Around the NFC North

The Bears were reeling after getting pummeled by the Bengals, the Lions are looking forward to two straight "winnable" games, and the Packers are looking forward to a resurgent A.J. Hawk at linebacker. Get those NFC North stories and more notes from around the division.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears hope they can get well this Sunday at home against the Browns, but they have a lot of healing to do after getting pummeled 45-10 by the Bengals in Cincinnati.

It was hard to say if the Bears were more embarrassed or disgusted by their most lopsided loss in more than six years, but there were plenty of both in the aftermath.

"It's pretty embarrassing," defensive end Alex Brown said. "We can't have that happening. We're a better team than that. But today Cincy kind of showed us maybe we aren't."

On this particular day, there was clearly a world of difference between the Bengals (5-2) and the Bears (3-3), who hadn't experienced such a world of hurt since a 49-7 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 2003.

"The Chicago Bears should never lose a football game like that," coach Lovie Smith said. "A tough day at the office for us. Nothing went right."

If anything, the game was more lopsided than the final score indicates. The Bears were outgained 448-279, turned the ball over four times while failing to get a single takeaway and were outrushed 215-35. The Bears had not allowed an opponent to rush for more than 105 yards all season. But Cedric Benson, their first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2005 who was banished in June 2008 after two alcohol-related arrests, shoved it in their faces and down their throats 37 times for 189 yards.

What made it worse was the Bears' continued inability to mount a run game of their own. Only once in six games have they accumulated more than 86 yards on the ground, and that was against the Lions three weeks ago. Against the Bengals, the Bears were buried so deep and so quickly that they had to abandon the run game early and they wound up with just 12 rushing attempts for 35 yards.

So, for at least another week, the questions will remain about what is wrong with the Bears' ground game in general and with Matt Forte specifically. Last year's rookie sensation with 1,238 rushing yards has 318 yards in six games and a 3.5-yard average.

Forte is far from the only problem. Quarterback Jay Cutler, having signed a two-year, $30 million extension earlier in the week, had another brutal outing, throwing three interceptions and posting a 64.1 passer rating. Cutler has thrown 11 touchdown passes this season and has been intercepted 10 times, which aren't exactly franchise-quarterback numbers.

The defense, which allowed a season-high 448 yards, has its own problems. Starting linebackers Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa are already lost for the season because of injuries, and enigmatic defensive tackle Tommie Harris sat out Sunday with a sore knee. Harris is now into his second year of uneven and subpar performances. His play has dropped off so precipitously that he bears no resemblance to the player who was voted to three straight Pro Bowls from 2005-07.

TRENDING: RB Matt Forte has 21 carries for 47 yards combined in his last two games. He appears not to be running as hard as he did last year as a rookie, but the Bears' offensive line has not won the line of scrimmage in any game this season with the exception of the Lions game on Oct. 4.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 — WR Devin Hester has 14 catches for 184 yards in the last two games.

NOTES

  • WR Devin Hester caught eight passes, including a 5-yard TD, for a career-best 101 yards, but he also lost a fumble after one catch.

  • WR/KR Johnny Knox, who came into the Bengals game leading the NFL with a league-leading 33.7-yard average on kickoff returns, averaged just 21.7 yards on seven opportunities, with a long of 28 yards.

  • CB Charles Tillman, who had contained Calvin Johnson and Roddy White in the Bears' two previous games, was torched by Chad Ochocinco, who had 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

  • QB Jay Cutler was intercepted three times and finished with a passer rating of 64.1. He completed 26 of 37 passes, but just one of them picked up more than 18 yards.

  • TE Greg Olsen had four catches, but they produced just 24 yards.


    DETROIT LIONS

    In another city, they might be "gimme" games against a couple of the NFL's struggling teams. But in Detroit, they're big. They're "winnable" games against "beatable" teams.

    After the Lions return from their bye week, they play St. Louis at home Nov. 1. They play Cleveland at home three weeks later. And they need to take advantage of those opportunities. Those same teams are looking at the games against the Lions as a golden opportunity, too.

    The Lions aren't just 1-5. They're 2-28 in their last 30 games. They're 33-102 since 2001, when they hired Matt Millen as team president. They fired Millen last season, but the new regime still has a lot of work to do to repair the damage and return the franchise to respectability.

    Beating the Rams and Browns at Ford Field would be a minor boost, but a boost. The Lions sold out their last game at home, but that was only because more than half the fans were rooting for Pittsburgh. The game before that — the one they actually won over Washington, snapping their 19-game losing streak — their announced attendance was only 40,896, their smallest home crowd since 1989.

    NOTES

  • CB Demarcus Faggins could become a starter after the bye, even though he was just signed last week. The Lions have benched the cornerbacks who entered the season as starters: Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry. Faggins should adjust to this defense quickly because he spent the preseason with coach Jim Schwartz's former team: Tennessee.

  • S Louis Delmas has had an up-and-down first six NFL games. He has made some impressive hits and tackles, but he still makes too many rookie mistakes. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham says he needs to learn how to be a professional and study more to get the mental side of the game down.

  • LB Julian Peterson recorded 2.5 sacks in the Lions' last game, at Green Bay, finally giving the Lions the pass-rushing presence they wanted when they acquired him in a trade with Seattle. He has been playing more defensive end, partly because injuries have thinned the Lions' defensive line.

  • TE Brandon Pettigrew is going to be a special player, in the Lions' estimation. But he's still a rookie who missed a lot of training camp because of a hamstring injury, and he might have too much on his plate. The Lions wanted to reduce his snaps to help him focus more. The bye should help, at least in theory.

  • G Daniel Loper started the Lions' last game at left guard. He and Manny Ramirez continue to rotate at the position. They have been competing hard since training camp.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    A return to his Ohio roots and playing in front of family and friends might have been what maligned linebacker A.J. Hawk needed to get right again.

    In the wake of having his playing time dramatically reduced and questions raised about his underachieving play as a top-five draft pick, Hawk responded favorably Sunday in the Packers' 31-3 win over the Cleveland Browns. He registered a team-high eight tackles, including three for a loss.

    "Sometimes you go a couple of weeks and you don't play much, then all of a sudden you're going to play a bunch," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I think he's done a good job. I haven't seen anything that's disappointed me in A.J. at all."

    Hawk played the majority of the Browns' 52 snaps, a week after he was on the field for only nine plays in a 26-0 victory over the Detroit Lions.

    The curtailing of Hawk's starting role as an inside linebacker began Oct. 5 when the Packers used more of their nickel package than their base scheme in a 30-23 loss at the Minnesota Vikings.

    The rematch between the top two teams in the NFC North - the first-place Vikings are 6-1 and the Packers are 4-2 - is Sunday at Lambeau Field.

    A combination of Hawk's shortcomings as a pass rusher and in pass coverage and backup Brandon Chillar's skills in those areas has relegated Hawk to playing only in base and goal-line situations. The Packers were base-heavy against Cleveland's inept offense Sunday.

    "I'm not disappointed, I'm not frustrated, nothing like that," Hawk said. "I'm looking at it as part of the game.

    "Other than when I'm on the field, I can't control what package we're running, what we're doing," he added. "I can only try to make plays when I'm in."

    Hawk has been an enigma after a productive rookie season in 2006, when the Packers took him with the No. 5 overall pick out of Ohio State. He led the team with 155 tackles and added 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and nine pass breakups as a starter the entire season.

    In the last two-plus seasons, Hawk has a total of only four sacks, one interception and seven pass breakups. He has gone the last 32 games (including the playoffs) without a big play - interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery - dating to November 2007.

    "I'm not satisfied with the way I've played," Hawk admitted.

    Even with the diminished role before the last game, Hawk added that he prefers to stay in Green Bay. Parting with the part-time player isn't out of the question for the Packers next offseason since Hawk, who is signed through 2011, is due to earn more than $14 million the final two years of his rookie contract, including $4.1 million next year.

    "It's obviously not my ideal situation of what I'd want to be doing," Hawk said. "But there's so many ups and downs. I'm just trying to stay constant and not have anything bother me.

    "Believe me, this isn't the end of the road for me. I've got plenty of time left that I'm trying to play in this league. I know this is a change from what I'm used to. In the long run, this is going to make me better."

    TRENDING: Despite productive performances by the offense of late, the Packers are spinning their wheels too often near the goal line. They've run 12 plays inside the 5-yard line in the last three games and scored only two touchdowns. Contrast that with five touchdowns in as many plays inside the 5 in Green Bay's first three games. The recent troubles close to the end zone have included three straight failed plays from the 1 in a goal-line stand by the Minnesota Vikings in their 30-23 win Oct. 5, a sack of and fumble by Aaron Rodgers from the 3 in the Packers' 26-0 victory over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 18 and just one touchdown in seven plays inside the 5 in the 31-3 rout of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 145:40 - Time that has elapsed in the Packers' last two-plus games in which they haven't allowed a touchdown. The Minnesota Vikings didn't reach the end zone in the final 25:40 of their 30-23 victory over the Packers on Oct. 5. Green Bay then shut out the Detroit Lions 26-0 on Oct. 18 and held the Cleveland Browns to a field goal in a 31-3 win Sunday.

    NOTES

  • RB Ryan Grant had 27 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the 31-3 win at the Cleveland Browns. It was Grant's first 100-yard game of the season. He came into the contest with all of 347 rushing yards in the first five games.

  • TE Jermichael Finley, who had emerged as a big-play threat in the last three games, was knocked out of Sunday's game with a left knee sprain on a 16-yard catch in the Packers' first series. The severity of the injury won't be known until further tests are done Monday.

  • WR Brett Swain also left the game with a sprained knee. The special-teams contributor and situational receiver will be re-evaluated Monday.

  • LT Chad Clifton was deactivated for the third time in the last four games because of a right ankle sprain, which he aggravated in the previous game Oct. 18. Clifton was held out of practice the entire week leading up to the latest game, giving him more time to heal and possibly be ready to return for the showdown against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

  • OL T.J. Lang, a rookie, made his starting debut at left tackle Sunday. He was part of an offensive line that didn't allow a sack of Aaron Rodgers for the first time this season. Rodgers had been sacked a league-high 25 times.

  • C Jason Spitz was activated but didn't make the start. Spitz missed the previous game with back spasms, which hadn't subsided and kept him out of practice this past week. Scott Wells remained the starter at center.

  • RB Ahman Green is hopeful of making his season debut Sunday against the Vikings. The Packers brought back the team's No. 2 all-time rusher last week. He had been out of football since being cut by the Houston Texans after last season.

  • RT Mark Tauscher, who also returned to the Packers earlier this month, appears to be on track toward possibly making his season debut in the next game. Tauscher participated in team drills during his second week of practice. To be determined in the coming week is whether Tauscher, who underwent major reconstructive knee surgery in January, is game ready and, if so, worthy of plugging in at right tackle ahead of Allen Barbre, who has been the starter since opening day.


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