NFC North news, notes and quotes

Jay Cutler tried to put a good face on his trade from Denver, the quarterback race in Detroit is still on, and a tight end in Green Bay is preparing for a breakout season. Go in-depth with the Vikings' NFC North rivals with news, notes and quotes.

CHICAGO BEARS

Broncos fans have burned their Jay Cutler jerseys and bad-mouthed him since he orchestrated a trade after finding out that new coach Josh McDaniels wanted Matt Cassel as his quarterback. Cutler has moved on, to the Bears, even if a lot of Broncos fans haven't.

"I'm not the first player to get traded to a different team," he said. "I'm not going to be the last. So that's their business, that doesn't concern me."

Cutler went so far as to say before the Aug. 30 nationally televised preseason game against the Broncos that it held no special significance for him, even though no one was buying that.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't count for anything. We just want to go out there and play well, execute our offense. It's a preseason game. We can't make it more than it is. We just have to prepare ourselves and get ready for a tough team."

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, whom the Bears traded along with two No. 1 draft picks and a No. 2 for Cutler, said that the trade that sent him west was a shock.

"I certainly didn't expect it," he said. "I wasn't paying attention to the whole (Cutler) matter. But I didn't feel sorry for myself. It looked like an opportunity that I certainly could take advantage of."

Orton suffered through a disastrous preseason opener, throwing three interceptions and compiling a passer rating of 32.6. He was booed with gusto during an ineffective scrimmage at the Broncos' Invesco Field.

"I feel bad for Kyle," Cutler said, "(but) I think he's going to pull through in the long run. Offensively they've got a lot of good players. They've got a great offensive line, they've got good receivers, and Josh McDaniels, he's an offensive mind, he puts guys in spots to make plays, so I think they're going to be fine."

Orton bounced back last week against the Seahawks to complete 18 of 26 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 85.7. Cutler rebounded from a mediocre opener to complete 8 of 13 passes for 121 yards, a TD and a passer rating of 117.8.

Cutler said he was looking forward to seeing some ex-teammates but doubted that he would run into anyone from Broncos management.

"I don't think they want to talk to me," he said.

When Cutler was asked what, if anything, he missed about Denver, he said: "Nothing. I'm here right now."

NOTES

  • Cutler says there is a simple reason he seems to have clicked so quickly with Greg Olsen, although the tight end missed the first game with a hip injury and caught just 1 pass for 17 yards in the second game.

    "He's a good player," Cutler said. "He gets open a lot, so it's hard not to want to get him the ball and (especially) get him the ball in space. But we have a lot of other guys that have made some plays, too. It's not only me and Greg, but the whole offense."

  • In the second preseason game a scrambling Cutler launched a pass over the head of Devin Hester, who had slowed up 60 yards downfield. Hester learned this important lesson:

    "To just keep running as fast as I can," he said, drawing laughs. "No matter what. If he gets flushed out of the pocket, don't come back, don't do any scrambling drills, just keep going."

    Most people unfamiliar with the strength of Cutler's arm figured Hester had outrun the quarterback's range.

    "That's what I thought," Hester. "I thought I was too far out. Even the defenders that were guarding me slowed down and started going back toward the line, and then Jay threw it over all our heads. Now I know. Don't stop, just keep going."

    Hester has seven punt-return touchdowns in three seasons, but he had yet to attempt one in the preseason prior to the Aug. 30 game.

    "I feel like I need to get back into the groove," he said, "but it's up to the coaches - it's not up to me."

    "This week we're playing the game like the regular season is here," Smith said. "You'll see most of our guys in a role that they will play during the course of the season."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner believes QB Kyle Orton has the qualities and intangibles to be a successful quarterback in Denver.

    "First of all, he's a good player. He's talented. He's extremely intelligent, a very good leader, and he's got a tremendous work ethic."


    DETROIT LIONS

    The competition continues between quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford, and we might not know the winner until the Lions take the field for the season opener Sept. 13 at New Orleans.

    "I know they have a quarterback race going on," quarterback Peyton Manning said Saturday after his Colts played the Lions in an exhibition. "But both of them looked good tonight, and I think the race is going to go down to the wire."

    If coach Jim Schwartz has a preference, he hasn't tipped his hand.

    Culpepper started the first exhibition. Stafford started the second. Culpepper started the third. Schwartz said Stafford had a "good chance" to start the fourth and key players would not simply make cameos.

    Both quarterbacks have gotten about equal time in the exhibitions - about a quarter and a half each - and split reps in practice every day.

    "Try to read tea leaves, get your tarot cards out, Ouija boards, whatever it is," Schwartz said. "The only thing we've done so far is try to equal reps out. We've done it in practice. We've done it in preseason games."

    Schwartz said the Lions were trying to put Culpepper and Stafford in similar situations with similar personnel "to be able to make a fair evaluation. It's a rotational thing, and there's nothing to read into it."

    Each quarterback has led the Lions to 10 points through three exhibitions - a touchdown and a field goal. In short, the difference is that Culpepper has been steadier, while Stafford has made bigger plays and bigger mistakes.

    Culpepper has not turned over the ball but hasn't made many big plays. Stafford has thrown an interception in each exhibition, but he also has thrown some darts downfield.

    Schwartz said he would decide on a quarterback after the exhibition finale but most likely would not make an announcement before the opener.

    "There's a team down in New Orleans that's getting ready to play us," Schwartz said. "If they can zero in on one quarterback, it makes it a little easier for them to play.

    "Most likely we'll try to just keep that a little bit close to the vest."

    NOTES

  • QB Daunte Culpepper has shown his veteran savvy and improved mobility. "I feel great," said Culpepper, whose career was derailed by a serious knee injury in 2005. "I honestly feel like I felt before I got hurt now - finally. It took some years." Winning the starting job is critical for Culpepper, who turned down backup jobs last year and retired - only to sign with the Lions in early November. He has lost more than 30 pounds since then. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity for me to put myself back on the map, show I'm healthy," Culpepper said.

  • QB Matthew Stafford is confident in how he has run the offense. "I think the ball's going to the right spot," he said. "I'm trying to think of a play today where I didn't throw it to the right spot, and I'm having a tough time thinking of it. I'm not going to hit every throw. I'm not going to be 25-for-25 every night. But going to the right place is a big step, and I felt like I did that well." And if he doesn't start the opener? "I feel like I've played well," Stafford said. "I don't know what they're going to do. It's not up to me. I'm going to keep playing like this for as long as I can. I love playing football, and whether I play Game 1 or Year 2 or whenever it is, I'm going to be competing every day at practice like I compete right now trying to win a job."

  • Former Lions coach Steve Mariucci and former Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz think Culpepper should start. Manning thinks Stafford should start, as he did after he was drafted No. 1 overall. But Schwartz doesn't care what other people think. "We're going to do what's best for our club," Schwartz said. "We're going to do what's best for the guy that we drafted, not what somebody outside the building says, not what worked best for another player. Every player's different. Just the way it's going to be. Now, there's a lot of lessons to have been learned from a lot of different players that played right away, that sat right away. But it's going to be our decision here, and it's going to be based on the information we have in hand, not from wetting our finger and holding it up in the air, not from taking a poll, not from ‘ask the audience lifeline' or anything like that. We're going to make a good, sound football decision based on the information we have here."

  • Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was loud and clear after a pitiful performance at Cleveland: "If you can't tackle, you can't play defense, and you definitely are not going to play here on defense." The Lions missed tackles and gave up big plays in their first two exhibitions - most notably a 40-yard touchdown run to Atlanta's Michael Turner and an 81-yard TD run to Cleveland's James Davis. If you were reminded of last year, when the Lions had the NFL's worst defense and went 0-16, you weren't the only one. "That's what's happened here in the past," Cunningham said. "I think they played hard. I saw that tape. But there were breakdowns, and somebody wouldn't want to tackle the guy. That's not going to happen. I'm just not going to let it happen."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm flat pissed off, if you want to know the truth. I don't tolerate that. I cannot tolerate turning down a tackle." - Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, on four players who turned down the opportunity to tackle Cleveland's James Davis on an 81-yard touchdown run.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers' trip to Nashville, Tenn., for their final preseason game Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans will serve as a reminder of how far tight end Jermichael Finley has come in a year's time.

    Finley was at his lowest in a rookie season filled with immaturity last Nov. 2, when the Packers lost 19-16 in overtime to the host Titans at LP Field.

    The third-round draft pick out of Texas resorted to bashing the throwing of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the play-calling of head coach Mike McCarthy after Finley failed to come down with a critical fourth-and-short catch.

    Ten months later, an admittedly grown-up Finley is on the same page with Rodgers and McCarthy.

    "I've came a thousand miles, man," said Finley, who is only 22.

    He regrets being outspoken in a disappointing debut season, in which he had just six catches and one touchdown.

    "You ain't even going to think about that no more after this year, I promise you," Finley added.

    Rodgers, for one, feels the physically and athletically supreme Finley is ready for a breakout season.

    The 6-5, 247-pound Finley has been creating mismatches down the field this preseason. He leads the Packers with nine receptions and had his first two touchdown catches Aug. 28 in their 44-37 win at the Arizona Cardinals.

    "I think a lot of the things that we're seeing (out of him) so far in the preseason we saw last year on the scout team," Rodgers said. "We were just kind of waiting for him to pick up the playbook, No. 1, but also to increase his speed when he worked with the first team. He was like a 4.5 guy on the scout team and like a 4.8 guy when he worked with the first team because he was just thinking too much."

    Finley also has come around as a blocker, putting him on the verge of overtaking two-year incumbent Donald Lee as the starting tight end.

    An effective Finley has been one of many key parts in Rodgers' near-perfect preseason so far.

    Rodgers leads all NFL quarterbacks with a 151.1 passer rating. He has completed 27 of 38 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks.

    The Rodgers-led No. 1 unit has yet to punt in 12 possessions, which have included nine touchdowns and a field goal.

    The offense put on an incredible first-half display against the reigning NFC champion Cardinals, scoring 31 of the team's 38 points. Rodgers was 14 of 19 for 258 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 76-yard strike to Jordy Nelson.

    "That's about as good as we can play on offense. Talk about exciting," Rodgers said. "So many weapons, great play-calling, and it's just us on offense executing."

    NOTES

  • When Charles Woodson talks, which doesn't happen a lot, it is best to listen because the thoughtful veteran cornerback often has something worthwhile to say. Sure enough, Woodson uttered some juicy words following the Packers' early impressive display in a 44-37 preseason win at the Arizona Cardinals.

    Woodson starred in the game by forcing three fumbles in the Cardinals' first three possessions. Two resulted in turnovers, highlighted by a 24-yard touchdown return by linebacker Aaron Kampman in the second quarter that put Green Bay ahead 24-3.

    "I'm just trying to do my part," a grinning Woodson said of his strips, two at the expense of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner on corner blitzes. "I want to earn my keep around here. If I can be the guy that can start it and set a tone, then I'll be that guy. If not, then I'll finish it off. One way or the other, I get involved."

    Woodson is fast becoming the centerpiece of first-year coordinator Dom Capers' relentless and productive scheme, which produced four takeaways in the game and hiked the Packers' preseason total to a staggering 13 in only three outings. The starting defense has six takeaways.

    Couple that with an unstoppable first-string offense, which exploded for 31 points in the first half against the Cardinals and has produced nine touchdowns in 12 series so far in the preseason, and Woodson has begun thinking far ahead.

    "If we can stay healthy, I think we've got a chance," he said.

    A chance at what?

    "Super Bowl," he responded.

    Willing to say that right now?

    "Yeah. Why not?" he said. "We have a good team. There's no need for us to slow down at this point."

  • The unveiling of the Packers' probable starting offensive line for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Chicago Bears didn't agree with veteran center Scott Wells - the outcast in a training camp battle - but the line invariably had been drawn in the spring.

    Wells and Breno Giacomini, projected to be a strong contender to fill the vacancy at right tackle, missed the entire offseason as they recovered from shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Although both were ready for the start of camp and were given opportunities to take a fair share of reps with the No. 1 offense, time wasn't in their favor to unseat the two players who were installed in the positions several months earlier - converted right guard Jason Spitz at center and Allen Barbre at right tackle.

    The line (from left to right) of Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Spitz, Josh Sitton and Barbre started working as a full-time unit in practice Aug. 24 and then operated the entire first half in the game at Arizona.

    "If they keep progressing, this is who we'll line up with (Sept. 13)," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "This is the five, and we're going to give it a chance to generate the continuity that you establish when you do have five offensive linemen taking all the reps together. That will be determined clearly on production, their rate of production. So, if they continue to produce, we'll continue to have continuity with these five and we'll move forward. If it doesn't, we've got guys that are champing at the bit and that are ready to go."

  • Top receiver Greg Jennings was knocked out of the game at Arizona in the first series with a concussion, but the injury wasn't believed to be serious.

    "Everything's good," Jennings said after the game.

    He acknowledged that he was knocked unconscious for a couple seconds after being sandwiched by Cardinals defensive backs Bryant McFadden and Aaron Francisco on a 25-yard, downfield catch.

    Although Jennings walked off the field under his own power and was alert and moving on the sideline, the Packers didn't risk putting him back in the game. They also could hold him out of the Sept. 3 preseason finale at the Tennessee Titans.

  • The Packers reportedly are in the market for a backup quarterback, with the possible target being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Luke McCown, who lost his preseason battle with Byron Leftwich for the starting job.

    The need for a quality understudy behind starter Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay has cropped up in the wake of preseason developments with young backups Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm.

    Flynn suffered a sprained right (throwing) shoulder in the second preseason game Aug. 22 and didn't play against Arizona.

    Brohm, meanwhile, has played poorly for the second straight August. Through three games, he has completed just 19 of 34 passes for 146 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and three sacks. His passer rating is a horrendous 29.8.

  • Embattled defensive end Justin Harrell reversed course on comments he made earlier in camp in which he felt his recurring back problems could be career threatening.

    Harrell, who hasn't practiced since Aug. 6, spoke in a positive light Aug. 25, noting that he has had consultation with as many as five doctors and met with two of those specialists. Harrell is taking prescribed medication with hopes of alleviating the chronic soreness in his twice-repaired lower back and getting back on the field in a few weeks.

    "Just talking to everybody, they're just pretty much reassuring me that this is something I'll be able to get over," Harrell said. "I'm feeling optimistic about the medicine. ... It's one of them things, just trying to get the pain down where I can get back out there."

    The Packers don't seem ready to give up on Harrell, who has been injury prone since they took him as their first-round pick in 2007.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those are the guys that are going to start the season, and hopefully, we can keep that group together. But, there's a lot of depth on our offensive line. I feel good, definitely the best offensive line in the five years that I've been here." — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the starting offensive line that was set after the second preseason game.


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