Around the NFC North

The Chicago Bears may finally be getting the production they envisioned from Devin Hester (as a wide receiver). The Lions were celebrating the end of their 19-game losing streak. And, of course, the Packers are casting their gaze toward the Vikings.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears have trumpeted Devin Hester as their No. 1 receiver since last season. He lived up to those claims Sunday, and he appears ready to settle into that role permanently.

Nothing Hester has done in his three years since converting from cornerback to wide receiver screamed "go-to guy" more than his game-winning 36-yard touchdown catch on the first play after the two-minute warning.

With the Bears trailing 19-17 at the Seahawks 36-yard line, Hester ran a quick slant toward the middle of the field, leaped to catch a high throw from Jay Cutler and was hit immediately. But he bounced off safety Deon Grant and cornerback Travis Fisher and sprinted into the end zone for a 25-19 victory for the Bears (2-1).

"They brought a little bit of pressure, which we anticipated, and it was press man-to-man coverage," Cutler said. "Whenever we get Devin one-on-one, we think the edge is on our side. He ran a great route, I put it a little bit out there, and he made a heck of a catch and run. He makes one guy miss, and it's a touchdown and that's the game."

Hester finished with five catches for 76 yards and was confident enough in his ability to beat the Seahawks' coverage that he told Cutler to get him the ball.

"Whenever you get in a rhythm, and you feel it, and you're kind of dominating, you want the ball in your hands," Hester said. "I stepped up to him and I said, ‘Hey, I think we can get a shot on this if we throw a slant.' He came to me when it counted, and I stepped up and made a play. That's how it went down."

Sunday's game may go down as the one where Hester became what Bears coach Lovie Smith believed he could be since last season: a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

Hester leads the Bears with 187 receiving yards and is tied with Earl Bennett (four catches for 80 yards Sunday) for the team lead with 13 receptions. If he maintains the same pace for a full season, Hester will finish with 70 catches for 997 yards.

His 51 catches for 665 yards last season weren't nearly enough to convince skeptics and even most Bears fans that he was a legitimate No. 1 receiver when the team started training camp. Cutler says he quickly realized that the critics were wrong about Hester.

"He's shown me something since I first got here," said Cutler, who arrived via trade on April 2. "They said he didn't know the playbook, he couldn't get out of cuts, (and) he had trouble catching the ball. All of that's been false since day one.

"He's worked as hard if not harder than everybody in that room to get ready for the season. He's really driven. He wanted the ball a lot today. He was always in my ear, saying, ‘I got it, give it to me.' Whenever we called his number, he came up big for us."

TRENDING: Jay Cutler has five TD passes and just one interception in his last two games after the four-interception fiasco in Green Bay. His passer rating in Week 3 was 126.4, a week after he had a 104.7 in the victory over the Steelers.

LINEUP WATCH: Middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who had taken over after Brian Urlacher suffered a season-ending dislocated right wrist, left in the third quarter with a rib injury and did not return.

Nick Roach, who was filling in at strong-side linebacker for injured Pisa Tinoisamoa, moved to the middle with Jamar Williams taking over on the strong side. Tinoisamoa may be able to return Sunday against the Lions.

NOTES

  • LB Lance Briggs had an interception, a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass defended and seven tackles.

  • RB Matt Forte, who came in averaging just 2.2 yards per carry, did slightly better, picking up 66 yards on 21 attempts for a 3.1-yard average. He also had an 11-yard run, his longest of the season.

  • WR Johnny Knox had just one catch, but it was for a 7-yard TD, his second of the season.

  • DE Mark Anderson had one sack, equaling last year's total.

  • WR Earl Bennett led the Bears with 80 receiving yards on four catches, and he is tied with Devin Hester for the team lead with 13 catches for the season. Bennett failed to catch a pass last year as a rookie.

    DETROIT LIONS

    Funny that the Lions are heading to Chicago on Sunday. The Bears' defensive line coach is Rod Marinelli, the Lions' head coach as they suffered the NFL's first 0-16 season last year.

    For the first time since Marinelli's men beat Kansas City in December 2007, the Lions are coming off a victory. They snapped their 19-game losing streak, tied for the second-worst in NFL history, by beating the Redskins 19-14.

    Now the Lions actually have some confidence, and though they still have a long way to go, they're eager to take the next step.

    "Hopefully we won't have the mentality like, ‘Oh, whew. We just got the monkey off our back. Now we're good for the rest of the year,'" linebacker Julian Peterson said. "Go ahead and celebrate for today. Take what we did right, stuff that we did wrong, improve on that and continue to get some more wins."

    Oh, the Lions celebrated Sunday. In the locker room after the game, linebacker Larry Foote doused rookie coach Jim Schwartz with a bottle of water.

    "He said, ‘Didn't you expect to win?' " Foote said. "I said, ‘Yeah, baby. But it's your first W.'"

    No bucket of Gatorade?

    "I seen his white shirt, and I figured he might want to save that one," Foote said. "So I grabbed the water instead of the Gatorade."

    After the team prayer, Schwartz sent the players back onto the field to celebrate with the fans who remained in the stands. Some players had never experienced an NFL victory before.

    "Oh, my God," said right tackle Gosder Cherilus, a first-round pick in 2008. "It feels great. It's beautiful. ... I've never cracked a smile after a game. My teeth are hurting right now. I'm smiling way too much."

    But the Lions know they need to take the next step, and their next game is against the Bears.

    "When players were celebrating, I said, ‘Hey, love you're celebrating; we've got to expect to win,' " Schwartz said. "That's where we need to get to as a franchise, where we need to get to as a team, a coaching staff, everything. We need to go out expecting to win, not hoping to win."

    LINEUP WATCH: Will James replaced Phillip Buchanon as a starting cornerback against the Redskins. Schwartz said James had a good week of practice. What he didn't say is that Buchanon is in the doghouse. Buchanon surprised the coaches by not being able to play in the opener at New Orleans, then struggled in Week 2 against Minnesota. Manny Ramirez also started at left guard for the second straight week, with Daniel Loper, the opening day starter, inactive.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Interceptions for rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford against the Redskins, after he threw five in his first two NFL games. Stafford didn't avoid a pick because he was timid, either. He kept slinging the ball downfield and went 21-for-36 for 241 yards and a touchdown. He said he and Schwartz ended up in an elevator together at the team hotel Saturday night, and Schwartz told him to stay aggressive.

    NOTES

  • RB Kevin Smith left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury after rushing for 101 yards on 16 carries. Coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions needed to run tests to determine the extent of the injury.

  • WR Derrick Williams, a third-round pick this year, was active for the first time this season Sunday. He played a few snaps on offense but didn't have a pass targeted for him.

  • WR Bryant Johnson was a big factor Sunday. He caught four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown and was targeted 11 times, after he caught no passes and was targeted only once last week.

  • S Ko Simpson intercepted a pass in the third quarter Sunday on the first snap after he replaced Marquand Manuel, who left with an ankle injury.

  • DT Sammie Hill left with a left ankle injury in the first quarter but returned.

    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers now have their sights set on the first highly anticipated showdown against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.

    Green Bay gained a much-needed 36-17 road win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, a week after the Packers stubbed their collective toe in a home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

    "That is what good teams do when they are challenged — they respond, and we were able to do that," said linebacker Aaron Kampman, who forced a fumble on an early sack of Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.

    The bounce-back victory kept the Packers (2-1) on the heels of Minnesota (3-0) in the NFC North, adding to the hype surrounding their Monday night visit to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to face former teammate Favre for the first time.

    As the players braced themselves for a longer week of preparations than usual and a long line of questions about Favre, veteran cornerback Charles Woodson wasn't enamored with Green Bay's tune-up performance. The Packers allowed the winless Rams to hang around for three quarters — undermanned St. Louis erased a pair of 16-point deficits to get within 23-17 — before pulling away with two late touchdowns.

    "You've got to be realistic about it," Woodson said. "St. Louis, in my opinion, is not a very good team, and we didn't seem to be much better than they were. You've got to look at this thing closely. Some guys have just got to play better. As a team, we've got to play better — way too many mistakes."

    Green Bay's defense came to the rescue with three takeaways, including Woodson's third interception in two games.

    The Packers have forced nine turnovers (seven interceptions) in the first three games and will need to be opportunistic in enemy territory next Monday against Favre. Although the famed gunslinger has thrown only one interception with the Vikings, many of Green Bay's defensive players know too well that he is susceptible to miscues with the football.

    "The ability to play with more vision on defense is definitely helping us take the football away," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

    LINEUP WATCH: The Packers tabbed Derrick Martin to be the third starter at strong safety in as many games this season, but Martin wasn't in the starting lineup at the outset Sunday. Green Bay opened with an extra linebacker (Brandon Chillar) and only one safety (Nick Collins) in its 3-4 scheme. The new wrinkle, coined "Big Okie" by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, was added as a situational ploy to counter a Rams offense featuring running back Steven Jackson but not a formidable passing attack. Look for the Packers to employ the five-linebackers, one-safety look in future games against opponents that don't pose a threat in the vertical passing game.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 148 — Consecutive passes by Aaron Rodgers without an interception, the longest active streak among all starting quarterbacks. Rodgers' career-high streak without a pick is 157 passes, which ended in Week 4 last season.

    NOTES

  • FS Nick Collins started Sunday, a week after he was knocked out of the 31-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals with a clavicle injury. Collins made a fast recovery and didn't miss a practice.

  • OL Daryn Colledge was the starter at left tackle, replacing Chad Clifton, who is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle incurred in the Week 2 game. Colledge's move from left guard was part of a big line shuffle that also included center Jason Spitz sliding over to left guard and former starter Scott Wells going in at center.

  • WR Greg Jennings aggravated a wrist injury on the first play of the second half Sunday, but he was able to finish the game. Jennings, who didn't have a catch in the previous game for the first time in his career, had two big receptions of 50 and 53 yards that led to touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters, respectively.

  • DL B.J. Raji made his season debut Sunday. Raji, the team's top draft pick this year, played extensively in a backup role. He had been held out of the first two games because the team didn't feel he was 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury sustained in the final preseason game.

  • WR James Jones suffered a hand injury in the third quarter Sunday but returned to the game.

  • RB Brandon Jackson was deactivated for the third straight week because of a high ankle sprain he suffered late in the preseason. Jackson tried to practice Wednesday for the first time since sustaining the injury but had a setback.

  • LB Jeremy Thompson didn't play Sunday after a knee injury flared up late in the practice week. Thompson had been a contributor on special teams the first two games.



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