NFC North news, notes and quotes

Jay Cutler's awful showing overshadowed a solid defensive effort by the Bears and leaves no room for error. Matthew Stafford's poise against the Vikings kept the outcome from looking worse for the Lions. The Packers' Aaron Kampman is hoping to resume playing after a concussion kept him out for the first time in six years.

CHICAGO BEARS

The good news is that there is still a lot of football left.

That's also the bad news for a Bears team that seems to alternate offensive meltdowns with defensive disasters, has lost four of its last five games and has defeated one team with a winning record.

All of that greatly overshadowed Thursday night's excellent defensive effort, which was about all Lovie Smith's 4-5 team could cling to after its third interception-filled loss in prime time. In those three night-time losses to the Packers, Falcons and 49ers, Jay Cutler, their "franchise quarterback," has thrown 11 interceptions. So knowing the defense did its job in Thursday night's 10-6 loss was of little comfort.

"We lost the game, so it doesn't matter," said defensive end Alex Brown. "We lost, and that's what counts. We lost. I don't know what you want me to say. We lost the game, so that's it."

Brown didn't mean to say, "that's it for the season," but he wouldn't have been challenged if he did.

Of the Bears' seven remaining games, only two are against teams with losing records, like themselves. They also have two games remaining with the 7-1 Vikings, they face the 5-3 Eagles next Sunday and have the 4-4 Packers at home and the 4-4 Ravens in Baltimore.

Brown said what everyone knows when he was asked how much room for error is left for the mistake-prone Bears.

"None at all," he said. "We have seven more games that we've got to win. But we can't win seven before we win one. We've got to win the first one."

That will be difficult enough for a team whose confidence is in question after a five-game stretch in which the only victory came against a 1-7 Cleveland Browns team.

That confidence seems especially fragile on offense. In just nine games, Cutler has already thrown more interceptions (17) than all but two quarterbacks in the league threw all of last season, and he was one of them.

Only twice all season has the ground game produced more than 86 yards, and those were against the Browns and the Lions, who are also 1-7. Even more disappointing for the offense is that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what's wrong.

"I don't really have an answer," said tight end Greg Olsen, who caught seven passes for 75 yards Thursday night. "We're going to have to see what happened. Everyone wants to say the picks are always on the quarterback, but they're not. There are a lot of things that the receivers have to do better, just the entire offense in general to take some of the pressure off that position and we all have to do a better job."

NOTES

  • G.M. Jerry Angelo expressed confidence in the team's maligned offensive line, which he says has struggled in recent blowout losses because the Bears fell behind early and were forced to abandon the run and become one-dimensional.

    "I thought we've done a pretty good job as of late in protection and some good things in the running game too," Angelo said, despite eight sacks of quarterback Jay Cutler in the two games before facing the Niners. "Offensive lines take a little longer to evolve, but I feel like right now we're playing pretty good football with our line. Two of the last three games, with what the score was, we pretty much became one-dimensional. We put a lot of pressure on them, when defenses know that you're not running the ball.

    "For the most part I think we've done a pretty good job. I like what they did last week (against the Cardinals). I think we're getting better, and I feel like that's going to continue to get better each and every week."

    That was not the case Thursday night, though. The line didn't allow Cutler to be sacked, but he was pressured constantly and hit frequently. And again, the line was unable to create any running room for Matt Forte, who managed just 41 yards on 20 carries against the 49ers.

  • Tight end Greg Olsen's three-touchdown game last week came despite opponents continuing to focus on taking him out of the attack, according to quarterback Jay Cutler.

    "He's been keyed on all year," Cutler said. "That's been a challenge for us to get him the ball because he's been getting jammed at the line a lot, he's been getting a lot of double-teams in the red zone. Teams have known that we want to try to get him the ball. We just were able to find some ways to get him the ball (last week)."

    Olsen added seven more catches and 75 yards Thursday night.

  • Bears general manager Jerry Angelo believes inconsistent defensive tackle Tommie Harris can be an impact player in the second half of the season, but he won't be convinced of it until he sees it.

    "Everything that he needs to do from a physical standpoint, we've seen him do, on the practice field, and in games," Angelo said shortly before Thursday night's prime-time clash with the 49ers. "But he has to do it for four quarters, and he has to start stacking games up, playing at that Pro Bowl level. I'm confident that he has the ability to do it, but he (still) has to do it."

    Harris had his best game of the season Thursday night with his first sack of the year and two tackles for loss.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Before the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford first overall in April, Detroit fans worried he would be like their last high-pick quarterback.

    Joey Harrington, the No. 3 pick in 2002, didn't click with his teammates and went 18-37 as a starter. He has said he was handed the starting job too quickly and lost his confidence in the negative Detroit environment.

    But the Lions drafted Stafford and started him immediately partly because they liked his makeup, and they feel he has validated that so far.

    "It's a tough business, and you have to be physically and mentally tough to play quarterback in this league," Schwartz said. "There's a lot of attention at the position, and the physical nature of the position is demanding.

    "And it's not just on the field, what you see on Sunday. It's practice and getting through things like that and going out and practicing on a Wednesday and a Thursday after an experience like this.

    "I think he's shown a lot of signs that he can deal with this."

    While playing through a right knee injury, Stafford was harassed, hurried and hit the whole game Sunday at Minnesota. But he escaped some potential sacks, taking only three, and avoided interceptions, after throwing five last week at Seattle.

    "Thank goodness he did, because it would have looked a lot worse," Schwartz said. "Matt did a really good job of getting away from some of those situations. He did take care of the ball.

    "But it's hard to be proud of somebody when that happens. Did he show resilience? Yeah, he did. He's a tough player. He battled like crazy in that game, as did the whole team. Battling is not enough. It's about production. It's about the score on the scoreboard. I don't want to give any gold stars for somebody playing tough."

    NOTES

  • Cornerback Jack Williams lasted only one defensive snap for the Lions after they claimed him off waivers from Denver last week. When the second half began Sunday, cornerback Phillip Buchanon took extra time to deal with a knee problem because the Lions had the ball. But running back Kevin Smith fumbled on the first offensive play, so Williams, who had played only on special teams in the first half, had to make his debut on defense. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson promptly rumbled for a 27-yard gain, leaving Williams in his wake with a bad knee injury. "It's going to end his season, and we'll make a roster move pretty quick on that one," Schwartz said.

  • Wide receiver Bryant Johnson dropped what would have been a touchdown pass right before halftime Sunday. The Lions settled for a field goal, and they needed every point they could get in what turned out to be a 27-10 loss. But there is only so much Schwartz can do, even though he has benched several players this season for poor performances.

    "If we benched every guy for a drop, we might not have anybody left because everybody, including Calvin Johnson, has dropped balls this year," Schwartz said. "That's a play that we need to finish. There's definitely accountability there, but Bryant has been extremely sound assignment-wise, in blocking, all the other things."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    All systems seem to be a go for linebacker Aaron Kampman to be back on the field Wednesday, when the Packers begin on-field preparations for their next game against the San Francisco 49ers.

    A concussion kept Kampman from playing in the Packers' 17-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the first game he has missed for an injury-related reason since October 2003.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Kampman would regain his starting job at left outside linebacker if he's cleared to play against the 49ers, but apparently nothing is guaranteed after that.

    McCarthy commended rookie Brad Jones on his performance against the Cowboys as a first-time starter. Jones, a seventh-round draft pick, filled Kampman's spot by making seven tackles, including one for a loss.

    "I thought he played very well for a young man (starting) in his first game, against that opponent, and (with) the number of defensive calls that were called in the game, particularly the multiple pressure schemes and everything," McCarthy said.

    Was it good enough to get Jones involved even after the return of Kampman, who hasn't been an impact player this season in his conversion from defensive end to linebacker in the team's new 3-4 scheme?

    "I'll let you know after the 49er game, but that's definitely an option," McCarthy said. "I think he's warranted an opportunity to play. I was very pleased with his performance, his ability to get off blocks, some of the plays he made."

    The Packers have another rookie, Clay Matthews, entrenched as the starter at right outside linebacker.

    Matthews had one of Green Bay's five sacks of the Cowboys' Tony Romo on Sunday to take over the team lead with four. Matthews also recovered two fumbles in the game.

    Green Bay's linebackers flourished Sunday — Nick Barnett tied a career high with two sacks — despite not having Kampman and Brady Poppinga (thigh injury) available. Brandon Chillar, who was thrust into the role of nickel linebacker earlier in the season, was activated for the game but didn't play because of a broken right hand that kept him out of the previous game.

    Chillar will get accustomed to wearing a big, club-like cast on the hand in practice this week and is expected to be ready to contribute in the next game.

    NOTES

  • Head coach Mike McCarthy never is at a loss for complimentary words about Charles Woodson and what he has meant to the team's defense since Woodson signed as a free agent in 2006.

    On Monday, however, McCarthy offered the highest praise yet for the veteran cornerback, who was a one-man wrecking crew in the Packers' huge 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

    "That's the best I think I've seen him play since he's been here," McCarthy said.

    Woodson forced two fumbles, had a goal-line interception and led the Packers with nine tackles to spearhead a dominating defensive performance by Green Bay.

    The five-time Pro Bowl player made an open-field strip of the football from receiver Roy Williams on a long pass play. Woodson later sacked Tony Romo from behind on an uncontested blitz, resulting in a fumble the Packers recovered at the Cowboys' 3-yard line to set up a clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.

  • Right tackle Mark Tauscher this week is on the comeback trail from a knee sprain that kept him out of Sunday's game.

    He will be put through a workout Tuesday and could be cleared to resume practicing Wednesday.

    Even with Tauscher's return, McCarthy suggested that rookie T.J. Lang, who replaced Tauscher against the Cowboys, would stay put in the starting lineup.

    "We'd like to line up with five offensive linemen in the same spots and gain some continuity and consistency. So, we'll continue to work for that goal," said McCarthy, who has trotted out six different starting offensive lines in the first nine games.

    McCarthy said Lang graded out "very well" in his first pro start at right tackle, which appears to be his best position. Lang previously started two games at left tackle for a then-injured Chad Clifton.

  • McCarthy had few qualms with the performance by his team Sunday in a game several players acknowledged afterward was a must win, but the coach had some choice words about punter Jeremy Kapinos on Monday.

    "Jeremy needs to punt better, (and) he knows that," McCarthy said. "He's a young man that does a very good job throughout the week and just needs to be more consistent on game day."

    Kapinos' up-and-down season persisted Sunday with averages of 43.7 gross yards and only 35 net yards in seven punts.


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