NFC North news, notes and quotes

Coaches are taking the axe for the Bears' defensive problems, the Lions' recently promoted front-office duo is trying to promote its confidence, and the Packers' are shaking things up the on coaching staff after their disappointing season. Get the top stories from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo expressed disappointment in the team's highly paid defense in his end-of-the-year press conference Tuesday, and a couple of hours later, defensive backs coach Steven Wilks was fired.

That doesn't bode well for defensive coordinator Bob Babich and defensive line coach Brick Haley, who have already taken some heat for a defense that was 28th in total yards allowed in 2007 and 21st in ‘08.

With essentially the same group, the Bears' defense was No. 2 in total yards allowed in 2005 and No. 5 in ‘06, the final two years under former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

The roles of Babich, Haley and other defensive assistants will be discussed at length as Angelo and coach Lovie Smith continue their postseason evaluations this week. They will also scrutinize personnel, especially on the highly paid but underachieving defense.

"We have to be consistent," Angelo said of the defense. "We weren't. This year things didn't come along maybe quite the way we wanted them (to). When you're not playing consistent football, your job's not good enough. If you're going to win, you have to be consistent in what you do. We weren't consistent, and those are the things that we'll get into."

Angelo said that he "would love to have" fired Lions head coach Rod Marinelli on Lovie Smith's coaching staff, but talk of hiring Marinelli was premature, even though the Bears and Smith have coveted his services in the past. He was offered a job with the Bears.

"I think the world of Rod Marinelli," Angelo said. "He's a great football coach. Anytime you get a chance to get a great coach or great player, you're not going to sit here and say that you wouldn't consider him or you wouldn't work a way to do that. He'll be a great addition to any staff."

Angelo also said he was also disappointed with some individuals on defense. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher received $18 million in new money in a contract extension prior to the season but did not play up to his previous level, although Angelo was not critical of the six-time Pro Bowler.

"I will never question his commitment, his passion, his love for football," Angelo said of Urlacher. "He has too much character, too much pride to ever not be the best he can be. Is he the Brian Urlacher of old? I can't say that. He still has enough to make a Pro Bowl. He's still a very good football player. I have to go with what I saw on tape. I have a lot of confidence in Brian. He's been a great player for the Chicago Bears. He's been a great leader for us. I respect him immensely."

Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who got a four-year extension before the season that could be worth as much as $40 million, did not receive such a glowing recommendation, but Angelo is optimistic about his future, too.

"He's had a lot of things go on, and I felt like about the midway point of the season, things started to settle down for him," Angelo said. "I feel like he's got things together. He's grounded. I felt we saw a lot better Tommie Harris, particularly in the last quarter of the season. I feel strongly that he's going to come back and give us the kind of play that we paid him for. I'm seeing the arrow going up. He knows what he has to do, and Tommie holds himself accountable."

Cornerback Nate Vasher signed a five-year, $28 million contract before the 2007 season but hasn't played anywhere close to his Pro Bowl level of 2005. He's started only nine games since then and intercepted just two passes.

Angelo didn't mention anyone by name, but he said he would not hesitate to cut ties with players who failed to live up to their contracts.

"If they're not playing hard or playing up to their abilities, that's on them, and I do take that very personally," Angelo said. "And I will address that. That will not happen here. I am disappointed with a few players, and those players are going to have to be accountable for what they do."

MEDICAL WATCH: S Mike Brown almost made it through a season healthy for the first time in five years, but a calf injury landed him on injured reserve in the final week. It's one of his lesser injuries, but his lengthy history of missing games may prevent the Bears from bringing him back.

NT Dusty Dvoracek played one half of one game in his first two years but started the first 12 games this year and played well until he suffered a torn biceps. His injury history will have to be weighed heavily, too.

CB Nate Vasher missed eight games with a fractured thumb and related hand injuries after missing 12 games last season with a groin injury. No one would be shocked if the Bears decided he wasn't worth his $28 million contract (signed before the 2007 season) anymore.

S Brandon McGowan has played well when healthy, but he usually isn't. This time it was a fractured ankle.

LB Darrell McClover (hamstring) was one of the Bears' better special teams players.

DETROIT LIONS

When the Lions fired coach Rod Marinelli, the fans applauded the move. The Lions were the NFL's first 0-16 team. Firing the coach was a no-brainer.

But when the team also promoted Tom Lewand to president and kept Martin Mayhew as general manager, the fans were upset. Lewand and Mayhew were part of 0-16, too. They were part of the front office as the Lions went 31-97 since 2001, the worst eight-year stretch in the NFL since World War II.

Huh?

Lewand and Mayhew know the public-relations situation, and they aren't trying to fight it. But they believe they have what it takes to turn around a franchise that has only one playoff victory in more than half a century.

"Our words are just that," Lewand said. "The thing that we can say to our fans out there is not that our words are going to change 0-16. Our actions are going to change 0-16."

Lewand will oversee the team in general and day-to-day business. Mayhew will have final say on football matters, from hiring the coach to drafting players.

While acknowledging they were part of Matt Millen's disastrous seven-plus years as Lions president, Lewand and Mayhew also carefully distanced themselves from that era.

"It's an exciting opportunity because we have the chance to do this the right way," Lewand said.

Lewand and Mayhew said they learned from the mistakes made, know how to fix them and outlined their vision for the future.

"My role in the organization now will be implementing my plan," Mayhew said. "My role before was implementing somebody else's plan. I made recommendations. I made suggestions. Ultimately, the people who made decisions were the ones who were paid to make those decisions."

Under Millen, the Lions suffered from a lack of consistency and continuity. Coaches came and went. Systems came and went. Players came and went. The pieces never fit together.

"We've jumped from thing to thing and idea to idea," Mayhew said. "Sometimes it hasn't always matched up, what we're doing offensively and what we're doing defensively. What our president and CEO's philosophy was vs. what we were trying to do on the football field didn't always match up. I think that has to match up in the future."

Lewand and Mayhew spoke of having a clear philosophy and a detailed plan — and sticking to them. While they declined to share specifics of their plan, citing competitive reasons, they shared some of their philosophy.

Mayhew said they want a bigger, faster, more physical team with tough, smart players. Lewand said they want a strong, smart leader for a coach. The coach must fit their general philosophy, but they are flexible on what type of offense or defense to run.

Under Millen, the Lions wasted money on free agents and wasted draft picks, from the top of the draft to the bottom.

"We will build this thing through the draft," Mayhew said. "We're not going to be jumping out there in free agency and throwing 30 million bucks at somebody on the first day or at midnight."

MEDICAL WATCH: QB Dan Orlovsky (thumb) and WR Shaun McDonald (ankle) are among those seeking second opinions on their injuries and considering surgery.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' season-ending getaway destination is taking him to Australia for the next couple weeks.

A rather apropos travel choice, considering how the Packers' season ended in a down-under manner.

After being part of the biggest collapse from one season to the next in the illustrious 90-year history of the franchise, Rodgers said football will be the furthest thing from his mind.

"I'll probably sit on the beach in Australia and think about some of the things that went wrong and then get back in the water," a grinning Rodgers said Monday.

A 6-10 record had Rodgers and many of his teammates packing their bags and escaping snow-infested Green Bay this week much earlier than last winter, when the Packers turned a 13-3 regular season into what almost became a business trip to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII.

The Packers' 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field served as a harbinger of what was in store for Green Bay in the 2008 season. Just as it couldn't derail the Giants' improbable postseason express in a winnable game, Green Bay was a perfect 7-for-7 this season in losing games decided by no more than four points.

"We've just got to finish games," cornerback Al Harris lamented. "That's what separates the playoff teams from the non-playoff teams. We've got to finish games."

A six-game drop-off from 10-6 in 2004 to 4-12 in ‘05 resulted in the firing of head coach Mike Sherman and led to the hiring of Mike McCarthy.

While McCarthy's job appears safe with the offseason under way, the big letdown from last season won't be casually brushed aside.

A shakeup with the coaching staff likely is already underway.

The team announced six assistants have been released, including defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. He followed special teams coordinator Mike Stock, who "retired" just days after the end of the regular season.

Along with Sanderson Jan. 5, the five other coaches released were defensive ends coach Carl Hairston, defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer, defensive nickel package/cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington and strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson.

"These are difficult decisions," McCarthy said in a statement. "I hold each of these men in high regard on a personal level, and I want thank them for their service to the Green Bay Packers."

The Packers grossly underperformed on defense. The unit was caught short-handed for most of the season, as productive lineman Cullen Jenkins, middle linebacker Nick Barnett and strong safety Atari Bigby went on injured reserve, and Harris missed four games with a spleen injury. The injuries, though, didn't fly as excuses for how Green Bay allowed scores of big plays and couldn't come through with key fourth-quarter stops in the closely contested games.

"When you start talking about the ifs, you can ‘if' all day," Jenkins said. "You can keep going in different scenarios. The bottom line is you've got to win with the people you have out there. That's the priority, and that's what you've got to do."

The Packers surrendered 380 points, tied for the second-highest total by the opposition in the last 25 years. All but seven of those points were at the expense of the defense.

"We just weren't the same team as last year," Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We did have a lot of the same people, same personnel, but we just were not the same team. We started off pretty good on a Monday night (a 24-19 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the opener), and we just were up and down. Too inconsistent. I guess that would be the word that would best describe this team this year."

Rodgers echoed the sentiment, particularly for his own play in his first season as a pro starter following the Packers' acrimonious split with Brett Favre, whom they traded to the New York Jets in the preseason.

Rodgers rose above the intense scrutiny placed on him and performed better than many anticipated, as he passed for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns and limited his mistakes with 13 interceptions. Yet, he'll go into next season with a stigma that he can't pull out a victory in crunch time.

"I know the expectations were high. I put high expectations on myself to play well," Rodgers said. "I met some of those expectations and fell short in some areas as well. I wanted to be a consistent player. I was at times, and I was inconsistent at times. This team deserves a consistent player 100 percent of the time."

The season that was for the Packers was a head-scratcher. Rodgers' proficiency, coupled with a 1,200-yard rusher in Ryan Grant and 1,000-yard receivers in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, and a team-record nine touchdown returns on defense or special teams had the Packers outscoring their opponents 419-380. It marked just the fourth time — and the first time in a 16-game season — Green Bay was on the plus side of the points differential with a losing record.

All of that went for naught, however. Woodson, as one of only four 30-something players on the league's youngest roster, was moved to make a public plea to general manager Ted Thompson, who is notoriously frugal when it comes to signing high-profile free agents.

"I don't know how big the changes will be," Woodson said. "But, in my opinion, we have to get some more veteran guys in here on the team — guys that have weathered a few storms in their careers and know what it's all about. I don't know what will be done, but I know there will be some things done."

MEDICAL WATCH: QB Aaron Rodgers doesn't feel he will require offseason surgery for a sprained throwing shoulder. The first-year starter suffered the injury in Week 4 and continued to play the rest of the season.

WR James Jones might need surgical work done on his right knee. He sustained a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and aggravated it a few times during the season, missing six games.

S Atari Bigby reportedly underwent surgery last week for an ankle injury that bothered him from the start of the season. Bigby was on injured reserve for the final two weeks of the season and played in only seven games (six starts) because of ankle, hamstring and shoulder injuries.

DT Justin Harrell, who was deactivated for the final three games, could face another procedure on his troublesome back. Harrell, the team's top draft pick in 2007, missed the first half of the season after undergoing two back surgeries in the offseason. Complications persisted as he returned to the field, and he endured pain in his hip, as he played in only six games.



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