Kyle Orton followed Drew Brees to Purdue because he wanted to be just like him.
"He made a lot of stuff happen for the program and was a big reason why I went there," Orton said. "I wanted to throw for all those yards and put up the numbers that he did. No question he was a big influence and a reason why I went there."
Orton never put up the staggering numbers Brees did at Purdue, but not many have. Brees finished his stay in West Lafayette, Ind., ranked fourth in NCAA Division I history in total offense, completions and attempts. Brees totaled 12,692 yards of total offense, while Orton finished second in Purdue history with 9,653 yards.
Comparisons to the prolific passer didn't bother Orton, even though they were a constant throughout his career as a Boilermaker, which began after Brees was drafted 32nd overall by the Chargers in 2001.
"Every quarterback that goes through that place is going to be compared to Drew," Orton said. "He was a great quarterback in college, he's certainly an outstanding quarterback in the NFL and a good person to watch and try to model yourself after."
That's still the case.
"It's not like we talk on the phone every night or something," Orton said, "but whenever we get to see each other, it's always friendly and good. He's fun to talk football with. He's an extremely smart player. I remember my freshman year; if I ever needed to find out how to run a play or (attack) a certain look, I'd just go and pop on (film of) what he did and try to do that. It seemed to work out for him."
A little less than a year ago they squared off at Soldier Field in the 2007 season finale, and Brees put it up 60 times, completing 35 for 320 yards and three touchdowns but also had a pair of interceptions. Orton completed just 12 of 27 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one pick, but the Bears won 33-25, and Orton's passer rating of 77.7 for the game was two points better than Brees'.
Thursday night at Soldier Field, Orton and the 7-6 Bears face Brees and the 7-6 Saints in a nationally televised game that each team needs to keep tenuous playoff hopes alive.
"I can't wait to play him," Orton said. "I've had fun playing him in the past, and I can't wait to do it this time."
Orton's teammates on the defensive side might not be so anxious to engage Brees, who leads the NFL with 4,100 passing yards, 52 completions of 20 yards or longer and 15 completions of 40 yards or longer, is tied for first with 26 TD passes and is fourth in passer rating (96.2).
"He's been playing great," Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "One thing we've talked about this year is quarterbacks who get the ball out (quickly). We're going to have a little bit of a problem with that. He gets the ball out really fast. They're spreading us out a little bit, so our guys on the back end have got to cover these receivers really well. (We) have to either get our hands up or get some hits on him."
Orton doesn't get to throw nearly as much as Brees does in the pass-happy Saints offense, but he's established himself as the leader of the Bears offense and has a 15-8 TD-interception ratio and an 83.5 passer rating. He doesn't have to be as productive as Brees for the Bears to defeat the Saints. He just needs to be efficient, as he was Sunday in his best game in six weeks.
"I executed the offense, made pretty good decisions, and we made some plays," Orton said. "That's been our story for success all year."
"It's certainly part of the game, especially when you get into December — cold weather and poor field conditions," Orton said. "So that's certainly going to happen. Drops are always going to happen. The day I don't miss a throw is the day I can complain when someone drops a football."
The Lions' losing keeps getting worse. The fans' abuse keeps getting worse. And center Dominic Raiola snapped during Sunday's 20-16 loss to Minnesota.
Raiola has mixed it up with fans many times before. But he drew attention this time when he flipped off some fans at Ford Field, and asked if he regretted giving fans the business, he said no.
"I don't take one thing back," Raiola said. "I'll say the same thing to a fan that I see in the street. I wish I could give my address out to some fans. I'll do that. But, you know, I can't. Nobody plays with fists. Everybody wants to play with metal. So I can't.
"I'm so frustrated. I'm tired of being a doormat for people to just talk to us how they want to talk to us. I'm just not going to put up with it anymore."
The NFL reportedly is looking into Sunday's incident, while the Lions fined Raiola $7,500.
"We have tremendous respect and appreciation for all of our fans, and we believe Dominic's behavior this past Sunday was not consistent with what we expect from members of our team," Lions executive vice president and COO Tom Lewand said in a statement.
Fans have responded to the Lions' losing for years, but frustration is reaching a new level. The Lions asked a fan to leave during training camp when he yelled at wide receiver Roy Williams, who is now with Dallas. A fan got ahold of left tackle Jeff Backus' cell-phone number and left him messages.
The Lions have not sold out Ford Field for four of their past five home games. In a way, that has made the problem worse.
"Over the last five weeks, I've definitely heard things that I've never heard before," Backus said. "Part of it is how quiet the stadium is. Seriously, you can hear individuals yelling at you. It doesn't all blend into just a roar."
Backus takes the heckling in stride. Raiola has a harder time with it.
"Dom's a lot more emotional guy," Backus said. "I've always been a pretty quiet, reserved guy. For guys with emotions like Dominic, it's even harder to not get into it."
Raiola acknowledged the fans are paying customers and the Lions' job is to give them something to cheer. But he said is not going to put up with fans counting them out from the beginning of the game and telling them how bad they are.
"Yeah, it's gotten worse, and that's expected," Raiola said. "But when you don't know what you're talking about and you're yelling at a particular person, I'm going to fire back. You can call me ‘rabbit ears' or whatever you want to call me, but I'm going to fire back and I'm going to still play my game on the field."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
On the same day he remained in the corner of under-fire defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday further endorsed the decision made two games ago to move Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson to safety.
The position switch was called into question after Woodson's starting replacement at cornerback, Tramon Williams, gave up a few big pass plays in the Houston Texans' 24-21 win over the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Kevin Walter did most of the damage on a huge passing day for the Texans, finishing with six catches for 146 yards. Walter beat Williams for a 58-yard touchdown on the third play of the game.
McCarthy was quick to not put all of the blame on Williams for the Packers' inability to defend the pass Sunday. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who was rarely pressured, threw for a franchise-record 414 yards and two touchdowns.
"Tramon did some really good things. He did some things he needs to do better," McCarthy said. "But, the ability (for Schaub) to full fake and go back and sit in the pocket with throwing lanes, that's not the way we want to play defense. I thought Matt Schaub had way too much time to throw the ball (Sunday)."
At the time Woodson agreed to go to strong safety leading up to the Packers' loss to the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 30, Green Bay was short-handed at the position because of injuries to starter Atari Bigby and top backup Aaron Rouse. The rationale used by McCarthy and echoed by assistants was they felt moving Woodson to safety and plugging in emerging nickel back Williams in the starting lineup would allow the secondary to have its best players on the field.
Although critical of the defense's inconsistency in winning one-on-one coverage routes Sunday, McCarthy scoffed at the suggestion that the unit might be better served to have Woodson, arguably its top cover corner, back at his natural position.
"I would say really Charles' ability to be back there (at safety) has put him in a position to be around the ball more. That's what I like about his move to safety," McCarthy said. "And, just the fact that he is playing safety doesn't mean that you can't still bring him down to cover down on a receiver. But, not having Charles as a corner by no means means that we can't still have him line up on a certain receiver."