests.


  • CB Al Harris will be sidelined at least three-to-four weeks with a ruptured spleen that he sustained in the first quarter of the Sept. 21 game against Dallas. Harris was to begin a rehabilitation program Monday. Tramon Williams started in Harris' spot Sunday.

  • DE Cullen Jenkins left the game Sunday in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury to his right shoulder. He didn't return.

  • FS Nick Collins, who earlier intercepted a pass for the third straight game, aggravated a bruised back late in the contest and didn't finish it.

  • SS Aaron Rouse, making a second straight start in place of an injured Atari Bigby (hamstring), also didn't finish the game after aggravating a knee injury in the fourth quarter.

  • WLB A.J. Hawk suffered a groin injury toward the end of the game and had to be replaced for a spell by Desmond Bishop. Fox Sports reported the injury as a possible groin tear that will be evaluated further.

  • DE Jason Hunter left the game with a hamstring injury.

  • WR James Jones didn't play Sunday because of a torn PCL in his right knee that he aggravated in the previous game.

  • FB Korey Hall was deactivated for the second straight game because of a sprained left knee. John Kuhn was the lone fullback on offense.

  • RB Kregg Lumpkin also didn't play after he suffered a hamstring injury in the previous game.

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