Chicago Sun-Times

November 2010 Archives

Hall of fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, now a Fox analyst, provided his list of top 10 quarterbacks under the age of 30 before Sunday's games. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't make his list.

Trying to be fair and impartial, I just don't see how that's possible, especially given his comments on a few of them. But Bradshaw's sort of like that cooky uncle everyone kind of tolerates and expects to make statements intended to elicit a reaction.

Here's his list:

RANK QUARTERBACK TEAM AGE RATING 2010 TEAM RECORD
1 Philip Rivers Chargers 28 104.9 6-5
2 Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 28 99.1 8-3
3 Aaron Rodgers Packers 26 97.4 7-4
4 Matt Ryan Falcons 25 94.4 9-2
5 Sam Bradford Rams 23 82.0 5-6
6 Joe Flacco Ravens 25 93.2 8-3
7 Mark Sanchez Jets 24 81.9 9-2
8 Josh Freeman Buccaneers 22 89.3 7-4
9 Eli Manning Giants 29 90.3 7-4
10 Matt Schaub Texans 29 92.6 5-6
?? JAY CUTLER BEARS 27 90.4 8-3

Perhaps the only possible criticism of Cutler after he compiled a 146.2 passer rating against the Eagles was the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he drew in the fourth quarter. Cutler was trying to convince officials that defenders had interfered with Forte on third-and-9 pass near midfield at the time.

"You want your quarterback to be into the game, and Jay's a fiery leader and all that, but you have to keep your emotions under wraps a little bit when you're dealing with officials," Smith said. "Believe me, I would be the first guy out there screaming and yelling if I saw them changing calls. But they don't. I can see why he was upset --- we were all upset --- but just like we weren't perfect in the game, the officials definitely weren't perfect either."

From Julius Peppers to Matt Forte, from Devin Hester to Johnny Knox, the Bears ran circles around an Eagles team that many believed to be the NFL's fastest during Sunday's 31-26 win at Soldier Field, which may make it time to give this team a more fitting name: Bear down, Chicago Blurs.

"We looked pretty fast yesterday," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Our defense was chasing around the fastest quarterback who's probably ever played. You see Julius track him down on that key third down stop to make them settle for a field goal there in the fourth quarter. Those defensive guys, between the guys up front, the linebackers, the secondary, they were flying around. With Johnny and Devin and Earl [Bennett] on the outside, and Matt and Chester [Taylor] in the backfield, and Jay [Cutler]. We've got some guys who can go."

Fans in Chicago and nationwide may be more willing to jump on the Bears bandwagon after their impressive win over the Eagles on Sunday but players themselves remain grounded, which is becoming a distinguishing characteristic of an 8-3 team that would have a first-round bye and a home playoff game if the season ended today.

"We're not really in this business to get respect," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Obviously, at the same time, you do want to be recognized for your hard work and the wins and being productive and successful. But at the same time, we really don't get too wrapped up in having people talk positive about us. We expect to go out there and play hard every week. We don't need any extra motivation that doesn't come from within this building, and that's the truth. I think from Coach Lovie [Smith] down, the confidence and the pride that we take in playing well for him, for the organization, for the fans, really is enough that we don't really need any other outside motivation."

CBS flexes Bears game to 3:15 p.m. December 12

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CBS has decided to move the Bears game against the New England Patriots at Soldier Field from noon to a 3:15 kickoff Dec. 12.

It's probably a sound move by CBS; Fox, which moved the game from noon to 3:15, announced that Sunday's game between the Bears and Philadelphia Eagles was the highest-rated of this NFL season on any network.

The Bears game against the Patriots would pit teams with two of the league's best records against one another. The Bears are 8-3, and the Patriots are 9-2.

The Patriots will have a shorter week to prepare for the Bears. While the Bears travel to Detroit to play the Lions, the Patriots will host the New York Jets (9-2) at Gillette Stadium on Monday Night Football Dec. 6.

The winner of that game will have sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

Rashied Davis wasn't surprised when Eagles players refused to quit even when Jay Cutler was taking a knee to seal a 31-26 win on Sunday at Soldier Field.

"They were doing dirty stuff all game," the backup receiver and special teams standout said.

Bears play near perfect quarter

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The players always talk about the always elusive chase for perfection. But the Bears would be hard-pressed to play a better quarter than they did right after halftime today.

The Bears took control in the third quarter, opening it with a 46-yard kickoff return by Devin Hester. Keep in mind they closed out the second by intercepting a pass and scoring a touchdown heading into the break.

But the Bears kept it going in the third with brilliant all-around play.

After Hester's big return, the Bears needed just three plays to move the other 54 yards. Jay Cutler bought some time, scrambling toward the right sideline, and waiting for Eagles linebacker Ernie Sims to commit. Then, he flipped the ball to Hester, who gained 34 yards and drew a penalty that gave them an extra 15 yards. On the next play, Greg Olsen caught a nine-yard touchdown.

Then, the Bears defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense put together a 17-play, 83-yard drive that ate up 10:05 on the clock.

"I think that was kind of a signature moment in the game for us [on offense], to grind out the clock and, get the running game going, pick up some tough first downs on third down," Cutler said. "It was huge."

The Bears only mustered a field goal, but they led 31-13 at the time.

When the quarter was over, the Bears had controlled all but 3:24 of the clock in the quarter, they converted three-of-four third downs and registered nine first downs. The Eagles, meanwhile, had only one first down, on the second to last play of the quarter.

LeSean McCoy called the Soldier Field sod the worse he's ever seen. But he wasn't blaming that for the Eagles' loss.

''It was terrible. I've never played an a field that bad,'' said McCoy, who rushed for 53 yards on 10 carries. ''But that's no excuse. Philly's terrible. It was terrible on both sides. It was not the cause for us not getting in the end zone.''

Eagles cornerback Joselio Hanson slipped while trying to stay with Johnny Knox while the Bears receiver was making an inside-out cut late in the first quarter. As a result, Knox was wide open for a 20-yard touchdown pass from Cutler that staked the Bears to a 14-3 lead.

On several other occasions, Eagles players lost their footing.

Eagles linebacker Moise Fokou laughed when Olin Kreutz's name was brought up in a discussion of the chippy play Sunday.

''That guy's hard-nosed, isn't he? Fokou said of the Bears' 13-year veteran center. ''He wants to get in every fight.''
Fokou, a second-year player from Maryland, is aware of Kreutz's reputation as a tough customer.

''So they say,'' he said. ''He's been there for a long time. Although he's got that toughness, I don't know how long it's going to last. You can quote me on that.''

There was momentary confusion after the Eagles' last-ditch on-side kick attempt when some Philadelphia players didn't believe Johnny Knox had been touched down after catching the ball.

"I caught the ball and got touched," Knox said. "I guess he tried to act like he didn't touch me. I got up and handed the ball to the ref and [an Eagles player] snatched it out of my hands."

The referees ruled Knox "gave himself up" and "didn't try to advance."

"They said he gave it up," Eagles coach Andy Reid said while explaining why he wasn't surprised that the play wasn't reviewed. "The rule is if he gave it up on the kick and gave himself up [he can be ruled down.] I know he bounced up after giving it up, but that's what they ruled."

All four starting defensive linemen recorded at least a half sack against Michael Vick. Matt Toeaina recorded the first sack of his career while Henry Melton now has at least a half sack in three straight games. Julius Peppers had a 16-yard sack on third-and-goal from the 3 in the second quarter. Anthony Adams was credited with a sack when he stripped Michael Vick in the third quarter.

Chasing Vick around the field was nothing new for Julius Peppers, who played against the scrambling quarterback often when both were playing for teams in the NFC South.

"You all probably did not pay a lot of attention to the Panthers and the Falcons back in the day when we used to play all the time," Peppers said. "We always had those types of [situations], me and him in the open field. Him running, I'm chasing. It was just like old times."

The 8-3 Bears are tied with the Saints for the second best record in the NFC behind the 9-2 Falcons. Since the 8-3 Saints and Falcons are both in the NFC South, New Orleans would be the wild-card team if the season ended today, which means the Bears would have a first-round bye and would host a playoff game.

"I guess we have to say thank you to the Atlanta Falcons," linebacker Lance Briggs said, referring to Atlanta's 20-17 win over the Packers. "Now we need [them] to lose a few. But that's big. We have to continue to win out. Win out and we control our own destiny."

When the biggest play of the game was made, Tommie Harris --- remember him? --- was in the middle of it.

The veteran defensive tackle may not be performing like he once did, but he was perhaps the person most responsible for the sequence that played a pivotal role in Sunday's 31-26 win over the Eagles and may end up being remembered as one of the biggest plays of the 2010 season.

"That was a great play," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "It took points off the board. They were in field-goal range and it was only second down, and it flipped the field, too, and we went down and scored. It's a 10-point [or 14-point] swing there."

The Soldier Field turf isn't as green as you would like --- no surprise there --- but it doesn't appear to be in too bad of shape after Friday night's Prep Bowl game, although it's hard to tell for sure until the game starts.

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked earlier this week whether soft turf was an advantage for the offense or defense.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive ends Barry Turner and Corey Wootton are inactive for today's game against the Eagles.

For the Eagles, quarterback Mike Kafka, receiver Chad Hall, cornerback Asante Samuel, cornerback Brandon Hughes, tackle Austin Howard, defensive end Juqua Parker, guard Reggie Wells and tight end Garrett Mills are inactive for the Eagles

Rookie defensive end Brandon Graham will start for Parker. Joselio Hanson starts for Samuel.

Asante Samuel ruled out for Sunday

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Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Bears.

Samuel didn't practice all week because of a knee injury he suffered in an Eagles' win over the New York Giants last Sunday. He's arguably the best defender on a defense ranked ninth in the NFL. His seven interceptions lead the league, and the Eagles' 19 interceptions are also tops in the NFL.

Veteran Joselio Hanson is expected to start in Samuel's spot. In his sixth NFL season, Hanson has 15 starts.

Earlier this week, the NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said the Eagles had the league's best starting cornerback tandem. Dimitri Patterson has three interceptions, including one he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles already lost veteran Ellis Hobbs for the season and rookie Trevard Lindley (a fourth-round pick) will have increased playing time.

This obviously is a huge break for the Bears.

While the Bears don't have a traditional No. 1 receiver, they have shown more depth, using five different receivers, not to mention three tight ends and two running backs. A team could do worse than have Devin Aromashodu be its fourth receiver.

The Bears special teams is having another standout season, and Smith highlighted the importance of key players on that unit Wednesday.

"They know --- and I'm talking about our core special teams players --- that they've led the charge for us to win a lot of games around here and that we're going to call on them again," Smith said.

Kicker Robbie Gould, who signed a six-year extension in 2008, said he hopes long snapper Patrick Mannelly and punter Brad Maynard get new deals, too.

Some players bundled up for the coldest practice session of the season while others sported jerseys and shorts. Rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb wanted to wear more but the Texas native followed the lead of veteran offensive linemen and went with bare arms and legs instead. He said it took him 20 minutes to warm up after practice.

The forecast for Sunday calls for partly sunny skies and a high of 46 degrees.

"If you handle the ball you have to kind of slow things down a little more and make sure you have a hold on it because your hands can freeze out there," veteran center Olin Kreutz said. "But there's no strategy. You can't teach somebody about the cold weather. You just have to get used to it."

Friday's injury report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa participated fully in Friday's practice and is expected to play Sunday.

For the Eagles, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (abdomen) did not participate in Friday's practice and is questionable, as is defensive end Juqua Parker (hip) and cornerback Asante Samuel (knee). Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (elbow), cornerback Jorrick Calvin (back), guard Nick Cole (knee), guard Todd Herremans (knee), running back LeSean McCoy (shoulder) and linebacker Ernie Sims (ankle) are probable.

The offense has spent a lot of time this week prepping for an aggressive Eagles defense that excels at attacking the opposition's protection schemes.

"They do a great job of attacking your protections and making you accountable for everybody," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "A lot of guys will blitz and with the formations sometimes that we do, you spring a guy free. It's hard to do it against these guys. They're very, very responsible when they blitz. They understand what they're doing."

Long-time Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died before last season. Sean McDermott took over and has maintained Johnson's ultra-aggressive approach.
"Defenses know by formation what we run and where the backs are usually going to go so they do a good job of coming up with stuff to take away the extra protector," left tackle Frank Omiyale said. "We're just going to do our game plan and see how it works out. But they are very good at it."

This one is on Jay Cutler.

If he turns the ball over, the Eagles win. If he doesn't, the Bears win.

Special teams should be a big advantage for the home team.

My prediction: Bears 20, Eagles 17

Lovie Smith: "It's not just Vick"

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has gotten a lot of attention, as his team has soared to the top of the always challenging NFC East. But Bears coach Lovie Smith said the Eagles have much more than the league's top-rated quarterback.

"Just athletic, fast guys," Smith said of receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. "Both can change the game quickly. They've been a big play offense. A lot of long passes with them. So we'll have our hands full.

"It's not just Vick."

Smith then added another key player, running back LeSean McCoy, who is 15th in the NFL with 726 rushing yards. But what's impressive about him is his 5.0 yards per rush average.

"Excellent player too," Smith said of McCoy. "He's not as well known (as Brian Westbrook), but he can do all the things Westbrook did. Excellent out of the backfield, catching the ball. Can make you miss, in the open field. Most people don't realize they're third in the league in rushing and a lot of it has to do with him."

To be fair, though, that the Eagles are third in the NFL in rushing has to do with Vick's 375 rushing yards.

Here are other thoughts from Smith today:

* On the health of his team: The team is in great shape. Everyone practiced today. We realize the importance of this game. And we'll be ready to go."

* On what he's thankful for: "Oh, I'm thankful for so much. Just be here, No. 1. I have an opportunity to lead a great team like the Chicago Bears, and of course my family. What more can you ask for, if your family is healthy. Can't wait to go home and spend a little bit of time with them too. I like spending time with you, but I cant wait to get there and spend time with them."

* And on who can eat the most on his roster: "You look at the size, and that'll give you a start. I would say one of our offensive linemen, without singling out one."

Wednesday practice report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) practiced in the cold and wet conditions at Halas Hall on Wednesday but was limited.

For the Eagles, defensive end Juqua Parker (hip) and cornerback Asante Samuel (knee) did not practice.

Michael Vick thrilled with his rebound

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Philadelphia Eagles Michael Vick, a former No. 1 pick, could hardly muster any interest, after his NFL suspension ended.

Vick ultimately signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal with the Eagles that didn't include any guarantees.

But now, Vick is an MVP candidate, and he's putting up the sort of numbers people projected coming out of Virginia Tech in 2001.

"It's been great to be considered one of the best in the league right now. It's an amazing accomplishment, not only to myself, but to all the people who helped me get here," he said. "Gotta give a lot of credit to my teammates, because without them, I wouldn't be in this position."

Vick is the league's highest-rated quarterback, with a 108.7, and he's yet to throw an interception.

Here are some other highlights from Vick's conference call today:

Seven amazing minutes with Jay Cutler

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is 21st in the NFL with a passer rating of 84.2, and his numbers obviously haven't been all that impressive.

Asked about not putting up the sort of numbers he did with the Broncos, Cutler said, "Our defense couldn't do the things that we're doing now in Denver.

"We weren't the No. 1 ranked, so we had to go out there and score points. We had to push the ball down the field."

Later, Cutler said, "I'm not really worried about my stats or where I am in your guys' eyes."

Regardless, the Bears need Cutler to play well down this stretch. The first challenge is against a Philadelphia Eagles defense that's ranked ninth in the NFL and is solid against the run and the pass.

"Very good. Very sound. Got a good scheme," Cutler said of the Eagles' defense. "They're going to show you a lot of different things. They're going to bring some safeties. Great linebackers. They've got a lot of odd blitzes. You've got to be careful of Asante [Samuel] over there, he's playing really well. Overall, a strong defense."

Other thoughts from Cutler:

* On Bears defense: "I've said it all year long. The defense has been carrying this team. Whenever the offense catches up to them, we're going to be where we want to be."

* On what has improved third down conversion rate: "I think Mike [Martz] has got a really good feel for what we can do and what we can't do, third-down wise. We've cut down a little bit of stuff, but for the most part, we're protecting really well. We're hitting our hots. We're doing everything we're supposed to be doing."

* On Michael Vick: "I haven't gotten to see him at all, really. But just knowing him and watching him over the years, it's his athletic ability. It's hard to simulate in practice. You don't see that every day, defense wise, a guy that can throw it as well as he can but also has the ability to break the pocket. It's hard to defend."

* On mastering Martz's offense: "I don't know. I haven't thought about it. I'm not going to think about. We're worried about Philadelphia and getting that game plan in."

* On local weather in late November and December: "We talk about it every year at the beginning of the year. In November, December, you're going to have to be able to run the ball. Our field gets pretty sloppy. The wind picks up. It's going to be hard to throw the ball. We've got to be able to stop the run, which the defense has done a fabulous job all year, and we've got to be able to run the ball."

* On Johnny Knox: "He's the kind of guy you've got to quietly account for him defensively, because if not, he'll get going. He's got so much speed in that second level that he'll get away from you in a hurry. He's doing a really good job over there at X. I think he's getting better and better with his routes. He's getting better and better at learning the offense. He's still a young player in the league, so to have to learn two different offenses as quickly as he's had to learn them is tough."

It was a simple question. Eagles coach Andy Reid was asked what he sees when he studies the Bears' defense.

"I don't see a lot of holes," he said, chuckling. "That's what I don't see. There's a lot of continuity there. If you put Rod Marinelli together with Lovie, that's a pretty stinking good combination right there. Fundamentally, they're precise, they're hustling to the football, they're aggressive, they play zone and man well. I just think they are very good and they have good players on that defense."

Julius Peppers and Devin Hester are the leading vote getters among NFC defensive ends and kick returners, respectively, in Pro Bowl voting on NFL.com

Peppers is the No. 1 defensive end in the NFC with 151, 231 votes. The Giants' Osi Umenyiora, who has eight sacks --- three more than Peppers --- is second with 128, 528.

At this time last season, Frank Omiyale was still struggling while making the adjustment from tackle to guard. For whatever reason, the transition has gone smoother for Chris Williams, who already feels at home after four games at guard despite playing tackle throughout his college and brief NFL career.

"I've been amazed at how quickly he has adjusted," said Omiyale, who is relieved to be back at tackle, which he considers his natural position. "He has taken the criticism and gotten a lot better. It definitely proves he's a better athlete than I am."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he hopes linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa will have recovered from his knee injury in time to play against the Eagles on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The veteran missed Thursday night's game against the Dolphins and he and center Olin Kreutz did not practice with the team on Monday.

Kreutz, who has started in 128 straight games, did not practice last week but played anyway.

"He made progress even throughout the weekend," Smith said of Tinoisamoa. "Of course, that would be a boost for us. We need all of our defensive guys ready to go this week and hopefully Pisa will be."

Smith also expressed surprise at the news that Vikings coach Brad Childress had been fired earlier in the day. Defensive coordinator and ex-Bear Leslie Frazier was named interim coach.

"Yes, I'm very surprised, Smith said. "I just found out about it a few minutes ago. It's a shame a little bit. You have your team a play away from the Super Bowl one year and you're out of a job the next year, but that's our business. When we get in it we realize that.
Looking at it from a different point of view, it's always good to see a guy like Leslie Frazier get an opportunity.

Monday's practice report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and center Olin Kreutz (hamstring) were not practicing on Monday when reporters were allowed to watch practice. I'll update this entry when the official injury report is released.

Minnesota Vikings fire Brad Childress

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The Minnesota Vikings have fired coach Brad Childress after a 3-7 start and replaced him on an interim basis with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Here's the statement from the Vikings: "The Minnesota Vikings have relieved Brad Childress of his head coaching duties. Leslie Frazier has been named Interim Head Coach and will serve in that capacity for the remainder of the season."

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Frazier will address the media at 3:00 p.m. CT today.

As I wrote Nov. 10, Wilf may have determined seven losses as the unofficially end to the season. Wilf was furious with Childress when he released receiver Randy Moss without informing him or any other personnel executive on the team.

Frazier is is popular with his players, although his defense hasn't played that well this season.

Some other thoughts:

* I think Frazier will promote either linebackers coach Fred Pagac or defensive line coach Karl Dunbar to be defensive coordinator.

* I believe Wilf will give Frazier every chance to earn this job. With personnel vice president Rick Spielman in place, as well as contract negotiator Rob Brzezinski, Frazier would be the easiest and smoothest choice. Then, Spielman would have more say in personnel decisions, while still taking input from Frazier. It was always awkward before, because Childress had the ultimate say.

* The team's playoff chances aren't dead, but it's a long, long uphill climb. The Vikings might be best served seeing what they have in Tarvaris Jackson. Then, they have entire offseason to make a move, if they determine he's not good enough.

* The Vikings defense hasn't played as well, but it's still ranked ninth. More important, Frazier's players believe in him.

UPDATE: Statement from Childress: "The past five years have been a tremendous experience for my family and I as the Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings. I have a great respect for the players and coaches who I have worked with and for their dedication to each other and to the organization. I am proud of our accomplishments and believe the foundation of this football team is stronger today than when I became Head Coach in 2006. I appreciate the opportunity that Zygi, Mark, and the whole Wilf family afforded me and wish them success as they move forward."

It might not mean much to him now -- he repeatedly has made that clear -- but at some later date, perhaps long after he has retired, being the all-time leading tackler in Bears history might hit middle linebacker Brian Urlacher as hard as he has hit so many others during his 11-year career.

At this moment, however, what Urlacher accomplished Thursday in South Florida seems to have impressed everybody but No. 54.

By beating the Dolphins, the Bears have increased their chance of making the playoffs from 67.4% to 76.8%, according to www.makeNFLplayoffs.com.

The site also reports that the team's chance of winning the division has gone from 53.9% to 62.5%. I'm guessing that number will increase significantly if the Vikings beat the Packers today.

If the Bears go 3-3 , they have a 94.5% chance of making the playoffs. They have a 51.9% chance of making the playoffs if they go 2-4 and a 8% chance at 1-5.

Julius Peppers goes off on Dolphins

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By Sean Jensen
sjensen@suntimes.com

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Bears defensive end Julius Peppers entered Thursday's game tied for 39th in the NFC with just 2.0 sacks.
That would seem a disappointing return on a player whom the Bears made one of the league's highest-paid defenders, signing him to a contract at the start of free agency that included $42 million in guarantees.
But the Bears didn't have any buyer's remorse before the game, and they certainly didn't after one of the most dominant performances of his career.
"He's been doing it all year," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "People say he hasn't done it because of sacks. But who cares? He gets pressure on the quarterback, and he's been there every game.
"It probably wasn't his best game, but the sacks showed up today."
And, as they say, they came in bunches.
Peppers had three tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures and tipped one pass that cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted.
Peppers echoed Urlacher's comments.
"Overall, I've been pleased with how I've been playing," Peppers said. "I feel maybe people's opinion might change. If they look at the numbers, they might feel I'm playing well now, or better than I was before but that's not the story.
"The story is, I just happened to get a couple tonight. But I played tonight the way I have been playing all year."
Bears coach Lovie Smith acknowledged that the burst of sacks might "validate" Peppers' play, and general manager Jerry Angelo provided his own strong comment before the game.
"I wouldn't take another defensive player in the league outside of him," Angelo said before kickoff. "He's a great player. He has impacted our defense. He's a guy you have to account for. He plays all three downs. Don't let the sack numbers be the end result of how you measure this guy."
Entering the game, Peppers wasn't among the top 50 players in the NFL in sacks. But he's consistently been double-teamed, and he's had his share of signature plays during the team's 6-3 start.
In addition to 32 tackles, Peppers has four tackles for loss, a team-high 13 quarterback pressures, three passes defended and two forced fumbles. And no one on the Bears defense would deny that Peppers' presence is one of the reasons Israel Idonije, who starts opposite him.
Idonije added another sack Thursday and leads the team with six sacks.
"He really, truly is a great player. He has been a great leader for us, too, and you can't minimize the intangibles," Angelo said. "I think a big part of why we've been playing good defense is intangibly, we're very, very strong.
"I've got to say this: It starts with him."

Tough night for rookie Webb

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While the offensive line turned it pehraps its best performance of the season as a whole, it was not a good night for rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb, who was called for three holding penalties and gave up a sack.

It was evident from the start that Webb had his hands full with Cameon Wake, who entered the game ranked third in the NFL with 8.5 sacks, when Wake beat the seventh-round draft pick for a sack on in the first quarter. Wake finished with a sack and six tackles, including three for losses.

"I had bad technique coming into the game." Webb said. "I needed to come out in the second half and do better. Thankfully, I picked it up."

Although Jerry Angelo said he wouldn't use the word "disappointed" to describe how he feels about Tommie Harris' production this season, the Bears' general manager minced no words when asked about how the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle is performing this season before the game.

"I was hoping we would see more," Angelo said. "It didn't happen the way we thought. It would've been great because he was ready. He worked hard; nothing short on his part. You couldn't ask a guy to work any harder than he has worked in the offseason, during the season. It's just not clicking. I don't know how to say it other than that. I'm not giving up hope that it can't because we still see the quickness and athleticism that you need to see in practice. Unfortunately, we're not seeing it as much on Sunday. But it's not a lack of effort or toughness. It has nothing to do with his work ethic and hopefully he's going to turn the corner here."

When asked if he cared to respond to Angelo's statement, Harris, who stuffed Ricky Williams for a 3-yard loss in the second quarter, said: "He's right."

Urlacher breaks tackle record

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Brian Urlacher became the leading tackler in Bears history on Thursday night when he registered the 1,488th career stop of his 11-year career, which is one more than Mike Singletary. Gary Fencik is third with 1,102 and Lance Briggs began the game in fourth place with 1,072 career tackles.

"It's cool to have your name in the category with all those guys who have played here," Urlacher said. "It's cool."

Tackles weren't officially recorded until 1971 and are based not on the official press box stats but film review by the Bears' coaching staff. Although the tackle totals of several Hall of Fame defenders such as Dick Butkus and Doug Buffone have not been compiled, the record is likely legitimate because careers and seasons were shorter when they played.

Urlacher, who leads the team in tackles again this season, also had a sack. He now has 2 1/2 on the season.

NOTE TO READERS: There will be more about this in Sunday's editions of the Sun-Times.

With Pisa Tinoisamoa sidelined with a knee injury, the Bears will start veteran Nick Roach at strongside linebacker.

Roach started 15 games last season, after Tinoisamoa suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second game.

The Bears other inactives are: Cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, center/ guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark, defensive end Barry Turner and defensive end Corey Wootton. Caleb Hanie is the third quarterback.

For the Dolphins, left tackle Jake Long will start, although he has a torn labrum, according to ESPN.

The Dolphins other inactives are: receiver Roberto Wallace, starting safety Chris Clemons, cornerback Nate Ness, offensive tackle Matt Kopa, defensive end Clifton Geathers, starting center Joe Berger and tight end Jeron Mastrud.

Tyler Thigpen will start at quarterback for the Dolphins, and Cory Procter will replace Berger at center, and Reshad Jones will replace Clemons.


NOTE TO READERS: I ACTUALLY POSTED THIS ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT. FOR SOME REASON, IT DIDN'T SAVE PROPERLY AND THEREFORE WASN'T PUBLISHED. I DIDN'T NOTICE IT THURSDAY BECAUSE I WAS EN ROUTE TO MIAMI. MY APOLOGIES.

There are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to the Bears. I get it. I've been skeptical, too.

It's hard to believe the Dolphins are 1.5-point favorites heading into tonight's game, however, especially with third-stringer Tyler Thigpen expected to start at quarterback.

The Bears are healthy and coming off their best game. The Dolphins are beat up with huge question marks at quarterback. I'm saying Bears, 20-13.

Leave your predictions here.

Last week's winner was Creightonneedshisdiaperchanged, who predicted the Bears would beat the Vikings 24-13.

Well done.

Defense is playing fast

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The old coaching adage about players should react and not think is paying off for the Bears' defense, which is ranked fourth in total yards, second in rushing, second in points allowed and fifth in third-down efficiency this season.

"We're playing fast," Brian Urlacher said. "That's the No. 1 thing. We are getting to the football. If you watch the film, there's nine, 10 guys to the football every play. That's what you want to see as a defensive player. We are missing tackles, but they get paid, too.
We're going to miss tackles. We're not getting a lot of sacks, but we are getting pressure on the quarterback and takeaways. Those are huge for us. If we keep getting those, we're going to have a chance to win a lot of games."

Perhaps the greatest measure of Robbie Gould's success is that when he misses a couple of field goals people wonder if something is wrong. When you're one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, with a career average of 85.1 percent, back-to-back couple misses are out of character, even if they were both 40-plus yarders.

"That's great," Gould said. "I love to hear I'm in a slump. Actually, I'm kicking the ball the best I've ever kicked it. From that aspect, I'm not upset at all."

Gould missed a 42-yarder wide right against Buffalo inside the Rogers Centre that would've given the Bears a 10-0 lead late in the first half. Against the Vikings Sunday, he missed a 43-yarder that would've staked the Bears to a 17-10 lead at the break.

In all, Gould has made 14 of 18 attempts heading into Thursday night's game against the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. He has booted a career-long 53-yarder and is 3 of 6 from 40-48 yards.

"I missed one on Sunday that I just didn't trust," he said. "It was a mental error more than anything. You have a right-to-left wind and in pregame warmup it didn't blow quite as much as it blew when I went to kick that one and I didn't want to put it on the right upright so I put it in the center and it blew outside the left upright.

"There's some things I know better than to do. If I'm going to miss, I should miss trusting what I know is right."

Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa did not practice before the team left for Miami on Wednesday and has been ruled out of Thursday's game with a knee injury. The injury was not considered serious but the short week did not provide sufficient recovery time for the veteran, who will be replaced by veteran Nick Roach.

Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot), receiver Rashied Davis (quadriceps), receiver/returner Devin Hester (shoulder) and receiver Johnny Knox (ankle) fully participated and are probable.

For the Dolphins, quarterback Chad Henne (knee) is doubtful while center Joe Berger (knee) and safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) are out.

Tackle Jake Long (shoulder), safety Tyrone Culver (ankle) and receiver Roberto Wallace (knee) are questionable.

Safety Yeremiah Bell (toe), tackle Vernon Carey (knee), linebacker Channing Crowder (ribs), linebacker Karlos Dansby (elbow), linebacker Tim Dobbins (ankle), defensive end Kendall Langford (ankle) and receiver Brandon Marshall (hamstring) are probable.

Tuesday's injury report

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Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot), receiver Rashied Davis (quadriceps), receiver/returner Devin Hester (shoulder), receiver Johnny Knox (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) were limited in Tuesday's practice but all are expected to play.

For the Dolphins, quarterback Chad Henne (knee), center Joe Berger (knee) and safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) did not practice while tackle Jake Long (shoulder), safety Tyrone Culver (ankle) and receiver Roberto Wallace (knee) were limited.

Keys key to "wildcat"

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The Dolphins helped start the "wildcat" craze, and although they have not run it as much this season, they may pull the formation out and dust if off with third-stringer Tyler Thigpen expected to start at quarterback and the possibility of no experienced backup if Chad Henne can't play because of a knee injury.

"A lot of people see the wildcat and they freeze," Brian Urlacher said. "We don't. We get down hill. If we do that, we'll be OK. They do a lot of different formations from the wildcat.

They motion a guy in, they'll put three or four running backs in there, so it's just reading our keys. We have a key on every play. If we read that key, we'll get to the football."

There are times when it appears that Jay Cutler is throwing into triple coverage when in fact he's doing exactly what he's supposed to do. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz used the 19-yard touchdown pass he threw to Greg Olsen in Sunday's 27-13 win over the Vikings at Soldier Field as an example. What looked like a risky throw was in fact the correct read on the play.

"That's right where he's supposed to put it," Martz said. "The two safeties were apart and they broke on the throw... That's the way the play is designed. You can't do that with somebody who doesn't have the ability Jay does. We wanted the ball in the end zone."

Devin Hester prefers to break the NFL record for kick return touchdown at Soldier Field. His second choice would be in front of friends and family in the city where he played college football and near the southeastern Florida community of Riviera Beach where he grew up.

Sun Life Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins will host the Bears on Thursday night, also happens to be where Hester returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a touchdown, which he considers the biggest highlight of his five-year career.

If Jay Cutler has looked more relaxed in the pocket during the past two games it's because he has been. It's the result of the offensive line only allowing two sacks during that span while also limiting the amount of times Cutler has been hit or has had to scramble to avoid pressure.

"I'll be very calm if they keep protecting like this and give me time to move around and make some plays," Cutler said. "That's all the difference in the world."

Bears receiver Devin Hester would like nothing more than to break the NFL's record for kick return touchdowns Thursday in his hometown of Miami.

But Dolphins coach Tony Sparano isn't saying whether his team will give Hester the chance.

"We'll see when we get to the game," Sparano said. "The game plan is probably to try to sneak a three or four extra [players] out there on the field against him and see if we can have any success.

"He's been a great player for a long time and I think the guys that go back there are fearless to catch the ball the way he does and run the way he does. So we've obviously got to pay special attention to him when you're putting together the game plan."

During a conference call this morning, Sparano said he has not determined a quarterback for Thursday's game yet. Its likely to be either Chad Henne or Tyler Thigpen.

Here are some of Sparano's highlights:

The turning point didn't reveal itself on Canadian soil or during a 27-13 win over the Vikings on Sunday that might prove to be one of the biggest wins of Lovie Smith's coaching tenure.

It likely can be traced to a staff meeting at Halas Hall during the bye week when the Bears' college of coaches put their headsets together and realized changes had to be made to put a mistake-prone offense in position to ensure the continued employment of a staff boasting four current or former NFL head coaches.

Fox flexes Bears-Eagles to 3:15 p.m. kickoff

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Fox has opted to move the Nov. 28 game between the Bears and Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field from noon to 3:15 p.m.

The network, which protected that game, elected to make the move because it will have a far larger audience in the later time slot. The Bears didn't have a say in the decision.

Like the Bears, the Eagles are also 6-3. But the Eagles embarrassed the Washington Redskins 59-28 on Monday Night Football behind a brilliant performance from quarterback Michael Vick.

Vick completed 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His rating was 150.7. He also ran the ball eight times for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

Vick is clearly a candidate for the league MVP award, and his play for the Eagles is one of the most intriguing stories of this season. The Eagles traded quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins then named Kevin Kolb the starting quarterback. But, Kolb initially struggled, and Vick has starred, leading the league with a passer rating of 115.1.

Jacksonville's David Garrard is second with a rating of 104.9.

Most impressive? Vick has yet to throw an interception this season on 153 pass attempts.

Give turf assist on picks

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The always-controversial turf at Soldier Field was as responsible for Brett Favre's interceptions as the Vikings' quarterback was. Favre had one pass tipped by Israel Idonije and intercepted by D. J. Moore. His other two picks were diving interceptions by safety Chris Harris and linebacker Lance Briggs that were partially the product of receivers slipping and falling down.

"Absolutely," Harris said when asked if the turf helped generate the turnovers. "I slipped a few times in pregame, so I kind of knew what kind of turf we were on. You're very conscious when making breaks. You might take an extra step, one that you wouldn't normally take."

Harris said the lack of footing puts both the home and visting teams on equal footing.

"I wouldn't say it's a home-field advantage at all," he said.

The Bears committed a season-high 11 penalties for 116 yards against the Vikings, which didn't go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

"We haven't had a lot of penalties, and yesterday for some reason we had entirely too many," Lovie Smith said. "We need to clean that up."

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Chad Henne might be able to play against the Bears on Thursday night, according to numerous reports.

Miami had two free-agent quarterbacks in for tryouts Monday and are expected to sign a replacement for Chad Pennington, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Henne also injured his knee in Sunday's win over the Titans, which means third-stringer Tyler Thigpen is expected to start.

Bears prepare for a short turnaround

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Bears coach Lovie Smith said he was pleased with the steady progression of his offense after a 27-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

"We knew the reasons why," Smith said of some of the issues. "A lot of different guys playing. There were things going on. But we stayed the course. Each week, we have identified problems, and we've tried to fix them."

One of the big fixes was getting some continuity on the offensive line, which started the same five players for a second consecutive game. The offense also converted 11 of 19 on third down.

"It's not like they were third and shorts," he said. "Converting those really kept drives going, and allowed us to get some points on the board."

The Bears have a short week, heading to Miami on Wednesday to play the Dolphins Thursday night in a game that will be televised on the NFL Network.

Other highlights from Smith's press conference today:

* Smith on the turnover ratio: "One stat that's pretty important is the turnover ratio, and we were plus two again. Normally, you have a pretty good chance of winning, once that happens. We're pleased with that."

* Smith on the 11 penalties: "We haven't had a lot of penalties. Yesterday for some reason, we had entirely too many. We need to clean that up."

* Smith on Devin Hester: "Devin has it going right now, and guys are doing a great job blocking for him. He's a threat, and teams are treating him that way."

* Smith also said his team is fairly healthy.

It's still too early to hold a parade for the Bears' offensive line.

But after Jay Cutler was sacked just once and Matt Forte gained yardage on 19 of his first 20 carries in a 27-13 victory over the Minnesota Vakings on Sunday at Soldier Field, a little respect might be in order.

Progress is progress.

''We understand how good they are on that defensive line. They have three All-Pros,'' Bears center Olin Kreutz said. ''It does mean a lot. But we still have to keep improving. We have not arrived yet. We're not near where we want to be. And if we don't come back [against the Dolphins on Thursday] and perform again, then this game doesn't matter.''

What looked like a daunting turnaround may have become less so for the Bears after the Dolphins --- who host Chicago on Thursday night --- lost quarterbacks Chad Henne and Chad Pennington to injuries

Or maybe not.

The wildcat offense and the efforts of third-stringer Tyler Thigpen helped the Dolphins hold on for an improbable 29-17 win over the Titans.

Pennington suffered a shoulder injury that could be career threatening. Henne was on crutches after the game after suffering a knee injury. Both injuries appeared serious, which means Thigpen, who led the Dolphins on a 85-yard touchdown drive to seal the win, will likely start against the Bears on Thursday night.

Bears spread the wealth on offense

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By Sean Jensen
sjensen@suntimes.com


Bears tight end Kellen Davis has played a lot of football in his life, but the 25-year-old had a memorable moment Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
With less than nine minutes remaining, with his team facing a third-and-inches from the Vikings' 19-yard line, quarterback Jay Cutler faked a handoff and tossed an easy touchdown to Davis.
"I've never been that open in my life. Not once," Davis said. "I mean, I've been pretty open but not like that.
"There was no one there."
Davis scored, untouched, and the Bears increased its lead to 27-13 over the Vikings.
But the play punctuated an effort in which the Bears spread the ball around and balanced both run and pass. Running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor combined for 32 carries for 102 yards, and Cutler completed passes to nine different receivers.
Johnny Knox led the way with five catches for 90 yards.
Cutler pointed to the comfort level of all of the players' within Mike Martz's offense, but he also noted that they are intentionally trying to get more players involved.
"We're creating some packages for some different guys," Cutler said. "I'm just trying to use everyone's talents as best as possible."

After the Bears 27-13 win over the Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field, Brett Favre sounded like a quarterback who had played his last game in Chicago.

"As I told Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris and those guys after the game -- it has been a pleasure," Favre said. "Not really, but you know what I mean. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys, the guys I've played against all my years playing here. "I've had a pretty good record here, but it has been a real honor to play against those guys, it really has. I have a huge amount of respect for them, the way they've played and the battles we've had."

The key to one of the Bears' best defensive efforts of the season wasn't forcing Brett Favre to commit four turnovers but holding Adrian Peterson well below his career average against the Bears. By taking away the running game, defenders were able to hone in on Favre and the passing game.

"We were able to play the run fairly well and get them into the passing game," coach Lovie Smith said. "Once you get a team where they are one-dimensional it's tough for
them to come back. That was definitely our plan today."

Peterson has averaged 122 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry in six career games against the Bears but had only 51 yards on 17 carries Sunday for a three-yard average. Twenty-five of those yards came on the first drive of the game.

"They made some adjustments at halftime to some of the things we were doing in the run game," Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson said. "It seems like the holes and gaps that were there in the first half were not there in the second half. They scored some points and, obviously, at some point you have to start throwing the ball to catch up.

Today's inactives

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Cornerback Zack Bowma, who was listed as questionable for today's game against the Vikings with a foot injury, was one of eight inactives for the Bears. Quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Craig Steltz, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive ends Barry Turner and Corey Wootton are also inactive.

For the Vikings, quarterback Joe Webb, cornerback Asher Allen, safety Jamarca Sanford, running back Albert Young, linebacker Erin Henderson, guard Chris DeGeare and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy are inactive.

Receiver Sidney Rice was not taken off the physically unable to perform list and is therefore ineligible for today's game. Rice has been recovering from August hip surgery.

While not saying it was "must-win," Jerry Angelo acknowledged the importance of today's game against the Vikings on his pregame show on WBBM (AM-780).

"It's not a do-or-die game but it could certainly make things a little easier as we go down this stretch," the general manager said.

Perhaps the most important matchup today will be the Vikings talented defensive line against the Bears' offensive line, which has been a weakness all season.

"We're going to have a plan to help our tackles," Angelo said. "All the tackles in the league have to have a little help when they're playing this group. Kevin Williams is a great player. We know a lot about [Jared] Allen. We're not going to be like anybody else. We have to obviously take care of our business and execute and be very, very assignment conscious with all 11 of our players."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is reporting that Sidney Rice will play against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Rice had not played this season after undergoing hip surgery in August.

His return is timely since both Vikings' receivers Percy Harvin (ankle/migraines) and Bernard Berrian (groin) have been listed as "questionable."

Rod Marinelli has been impressed with what his defense has been able to accomplish thus far. The unit is ranked fourth in points allowed.

"I take my hat off to that group of men and how they've worked," the defensive coordinator said. "They're disciplined, understanding exactly everything --- all their responsibilities --- in terms of our defense, and they do a good job in that. Discipline's key, and not adding so much stuff so we have a lot of mental errors. Our mental errors are really low, which allows us to play really fast.


Friday's injury report

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Center Olin Kreutz practiced Friday and should play Sunday, if there was ever any doubt. The veteran, who has started 126 consecutive games, sat out Wednesday's and Thursday's practices with a hamstring injury and is questionable. Veteran guard Roberto Garza is the backup center if Kreutz were to re-aggravate the injury. Also, guard Edwin Williams also played center at Maryland.

"This time of year no one's at full strength," Kreutz said. "I'm not concerned about it. You just show up and play."

For Minnesota, receivers Percy Harvin (ankle/concussion) and Bernard Berrian (groin) are questionable.

Homecoming for Tice

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Mike Tice spent 14 years as a player and coach with the Vikings and still has many friends with the organization and others living in the area. His daughter lives in St. Paul.

"I have to be professional about it and make sure that just because it's special for me I don't create any type of anxiety or stress for my players because as we all know they are under a lot of it already," Tice said. "This is important. They're all important. This is going to be a great game and a really, really good matchup for us."

Olin Kreutz said Tice's feelings about playing his former team will remain in the offensive linemen's meeting room, but that players were aware of what it meant to their offensive line coach.

Your questions were so good this week I tacked on a couple more to make it a dirty dozen.

1. Q. Now that we can see the Bears aren't likely to win another game this year and Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith are headed for the door, who do you think the Bears should hire? I am intrigued by Dave Toub but I have to ask if you would be interested in the next Sean Payton as your head coach. If you look for a successful offensive coordinator who is young and has a fresh approach but a strong pedigree, there is only one name: Kyle Shanahan. That's who I would hire. --- Joliet Pat

A: I still think there's a good chance the Bears will win some close games down the stretch, make the playoffs and save Lovie's job. If not, here's my ever-changing short list: 1. Bill Cowher 2. Jeff Fisher 3. Jim Harbaugh 4. Jon Gruden 5. Ron Riveria.

Huge game on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher recognizes that his team has a unique opportunity Sunday at Soldier Field.

The rival Minnesota Vikings are coming to town, and the 3-5 team is desperate for a win.

Does he want to bury the Vikings?

"I hope so," Urlacher said. "I think 3-6 would be tough to come back from. The NFC's wide open but it'd be tough to come back from that.

"That said, it's going to be tough to get them to 3-6. They're playing better, they came back and won in the fourth quarter, but we feel like we can do it."

Besides, the Bears aren't doing all that great, either. They are 5-3, but they've got a tough run of games coming up.

"We've got to get on the right track and piling up some wins if we want to make the playoffs and win our division," Urlacher said. "Especially home games. We're 2-2 at home. We've got to be better at home."

Urlacher said he's got a lot of respect for Brett Favre.

"He knows what we're doing every play. We're not going to fool him very much. He knows where to go with the football, he's got a good running game behind him now. He'll still give us opportunities," Urlacher said. He takes chances that you like as a defensive player but sometimes he makes those chances pay off. So we've got to be ready to go."

Other thoughts from Urlacher:

* On Adrian Peterson: "He's like anybody else. He's a running back and when he gets the ball, we have to tackle him. He's done well against us in the past. We've played pretty well against the run this year overall."

* On being physical with Favre, but legally: " 'Legally,' of course. We try to get there every play. We had a lot of hits last week on Fitzpatrick and the ball was gone. We hit him a lot and hopefully we'll do the same thing this week, legally, and make him realize we're going to be around him all day."

* On Favre, in general: "He's the guy I've played against the most in my career. He was in Green Bay however long. I didn't play him last year but this'll be my 20th game against him so he's the opponent I've played against the most. It's a big challenge every time you play him because he doesn't quit. It doesn't matter what the score is or the situation in the game, what the records are. He never quits. He's always going to try to win the game no matter what, no matter how much they're up or how much they're down."

Submit your questions for the weekly Q&A. Hayes or Jensen will provide answers that will be posted on the blog and on the website Friday at noon.

Brett Favre thought Chester was underutilized last season when he played for the Vikings but the multi-talented running back has touched the ball even less since joining the Bears.


If you think the Bears are worried about keeping Vikings defensive end Jared Allen out of their backfield, imagine the trepidation Minnesota coach Brad Childress and tackle Bryant McKinnie must feel knowing that Julius Peppers will have quarterback Brett Favre in his crosshairs when Minnesota visits Soldier Field on Sunday.

The Bears struggles up front have been well documented this season. Given how Peppers has terrorized McKinnie through the years, this is shaping up to be an advantage for the Bears.

Wednesday's practice report

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On a day when cornerback Zack Bowman returned to practice for the first time after missing two games with a foot injury, center Olin Kreutz sat out with a sore hamstring. Cornerbacks Tim Jennings (knee) and D.J. Moore's (head) participation was limited. Julius Peppers, who was injured late in Sunday's win against Buffalo, also practiced.

Brett Favre said he sees himself in Jay Cutler.

Vikings coach Brad Childress announced during his weekly press conference (via profootballtalk.com) that Percy Harvin was not at team headquarters Wednesday and would not practice because he was suffering from another migraine.

Harvin has missed several practices and one game during his brief career because of migraines. He also missed some time in training camp.

--- The Bears are allowing 14.6 points per game, which is second best in the league. The Saints are first at 12.9

--- The Bears have allowed just five passing touchdowns and are the only team in the league to not allow multiple touchdown passes in the same game.

--- The Bears have 20 takeaways, which is second best in the league behind Pittsburgh's 21. They are tied with the Steelers for the league lead with seven games with multiple takeaways.

--- The Bears D also leads the league with 37 three-and-outs in 104 chances.

---- The Bears have 30 "stuffs," or tackles behind the line of scrimmage on running plays, which is second best in the league behind Carolina. Individually, Brian Urlacher is fourth with 7.5. Since 2004, Lance Briggs leads the league with 49 stuffs. Urlacher is seventh with 40 despite missing all of last season with a wrist injury.

Sidney Rice jogged on the field before Minnesota's game against Arizona last week to test the hip he had surgically repaired in August. Brad Childress said the receiver, who happens to be one of Brett Favre's favorite targets, is close to returning but doesn't know whether he'll be able to play against the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Despite all the advance billing, ''The Greatest Show on Turf'' won't be opening in Chicago this year. With cold weather on its way, Jay Cutler won't be starring as Kurt Warner, and Matt Forte won't play Marshall Faulk in the sequel anytime soon.

Mike Martz is still directing, but this is a different production with a different cast.

The Packers released Al Harris on Monday. Although Lovie Smith knows the veteran cornerback well, he said he is pleased with his depth at cornerback.

"I am familiar with Al Harris," Smith said. "Al and I started together back at Tampa a long time ago. He's a good football player that will land somewhere."

Cutler likes his new o-line

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Jay Cutler said he would like to see the offensive line that started Sunday's game stick together for the rest of the season. The unit allowed one sack against the Bills and has now allowed two in the past six quarters.

"I'd like to stick with these guys for the rest of the year. Absolutely," Cutler said. "This group right here is the group we would like to make a push with and make a run with. This is the most comfortable they have felt, not just me."

Smith left himself some wiggle room when asked if Sunday's starters were set in stone.

"We like this group," he said. "As I talk to you Monday, we like this group."

Jay Cutler's success running the ball for big gains and key first downs in the Bears 22-19 win over the Bills on Sunday is something coach Lovie Smith hopes his quarterback will continue to do.

"If you can get a positive play, you see that everyone is off, playing zone coverage, or sometimes even with man coverage, guys turn their back and they take off," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Mobile quarterbacks can make a big difference and we definitely have one with wheels."

Cutler rushed for 39 yards on five carries, including two third-down scrambles that resulted in first downs.

"When he takes off you first have to determine is he running to scramble or is he running just to buy a little time?" tight end Greg Olsen said. "Sometimes you have to break your route off --- the old scramble drill --- and start moving in his direction to give him a window. But a lot of times he was taking off and converting some third downs with his feet, which was huge. Everybody's back is turned when teams play man like Buffalo does. The o-line did a good job picking up the front guys and there was nobody else behind him. Adding that element to the offense is a huge benefit to us."

5-3 record often feels like 2-6, Lovie Smith says

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The Bears are 5-3, a half-game behind the idle Green Bay Packers (6-3). But Bears coach Lovie Smith sometimes gets the feeling his team is far worse off.

"We're 5-3 right now, and a lot of times it seems like we're 2-6 or something like that," Smith said. "We're a good football team, and, in time, we'll prove that more and more.

"I like our position."

The Bears finished strong to hold off the winless Buffalo Bills 22-19 in Toronto Sunday, and they prepare for the 3-5 Minnesota Vikings next weekend at Soldier Field.

"We're excited to get the fifth win. We needed to get it to set up a huge game for us this week against Minnesota," Smith said. "Back in the division. I think we've won four division games in a row, and we're anxious to play the Vikings for the first time."

Here are some other highlights from Smith's press conference:

* Smith on Jay Cutler's ability to run the ball: "It helps a lot. You normally don't account for the quarterback. He's kind of a free guy. You want him to stay back in the pocket. Sometimes, you can get a big run, a big play, from that.
And Jay of course is mobile. He's fast, and he knew when to get down too. So those plays were big, with him using his feet."

* Smith on if they Cutler's mobility into the game plan: "That's something that's always in the game plan, when things break down or you see an opening, especially on maybe some of the third down plays, knowing exactly how much you need. It doesn't have to be third down. If you can get a positive play, you see that everyone is off, playing zone coverage, or sometimes even with man coverage, guys turn their back and they take off. Mobile quarterbacks can make a big difference and we definitely have one with wheels."

* Smith on the play of the offensive line, including guard Chris Williams: "Our entire line played well. Kind of talk about the line as a group. It's good to get that group together. We've talked about keeping the same group together for a while. But, they played well. In order for us - Jay was only sacked one time, I felt we had good protection, pass wise - and they allowed us to rush for over a 100 yards. That normally kind of tells you how an offensive line played. We're pleased with how everyone played. Of course, we still need to improve in a lot of areas. We'll do that."

* Smith on if the current starting five on the o-line will stay in tact: "We like this group. As I talk to you Monday, we like this group."

* Smith on balance: "When I say balance, I'm talking about just having a commitment to both. Giving what the defense gives you. But you have to be productive in both areas. And for us, of course, it was about us being able to run the ball more. We talk a lot about Chester, talked about getting Matt involved, and they had over 28 touches, run and pass. To me, that's the balance I'm talking about. Being able to run the ball effectively and pass."

* Smith on Minnesota drama: "I don't have time to follow drama. I'm about we have work that we're trying to get taken care of here with the Bears. No time to - I don't read what you guys write, so I'm definitely not gonna read what they're talking about somebody else. I know a lot about the Bears. I can talk on it."

* Smith on cornerback depth, in light of the Al Harris release by the Green Bay Packers: "I'm very happy with it. You mention a guy like Corey Graham. All he does is just everything we ask him to do. He hadn't gotten an opportunity to get many other plays except for special teams right now. But yeah, we're pleased with our depth for our football team. That is one of the storylines that goes unnoticed a little bit, our depth. We don't have a lot of injuries. You know, getting a player like Major Wright back into the mix a little bit yesterday, we didn't get him as many reps as we would've liked, but getting him back involved. Hopefully we can get Zack there and we'll have guys to choose from. I am familiar with Al Harris. Al and I started together back at Tampa a long time ago. He's a good football player that will land somewhere."

* Smith on Julius Peppers: "He's gonna be OK. It did. Especially after you go back and watch the video. It looked a lot worse than it ended up being. It's gonna take an awful lot to keep him out, to knock him down. But he's fine, good to go."

More on Bills "home game" in Toronto

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I know Neil posted something already. But, I had to pass this along.

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner had this to say about playing at the Rogers Centre instead of at Ralph Wilson Stadium: "I believe if we were in Buffalo, with our real natural fans that really love the Bills, it could have made a difference.

"That's part of football," he said. "That's why you have home games, have home-field advantage, because of the fans, because of the 12th man."

I actually tend to agree with Whitner. The Bears had a six first half penalties, including four false starts. That's alarming since it was basically quiet when the Bears offense had the ball. The fans here were decidedly in the Bears' favor (I would guess 60-40). So it wouldn't be absurd to think that, in Buffalo, the Bills' fans could have created a more hostile environment for the Bears. In fact, since I've been there, I'd say there was a high probability of that, because it gets pretty raucous in there.

Bears safety Chris Harris called it a "semi-home game," and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa cracked a joke about it.

"I don't know if we were giving out Bears jerseys or what, but it was awesome to see all the Bears fans," he said.

Bears snap dubious streak

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TORONTO --- Let the record show that not only did Chester Taylor score but he scored untouched. The thousands of Bears fans who came to Canada can say they witnessed history when Taylor scored from one-yard out in the third quarter to end a dubious streak.

Prior to that touchdown, the Bears had failed to score on 10 straight plays on goal-to-go from the 1.

"It's the best touchdown I ever had," Taylor said. "Going in on the left side, the offensive line did a great job and Brandon [Manumaleuna] did a great job kicking that guy out. All I had to do was walk in."

Whether it's in Canada or the United States, when the Bears go on the road, orange-and-blue clad fans turn out to cheer them on. There were so many Bears fans at the Rogers Centre watching the team's 22-19 win over the Bills that it made the latest installment of what's called the Bills Toronto Series feel like a home game for the visitors.

"There were more Bears fans than I expected," Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "I guess I can say that."

Playing in Canada didn't feel any different from playing in any other NFL venue. While the paid attendance was 50,746, there were many empty seats. Fans weren't as vocal as they are NFL stadiums, or to put it another way: Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza couldn't blame back-to-back false start penalties in the first half on crowd noise.

"It felt great," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It was a good environment. Everything seem real big, the stadium and the field and everything. The stands were far back but it was a cool environment. It was like a home game for us."

Bills coach Chan Gailey has said several times that the onus is on he and his team to win more games and attract more fans not only the Rogers Centre but Ralph Wilson Stadium, as well.

"To be honest, it was kind of neutral but we still take it as a home game," Bills receiver Steve Johnson said. The fans here are happy to see football and we're happy to bring it to them. But the atmosphere was pretty neutral."

Greg Olsen still isn't sure how he and Earl Bennett ended up running almost the exact same route in the end zone when he caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the first quarter.

"Good thing we ended up scoring the touchdown," Olsen said. "We'll work on not having two guys in the same spot. The bottom line is, we scored."

The two were so close together that Bennett actually thought Olsen was defending him on the play.

"He thought I was coming over his back to pass interfere so he got up trying to draw the penalty and then he realized it was me," Olsen said, chuckling

Peppers OK

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Julius Peppers remained on the field for several minutes, making it easy to think the worst. As it turns out, the defensive end only got the wind knocked out of him.

"Julius Peppers should be OK," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Nothing major there. He took a hit. Nothing more than that."

Bears announce inactives

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Major Wright has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been activated for today's game, which is bad news for Craig Steltz, who is inactive. Todd Collins is officially the backup quarterback as Caleb Hanie was designated the third quarterback for roster purposes. Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) and guard Edwin Williams (back) will not dress. Tight end Desmond Clark, running back Kahlil Bell and defensive linemen Corey Wootton and Marcus Harrison are also inactive.

Major Wright back in the mix

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Bears rookie Major Wright, who has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, is ready to return to action.

Wright wasn't even listed on the injury report today, and he will play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Asked how he feels, Wright said, "Real good.

"Real good. It feels real good to be back out there."

To what extent he'll play isn't certain. But, Wright will certainly play on special teams and likely also get some snaps on defense.

"Well, I just want to play my role on special teams. And if I do get a chance on defense, go out there and play hard," Wright said.

Wright said he's never felt this fresh this deep into a season, but he said he's "full go" and isn't second-guessing his hamstring at all.

Veterans Chris Harris and Danieal Manning have been solid, but Wright could bring some energy to a unit that has just one interception. Wright flashed his potential during the preseason, although he's been hampered by a number of injuries.

1. Q: If the Bears happen to lose to the winless Bills Sunday, is there any hope of any changes of any kind, from front office to coaching to players? Some heads gotta role if the Bears lose to the Bills! --- Omay

A. If they lose Sunday, changes are coming. I won't be until after the season, but they'll be coming, all right. As tough as their second-half schedule is, the Bears can't lose to the Bills and still make the playoffs. If they lose Sunday --- I'm not predicting they will lose but have been getting a weird vibe as the week goes on --- the second could end up in the ditch.

2. Q: They keep saying they are going to use Chester Taylor in short-yardage situations. Why hasn't it happened yet? Chicago needs a hard-nosed running back that will knock you back a few yards. I think Chester is the man for the job. If not then why not try a few fullback plays up the middle with Dez Clark? Also, what happened to Greg Olsen. Is he still with the team? --- Stanman

A: They did use Chester on fourth-and-1 against the Seahawks and he picked up the first down. Unfortunately, they tried a sneak with Cutler and we all know what happened. Personally, I would use defensive lineman Henry Melton. The guy scored 16 touchdowns at Texas as a short-yardage back. It was difficult for Lovie to hide his contempt when I asked him if he was considering this, though. They're 0-for-10 from the 1 and he still acts like he has all the answers. Sigh. Olsen is still with the team. Unfortunately for him, he's trapped in a Mike Martz offense that doesn't use tight ends much.

I've been getting a weird vibe about this game as the week goes on. Having lost their last two games in overtime, the Bills are getting better. Having lost three of four, the Bears seem to be getting worse. The last thing they want to do is sleepwalk into Toronto. They could get ambushed. If that happens, their season is circling the drain.

A buddy of mine put it best. We were going over the NFL lines and making our picks like we do every week. When we got to Bears-Bills, he said: "I like the Bears talent-wise, but I like the Bills Karma-wise." I thought that summed it up pretty well.

That said, I'm still a believer. Coming off a bye, the Bears have no excuses. Bears 27-10.

By the way, nobody was even close to predicting the score for the Redskins game. Lets see if anybody can nail it this week.

Thursday injury report

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Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) did not practice for the second straight day, casting doubt on his ability to play in Sunday's game against the Bills in Toronto.

Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) and guard Edwin Williams (back) did not participate fully on Wednesday but did Thursday.

"I would like to think so," Briggs said when asked if his ankle will allow him to play at an elite level against the Bills.

Where coaches go to die

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Deadspin.com did an entry on the 10 worst long-tenured head coaches of the past 20 years. Three different current or ex-Bears coaches made the list, including Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and Lovie Smith.

Here's the link:


Bears Pro Bowl linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher aren't overlooking the 0-7 Buffalo Bills.

"Just watch 'em on film," Briggs said. "They've been playing a lot better the last couple of games..."

The Bills pushed the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, both 5-2, to overtime. Now, the Bears head to Toronto to face the Bills.

"They're playing better," Urlacher said of the Bills. "It's a big challenge for us, on the road."

One of the reasons the Bills are playing better is because of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the league's ninth-rated passer (91.1). Fitzpatrick has 12 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

"He's doing well," Briggs said. "He's a vet, he's been in the league a while... He's done a good job of managing, helping keeping them in games.

"Stuff they're doing now, they're playing a lot harder, and even though their record doesn't reflect it, they're a good team."

The Bears defense has played at a high level so far this season, but Briggs said he isn't satisfied.

"We've done a lot of good things, a lot of things that we wanted to do. But, can't be satisfied if you play great defense and don't win the game, or you play good defense and don't win the game, or you play good defense for three and a half quarters and, at the end of the game, you give up some big runs."

The last reference, of course, was to the loss to the New York Giants. But Briggs said the defense has to do its part in finishing games, and he hopes the team's two consecutive losses serves as a wake-up call moving into a difficult stretch of games.

"It should light a fire for everybody in that locker room," Briggs said. "I think everybody knows that we're a better team than the two losses that we experienced. And going into this next part of the season, we have a lot of tough opponents."

It would have been easy for Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith to claim seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss off waivers Wednesday.

Even at 33, Moss still commands double teams, which would empower Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and every other offensive player. Despite his assorted issues, Moss caught 83 balls for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, pretty impressive for what was considered an average year for him.

Angelo and Smith could have justified the decision to sign Moss in any number of ways.

The Minnesota Vikings showed their desperation last month, when they traded a third-round pick to the New England Patriots for Moss, only to dump him on Tuesday.

Now, though, the Bears -- or any of the other 20 teams ahead of the Tennessee Titans on the waiver claim priority list -- would have only been on the hook for about $3 million.

If Moss were being a pain, a club could dump him and even hope another club picked him -- and the remainder of his contract -- up for the duration of the 2010 season.

So why did Angelo and Smith pass?

I suspect part of it has to do with the fact that Moss has a contract that runs out at the end of this season. It's abundantly clear that one of his issues with the Patriots was the lack of a contract extension, so any team that gets him would be renting him for the rest of the season than needing to make a big contract offer to keep him.

Given the lack of cohesion on offense, the Bears may have opted to not bring in a high-profile, high-maintenance player like Moss for such a short period of time.

Sure, players like Brian Urlacher and Jay Cutler might be happy with the move. But how would someone like Hester, Knox and Greg Olsen feel about it? Besides, like they did with Alex Brown, the Bears want to give their younger players a chance to shine. Israel Idonije has done a very solid job, although the Bears need someone else to emerge and provide some more reliable depth.

The Bears haven't made the playoffs the last three seasons. But Smith and Angelo resisted the temptation to think short-term by signing Moss.

Was that the right decision? Who knows for sure. Moss may be a hit in Nashville, but he may not have been someplace else.

Check out my column on him.
http://www.suntimes.com/sports/football/bears/2864602,CST-SPT-bsep04.article

Feel free to weigh in.

Either Sean or I will answer them and they will appear on the website and the blog on Friday.

A week of NFL games has come and gone without the Bears allowing a sack or being stopped short of the goal line. It has been 11 days since Jay Cutler threw a seemingly mindless interception.

The respite has allowed time to ponder what this team must do in the second half to make the playoffs and ensure the employment of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo indicated that timing was one of the reasons his team didn't claim Randy Moss off waivers today.

After the Minnesota Vikings waived him Tuesday, the 5-3 Tennessee Titans were the only NFL team to claim Moss, after 21 other teams -- including the Bears -- opted to pass on the receiver.

"We didn't think he was a good fit for us given where we are in the season," Angelo told the team's website. "Not to minimize that he is a very talented player -- his credentials speak for themselves -- but what we're trying to do and will continue to do is develop our players that we have and continue to show the belief we have in them.

"Don't minimize what a player has to do coming in at midseason to create a niche to help a team. How many players have come in at midseason and made a major contribution? Nothing is as easy as it looks," he said. "Just ask Minnesota."

Angelo added that there are reasons players are let go by their respective clubs.

"I don't want to get into those specifically, those have to be weighed," he said. "The player's salary also has to be weighed, as well as the plan for the player. All these things are very important when you're making a decision about whether to bring a player in, irrelevant of whether it's a big-name player or not. Again, there are very few players that go to a team at this juncture of the season and make an immediate impact.

"We're not baseball."

Wednesday's injury report

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Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) did not practice Wednesday. Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) and guard Edwin Williams (back) saw limited action while guard Roberto Garza, who is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, participated fully.

Mike Tice admitted Wednesday that the line he thought he had during offseason workouts isn't the line he ended up with during training camp.

"In shorts, I thought I had a group that was gonna go into training camp and rock and roll," the Bears offensive line coach said. "But then you put pants and shoulder pads on and some of those guys you saw flying around there in shorts, we're like,  'Where did they go?' You're looking around for them, [but] they disappeared. So playing is really the only way to get better as an offensive line, and of course playing together... getting guys playing together. The communication. I like where we are today and hopefully we can build on that and put a four-quarter game together."

This is not Groundhog's Day.

But, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he would like to run the ball more. That would seem particularly important this weekend, against the league's worst run defense.

"Absolutely, we do need to run the ball more. As that game went on (against the Washington Redskins), we were way more effective in the second half than we were earlier. It'll afford us an opportunity to do that and we will," Martz said. "Absolutely."

Yes, we've all heard that before from Martz. But truly -- surely -- he must be serious, right?

Here's a few other highlights (and there weren't many) from Martz's press conference today:

* On the difference between Chester Taylor and Matt Forte: "A little different. They have their own different styles but they're both very competent at what we do. They're both excellent receivers, and blockers, and they have their own style of running, which doesn't diminish anything. They just have a different way of doing things. They have their own style, their skill, and both have been very productive. So you really have two starters, and that's unusual in this league. So we're very pleased with that."

* On what the offense can accomplish during bye: "If there's something we want to go back and look at, that you don't have a chance during the week... But there's a couple of things we wanted to look at. Then you get a chance to look at it and decide whether you want to do it or not. Then the other thing is, you like to get some of those guys who haven't gotten the game time (experience) especially the quarterbacks, some time in there. So they get up to speed with the offense. We have both of those guys equal snaps in there, had a chance for them to do some things."

* On the return of Roberto Garza: "You can't overstate it. Having a veteran back, who has played at such a good level for so many years... It's going to help J'Marcus (Webb), first of all, with the calls. Everything has to be relayed out there. You see so many fronts and protections, and run calls; all the dynamics of playing in the offensive line, he's done it for so long, and he can help Webb on the outside as well as being consistent inside and really playing at a high level. So that's a big, big deal for us."

* On if Randy Moss, who was claimed by the Tennessee Titans, fits in his offense: "Here's how dumb I am. Honest to goodness, I don't mean this with any disrespect, but I kind of hide in a cave during the season. I don't look at the Internet. I couldn't tell you anything that's written in a newspaper. I didn't even know that happened, until just recently. I can't comment on that. I would never comment on another player that's not on our squad."

Jay Cutler said he has not been asked his opinion of whether the Bears should attempt to acquire released Vikings receiver Randy Moss and he doesn't expect to be.

"I was shocked when he got waived," Cutler said. "I haven't been asked. It would be hard for anyone to come into this situation with our offense and learn it. But he's a very talented guy, on the other hand. That's for those guys upstairs."

Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times then asked if he would volunteer his opinion.

"Maybe if we were upstairs and they asked me," he said. "I don't think they will. It's tough right now. We're getting ready for Buffalo. We've got enough to worry about."

As a rookie in 2005, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played under then St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz. Things didn't end well that season for Martz, who took a leave of absence and didn't finish out the season.

But Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick out of Harvard, shared his insights on Martz's offense, one of five he's already played in already during his NFL career.

* On how hard it was to learn Martz's offense, as a rookie: "It was extremely difficult. I mean, it was a lot different than anything I had been exposed to. At the same time, I think that it was fun, it was a challenge. And it's obviously been very successful. For me, it provided a great base, just in terms of understanding concepts, offensive philosophy, and different way to exploit a defense. It was difficult, but I spent a lot of time trying to get it down and understanding why he was doing what he was doing, and I think it's helped me throughout my career."

* With experience, would it have been less difficult? "I think it places a lot of demands on the quarterback, and, in that sense, it's probably more difficult. But that's why, if you look over the years, he's had so many great years and so many good quarterbacks because they understand the challenge and he does a good job of teaching them."

* On the most difficult part of running Martz's offense: "I was a rookie, so I was third string on the depth chart. So I didn't really get a ton of exposure, if terms of running plays and stuff in camp. I think it's all based on muscle memory and repetition, if you don't get the chance to get the reps, than it's increasingly difficult because it's an offense that's so much based on timing and footwork. So I think the hardest thing, for me at least, was not being able to get the reps. I was the third string quarterback, so at that point it wasn't a big deal."

* On if Martz's offense was the hardest of all of them: "Yeah, but it's the most difficult I guess, in terms of maybe terminology and volume. But, at the same time, it's one of those that is the most fun because when you're on the same page with everybody, and when you have weapons, then there's a lot of different things he'll do to exploit the defense."

Timing has become the Bears' biggest issue at the most critical time of the season. Jay Cutler doesn't have enough time one play and takes too much the next. Receivers aren't where they should be when they are supposed to be there. The offensive linemen don't know whom they are supposed to block. Holes open and close before running backs can exploit them.

There are a lot of explanations for why the offense has flopped. What former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner thinks has been lacking most of all, however, is what Mike Martz's offense requires above all else: timing. Through the first seven games, the offense has been marching to one tune while the band plays another.

Odds on who will land Moss

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Who will Randy Moss sign with next during the 2010 NFL Regular Season?

St. Louis Rams 7/2

Seattle Seahawks 4/1

Washington Redskins 9/2

New England Patriots 5/1

Chicago Bears 11/2

Kansas City Chiefs 11/2

Miami Dolphins 13/2

Oakland Raiders 7/1

Tennessee Titans 15/2

San Diego Chargers 9/1

Dallas Cowboys 20/1

Any Other Team EVEN

Bears tweak practice squad

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The Chicago Bears signed receiver Freddie Barnes to the practice squad and released punter Richmond McGee.

Barnes is a Homewood-Flossmoor product who starred at Bowling Green before being cut during training camp.

Brian Urlacher joined the "Dan Patrick Show" on ESPN on Tuesday and said he would welcome receiver Randy Moss to the Bears.

Moss started the season with the Patriots before being traded to the Patriots. He was released after making some bizarre comments after the Vikes lost to New England on Sunday.

He will likely be claimed during a waiver process that gives teams with worse records first dibs. If he goes unclaimed, which is unlikely in this case, he will become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team, including the Bears.

"It wouldn't hurt my feelings," Urlacher said of Moss coming to Chicago. "He's tough to defend, and I'm not too sad that the Vikings let him go because we play them in two weeks."

It's impossible for Jay Cutler to fully prepare for what has become the most crucial part of his job. How do you prepare to take a hit? How do you practice running for your life?

Sometimes the most important thing a quarterback can do is make something happen when everything has gone wrong, but there's no way to rehearse spontaneity.

Peppers won't overlook Bills

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The Bears will play the Bills in Toronto on Sunday, but you won't hear them talking about how winless Buffalo is the perfect opponent to ease into the formidable second half of their schedule.

"We don't look at records," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We look at players and plays but mainly we focus on ourselves. We take care of business on our side of the football."

When asked where the defense needs to improve, Peppers didn't hesitate.

"Everywhere," he said. "Every position, every man can get better. That's what we should try to do."

Using former college running back and current defensive lineman Henry Melton in short-yardage situations has been widely considered outside Halas Hall but has not been the subject of an internal debate, according to coach Lovie Smith.

"Henry is still a developing football player," Smith said. "He's playing inside [at defensive tackle] and outside [at end] and on special teams. He hasn't mastered the defensive line positions yet. We'll continue to let him develop and leave running the ball to the running backs right now."

The Bears are 0-for-10 from an opponent's one-yard line this season, which is something the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Melton may be able to remedy. Melton was an effective short-yardage back during his first two-plus seasons at the University of Texas before switching to the defensive line midway through his junior year. In all, he scored 16 touchdowns for the Longhorns.

"Defense is my spot," Melton said. "If the team needs me to help out somewhere I'm more than willing to do it."

Melton said he would not have to re-learn the "subtleties" of the position because there are none.

"I've been doing for years," said Melton, who was a second-team All-American running back in high school. "You just put the ball in your arm, hold it tight and run over whoever is in your way, right?"

The Vikings have waived Randy Moss. If he isn't claimed he could become an unrestricted free agent.

There have been reports that the Bears are among the interested teams. While you never underestimate a desperate coach and/or general manager, and Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo qualify, this doesn't make sense for the Bears.

If the Bears receiving corps haven't mastered offensive coordinator Mike Martz's schemes by now, what makes them think Moss will in coming weeks? It would be Moss' third offense this season, after all.

Although his skills are declining, Moss brings speed and big-play ability, but the Bears already have speed --- lots of it, in fact, with Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. What they don't have is Moss' size unless you count the exiled Devin Aromashodu, but Knox and Hester are faster at this stage of Moss' career.

Has there ever been a non-kicker/punter who has played for three different teams in the same season?

Here's the official statement released by the Vikings: "This decision was made based on what we thought was in the best interests of the Minnesota Vikings, both in the short and long term," said coach Brad Childress. "We wish Randy the best as he moves forward in his career."

After talking to an insider in the Moss camp, don't believe much you read. They don't know what's going on or he might end up. Moss wants to play this season. That's all my source could say after speaking with Randy several times today.

Moss wants to play this season. He'll land somewhere. Maybe even in Buffalo, where the Bears could see him this week.

He played on or coached the Bears' last two championship teams. SportsIllustrated.com recently voted him the greatest No. 89 in NFL history. Forty-four years after playing his last game as a Bear, he still holds three team receiving records, but his legacy extends far beyond that.

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