Chicago Sun-Times

December 2010 Archives

The Bears would like to beat the Packers in Sunday's regular-season finale at Lambeau Field for several reasons. They may still have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they could become the first team to sweep the division since they last did so in 1987 and they could knock a dangerous rival from the postseason.

If it doesn't happen, though, no worries.

"The last time we were in the playoffs, the year we went to the Super Bowl, we played them the last game of the year at Soldier Field, a game that didn't matter then either and they beat us," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We still ended up playing pretty well in the playoffs. Obviously, we want to play well every game but if we don't, it's not the end of the world. We still have a bye week to fix whatever problems we may have. It's not a huge issue."

With the Packers desperate for a win, the Bears may get a glimpse of the game speed they can expect in the playoffs.

"It's weird," Urlacher said. "There's preseason speed, there's regular-season speed, there's the playoffs and there's Super-Bowl speed and you can't believe how fast each of them goes. It's amazing how much the intensity goes up during those games. For some reason they're a lot faster and things happen a lot quicker. I'm not sure why but they do."

Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) is questionable for the Bears.

For the Packers, guard Marshall Newhouse (back) was placed on injured reserve and is out for season. Neither will defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee). Linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle), tackle Chad Clifton (knees), safety Nick Collins (ribs), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), cornerback Sam Shields (knee), linebacker Erik Walder (quadriceps), center Scott Wells (back) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are probable.

Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) is questionable for the Bears.

For the Packers, guard Marshall Newhouse (back) was placed on injured reserve and is out for season. Neither will defensive end Collen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee). Linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle), tackle Chad Clifton (knees), safety Nick Collins (ribs), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), cornerback Sam Shields (knee), linebacker Erik Walder (quadriceps), center Scott Wells (back) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are probable.

Nobody was close enough to mention last week.

I've had a bad feeling about this one since the Jets game ended. The Bears don't have as much at stake. No matter what coach Lovie Smith says, the hunch here is they will rest some guys.

Packers 31-20.

Thursday injury report

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Receiver Earl Bennett sat out practice for the second straight day with a sore ankle, casting doubt on his availability for Sunday's game against the Packers. Every other player on the Bears roster participated fully.

Cornerback Charles Woodson (toe), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), safety Nick Collins (ribs) and linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) were limited for the Packers while defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), guard Marshall Newhouse (back), cornerback Sam Shields (knees) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) did not practice.

After the defense turned in three subpar performances in the past three games, linebacker Lance Briggs talked about the importance of the unit playing "fast."

When asked if it's more difficult to play "fast" late in the season when players are banged up and field conditions worsen, fellow linebacker Brian Urlacher became the latest Bears player to criticize the Bears' home turf.

"I don't know about the beat-up part but the footing in Soldier Field has been horrible," Urlacher said. "We've all seen that. You watch us on film, just slipping. Our d-line slips. We're a fast team and when you get us on a surface like that, it kind of takes a little bit of our speed. Health-wise, we're OK. We're playing fast. But the field has been so bad, we haven't been able to do what we normally do.

Urlacher was then asked if the field conditions rob the team of its home-field advantage.
"No, it's still our crowd. That's the good thing. They're playing on the same thing we're playing on, so it goes both ways. But we're not able to use our speed as much as we'd like to. Our corners are slipping when they're coming out of their breaks. Our d-line is slipping when they push off the ground but they're doing the same thing so I guess it goes both ways."

The last time a Bears player criticized the turf at Solder Field --- it was Jay Cutler, in case you forgot --- Soldier Field officials called a press conference to refute the claims.

It will be interesting to see if they respond this time.

As if having a chance to prevent the arch-rival Green Bay Packers from advancing to the playoffs wasn't incentive enough, the Bears have another goal in mind heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.

With a win, the Bears would finish a perfect 6-0 against NFC North opponents, which hasn't happened in the Central/North division since the Bears last accomplished it in 1987.

"It would be awesome," linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "Green Bay has always been a rival and our goal is to sweep the division so this one would be a huge one to be able to get that."

While quarterback Jay Cutler said the primary focus is continuing to improve as a team, sweeping the division is a lesser source of motivation.

"That's definitely in the back of our mind," Cutler said "We don't really want to take a step back as a team or as an offense the way we have played the last couple games. We're kind of putting things together. We want to keep that going."

Mike McCarthy paid Hester quite the compliment.

"He's the best player on their football team," the Packers coach said. "They have a lot of fine football players, too. No disrespect to [Julius] Peppers, [Lance] Briggs and the rest of those guys. He's having probably his finest year there."

Wednesday's injury report

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Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle), center Olin Kreutz (not injury related) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.

For the Packers, safety Atari Bigby (groin) and fullback Korey Hall (knee) are out. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), guard Marshall Newhouse (back) and linebacker Frank Zombo knee did not practice. Tackle Chad Clifton (knees), safety Nick Collins (ribs), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), cornerback Sam Shields (knees) and center Scott Wells (back) were limited.

Because he couldn't do it alone, Bears receiver Devin Hester thanked all of his blockers who helped him break the kick return touchdown record by buying them remote cars and helicopters and airplanes.

"The big ones," Hester said, noting he purchased 14 or 15 in all.

It's been a nice run for Hester. In addition to breaking the record, Hester also was named to his third Pro Bowl team.

"It's an honor and pleasure to be selected to the Pro Bowl," he said. "I thank God first, all the way down to my teammates. It's a great opportunity, to put the return game back on the map. It's something y'all been looking forward to for about two or three years now.
We finally getting it going. And the credit goes out to the coaches, as well."

Hester said he hopes linebacker Brian Urlacher goes, since he's never attended an all-star game with him.


Here are some other thoughts from Hester:

* On getting the bye wrapped up: "The Packers are a great team, and I don't want to keep facing the Packers. So I'm hoping we can go out and eliminate another great team, because I do give them credit. They are a great team, and I'd hate to see them three times in one year."

* On being a few games from the Super Bowl: "It means a lot. It's a long journey for this team. This year, we've been doing pretty good. The record is looking pretty good right now. The bye, and everything is starting to show up. Our team is starting to do some great things, as far as offense, defense and special teams. We got a good shot."

* On if he wants to play Sunday against the Packers: "To be honest, I do. You don't want to sit out three weeks. That's a long time for a player to sit out and not really get in the game atmosphere and the conditioning. Three weeks is a long time. Knowing that we got a bye week the following week, I would love to go out and play the whole game and finish out and make sure I stay on my keys and points and make sure I'm in top shape when the playoffs start."

Jay Cutler said he expects to play the entire game when the Bears meet the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday even though the Bears have already locked up a first-round playoff bye.

"Lovie said we're going to be going hard in that game and we're going to be going full go on Sunday," Cutler said. "That's what we expect."

Post your questions here. They will be answered to the best of our ability Friday.

Bears make roster move

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The Bears signed receiver Rashaun Greer to the practice squad and terminated the practice squad contract of linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

Greer entered the NFL in 2010 as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys out of Colorado State, where he had 1,848 receiving yards on 112 receptions and three touchdowns.

The Minnesota Vikings weren't given much of a chance, but they endured an unprecedented delay and upset the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles 24-14 Tuesday night.

That means the Bears will be at least the No. 2 seed, and they still have a shot at the No. 1 seed. To get the latter, though, the Bears need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the New Orleans Saints and -- more improbably -- the Carolina Panthers to beat the Falcons in Atlanta.

Both games are set to kickoff at noon, local time, while the Bears game was flexed to 3 p.m. That means the Bears will know what's at stake.

But I still don't expect Bears coach Lovie Smith to rest his players Sunday, either way. They can knock the dangerous Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs, ensuring the NFC North rival can't beat them down the road.

The New York Giants certainly are rooting for the Bears; if the Packers win, the Giants are out. The Giants can only get in by winning their finale against the Washington Redskins then having the Packers lose to the Bears.

Another thought: the Vikings might have a player in Joe Webb. The rookie played with composure, he didn't force much, and he also made some plays with his feet, including a touchdown run.

He finished 17 of 26 for 195 yards with no interceptions.

He also ran for 31 yards.


Kick returner Devin Hester, defensive end Julius Peppers and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been selected to the 2011 Pro Bowl.

It's the sixth straight for Briggs, who joins Dick Butkus (eight), Bill George (eight) and Mike Singletary (10) as the only linebackers in franchise history to go to at least six straight.

It's the third Pro Bowl for Hester, who who leads the league with a 17.1 punt-return average and a 35.6 kickoff-return average. He has three punt returns for touchdowns this season.

It's the sixth appearance for Peppers, who becomes the first Bears defensive end to be selected since Richard Dent in 1993.

Urlacher becomes the eighth player in team history to be voted to seven Pro Bowls.

Even though the Bears worked out four punters today at Halas Hall, a source said he does not expect veteran Brad Maynard to be replaced this season.

Those working out included former Ohio State punter A.J. Trapasso, who was signed as a rookie free-agent by the Titans and has also spent time with Jets, Buccaneers, Broncos and the UFL's Hartford Colonials. Brent Bowden, a sixth-round pick of the Bucs in 2010, was also on hand, as was T.J. Conley, who was briefly with the Jets, and Dan Power.

Brad Maynard's contract expires after this season. The veteran has struggled at times, although he punted well in Sunday's game against the Jets. Maynard is currently ranked 20th in average and net average in the NFL.

The source said Maynard does not appear to be in danger of losing his job this season. He believes the Bears are just looking at punters they may want to compete against Maynard or some other veteran during the offseason or next season.


Jay Cutler has a 94.4 quarterback rating over his past 16 games, which is seventh best in the league over that span behind Tom Brady (110.8), Philip Rivers (105.3), Michael Vick (103.6), Aaron Rodgers (102.9), Tony Romo (95.1) and Ben Roethlisberger (95-0).

Under Lovie Smith, the Bears, who can sweep the NFC North with a win over the Packers on Sunday, have a winning record against all three division foes. They are 10-4 against the Lions, 8-5 vs. Packers and 8-6 when playing the Vikings.

Here are some assorted quotes about Sunday's game against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Nothing like kicking off a rare Packers Week with coaches and players discussing just how big this one can be.

Lovie Smith weighed in:

"We knew what the schedule was all along. They're a good football team. Figured there would be some things on the line, when we played them, the last game of the season, and there is."

Forte's goal in sight

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Forget playoff seeding. There's another reason why Matt Forte wants to play against the Packers in Sunday's season finale.

"I want to play because I've got 20-something yards to get 1,000," said Forte, who actually needs 22 for his second 1,000-yard rushing season in his first three years. "I want to get that."

Having a 1,000-yard rusher would also be a source of pride to the offensive line.

"It's a benchmark," Forte said. "It's kind of every running back's benchmark to get over 1,000 yards. It's something [I'm] reaching for. It's a goal of mine."

 

The Bears signed ongsnapper Patrick Mannelly to a two-year contract extension on Monday and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina to a three-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.

Mannelly is one of the league's most reliable long-snappers and is the franchise's all-time leader in games played at 204.

"I'm excited I can continue playing for the Bears," Mannelly said in a statement released by the team. "With the way the season is going, it could be a chance for two more exciting years. I love the Bears. I've been here for 13 years. Chicago is my home and I didn't want to leave."

Toeania won increased playing time in training camp and has had a solid season.

"I got an opportunity and I had to make sure I took advantage of it--and I guess I did," Toeaina said in the same statement. "I'm looking forward to the next three years with the Bears. My family and I love it here in Chicago. We love the coaching staff, we love our teammates and we love the city."

Punter Brad Maynard's contract also expires after the season. The veteran said there have been no talks between team officials and his representatives about an extension.

The Bears signed ongsnapper Patrick Mannelly to a two-year contract extension on Monday and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina to a three-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.

It seems pretty clear that the Bears aren't going to take a preseason approach Sunday in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers. Bears coach Lovie Smith, running back Matt Forte and safety Chris Harris all offered reasons why the game will matter, beyond the obvious fact that it's against the team's top rival.

So even if the Minnesota Vikings upset the Philadelphia Eagles Tuesday, wrapping up at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC for the Bears, Chicago's football team will still have plenty to play for.

Smith talked about the chance to wrap up a perfect season within the NFC North. Harris talked about the chance to knock the always dangerous Packers -- who can most easily secure a spot by winning Sunday -- out of the postseason. And Forte talked about wanting to get the 22 rushing yards he needs to get to 1,000.

"There's a lot of things for us to play for," Smith said. "We realize some things could happen and we could have the bye before then. We're not thinking that way.

"We feel like we have to beat the Packers, to accomplish our regular season goals, and that's what we're going to go to work to do."

Harris said he was impressed by the play of the Packers in recent weeks. The Packers put up a strong effort against two teams the Bears were humbled by: the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

The Packers didn't pull off the upset of the Patriots, largely because starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't play, but they did embarrass the Giants at Lambeau Field.

"You saw how they played against the Patriots without Aaron Rodgers and then what they did to the Giants was amazing," Harris said. "I think they're going to be a very dangerous team in the playoffs so why not get a little taste of them now just in case we have to go up against them a third time, we'll know what we got."

As for Forte, he's got more selfish reasons. Last season, he finished with 929 rushing yards. This season, he needs 22 to reach 1,000.

"I want to get that," Forte said. "But I think the guys would want to play, just because it's against the Packers, and going in and playing well against them."

Mike Ditka transitions from coaching to acting

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Just watched the Under Armour commercial featuring former Bears coach Mike Ditka.

In it, Ditka shows some solid acting chops.

"I didn't come out of retirement to coach a bunch of mama's boys," he says.

Later, he mockingly said, " 'Hi momma, coach Ditka hurt my feelings.' "

Ditka then is told that he's coaching high school players, as part of the 2011 Under Armour All-America High School football game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"Maybe I ought to drop this line about whining about their contracts, too, huh?" Ditka says.

Ditka will be coaching opposite Steve Mariucci. The game takes place Jan. 5 and will be televised on ESPN.

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NFC North twist: Bears fans rooting for Vikings

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The Bears downplayed all the scenarios after their game, especially since the Green Bay Packers game had just gotten underway.

But after the Packers demolished the New York Giants 45-17, the Bears may have to seriously think about how they are going to prepare for Sunday's game, which will probably be flexed.

The easiest route is for the Minnesota Vikings to upset the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday night. Then, the Bears are assured of at least the No. 2 seed, which comes with a first-round bye.

That raises an interesting question: how hard do the Bears try to win next Sunday at Lambeau Field, if it doesn't mean anything to them, except to spoil the Packers push for a playoff spot? The Packers, after all, just need a win to get in.

Do the Bears take the preseason approach, and field key players for just a half? Or, do they try to win the game, for the sake of beating a division opponent?

But if the Eagles beat the Vikings and lose to the Dallas Cowboys, then the Bears finale would be rendered meaningless to them. That's because the loser of the NFC South -- the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints -- would fall all the way to the fifth spot.

But if the Eagles win out, then Sunday's game between the Packers and Bears is one of the most fascinating, which is why NBC would likely move the game from a noon kickoff to the evening. Bears win, and they get the No. 2 seed. Packers win, and they get into the playoffs.

And depending on how things shake out, there's a strong possibility that the Bears -- if they wind up as the third-seed -- would turn around and host the Packers at Soldier Field in the NFC Wildcard round.

Lance Briggs hypes up Chris Harris

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Chris Harris ended the drama Sunday, by intercepting Mark Sanchez in the final minute.

Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs then cast a nice compliment to his veteran teammate.

"That's the reason we brought him back," Briggs said, referring to the offseason trade that brought Harris back from the Carolina Panthers. "Never should have left, to be honest with you. All he does is make plays.

"Really, he needs to be on the field, full-time."

The last comment is interesting, since the Bears have been rotating Harris, Danieal Manning and rookie Major Wright at the two safety spots. The Bears have been trying to work Wright, the team's third-round pick, onto the field.

Wright clearly is more athletic than Harris, but he hasn't been able to translate that advantage into meaningful plays. Harris, meanwhile, intercepted his team-high fifth pick.

He might miss some tackles in the open field, but Harris has done an excellent job near the line of scrimmage and making the plays he's given a chance to make.

Marshall Faulk interviewed Mike Martz and Jay Cutler on "NFL GameDay Morning" on the NFL Network. Here are the highlights:

"The only thing you can do is go out there and play better, and hopefully prove some people wrong." - Jay Cutler on not being considered an elite quarterback

"He can be the best. He is just now getting going and he is going to take off like a rocket." - Mike Martz on how good Jay Cutler can be in his system

"I talked about it with Lovie [Smith] and I voiced my concerns with him because as a player, I know what I can do well and that wasn't one of the things that I thought I could really do well: throw to a spot and do all of those things. ... From our first conversation I just liked what he was talking about offensively. It's worked out so far." - Jay Cutler on his initial concerns with the hiring of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator

"When you take a guy that is confident about his abilities, you don't want to back him off that thought that 'I can stick that ball right there.' There's a fine line between making a dumb throw and making a really tight, good throw, and he understands that. There's a couple of throws he'd like to take back but I think by and large he's made terrific progress." - Mike Martz on the progress of Jay Cutler this season

"Coming off the year [last season] with all of the interceptions, to go out there and say 'Alright go to this spot, that guy will be there,' it was hard. - Cutler on the difficulties learning to trust the offensive system

"The guys know me well enough on this offense. They know whenever I throw a pick, I'm going to go back and look at it; I'm going to talk to everyone that's involved with it and we're going to figure it out. The picks are going to happen. I've said it once and I'll say it again. They're going to happen out there, but you want to limited them and you don't want to do them at critical times." - Cutler on if he worries about how his body language following an interception is interpreted by his team

"Picks are going to happen out there. You want to limit them and you don't want to do them in critical times." - Cutler on interceptions

"He can be the best. He is just now getting going and he is going to take off like a rocket." - Martz on how good Cutler can be in his offensive system

"It gets to you a little bit. After last year, I wouldn't expect anything but to be left off that list. The only thing you can do is go out there and play better, and hopefully prove some people wrong." - Cutler on not being mentioned among the elite quarterbacks in the league

"What every quarterback has to do: limit turnovers, be efficient on third down and in the red zone. Just lead this team, make them believe in what we're trying to do out there." - Cutler on what he needs to do for the Bears to have success in the playoffs


Sunday's inactives

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Quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Herman Johnson, guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison are inctive.

Wright fined $10,000

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The league fined Major Wright $10,000 for his hit on Vikings quarterback Joe Webb last week.

The rookie safety seemed to launch himself at the third-string quarterback, resulting in the kind of helmet-to-helmet hit that the league is trying to eliminate. The resulting roughing the passer penalty negated Brian Urlacher's interception and 59-yard return in the fourth quarter.

Wright said he will appeal the fine.

Daily News: Sanchez to start

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The New York Daily News is reporting that Mark Sanchez will start against the Bears on Sunday barring any sebacks before game time.

Sanchez has a cartilage tear in his right shoulder but took all the first-team snaps at Friday's practice and threw the ball with authority.

Mike was closest to picking last week's score. He had the Bears winning 30-9.

This is a tough one. It seem like a natural letdown game for the Bears. Then again, Mark Sanchez might not play and I'm not convinced the Jets are that good.

I do think Rex Ryan will be able to pressure Jay Cutler, however, which should be enough to give the Jets a close, hard-fought win, 23-20.

Your prediction goes here:

On Wednesday, Rex Ryan seemed certain that Mark Sanchez would play against the Bears on Sunday. After the quarterback couldn't throw the ball with authority during Thursday's practice, however, the Jets' coach said there was an "80-percent" chance Sanchez would start, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

Mark Brunell would play if Sanchez can't go.

The offense remains a work in progress. Therefore, the Bears will only go as far as the defense takes it, or at least that has been one popular theory this season.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher isn't buying it.

"I disagree with that," he said. "We're known as a defensive team, but our offense scored 40 points last week. I know special teams scored seven of them, but it still goes to the offense.

"I disagree with that. I think we're a good team, all-around. They've been there for us the last eight or nine weeks. They've been playing better. Once they figured out the offense, and how to run stuff, they've been playing well.

"They carried us in the Philly game. Detroit; we didn't play well. They carried us. There have been a few games here lately where we needed them and they came through for us."
 

Chicago Bears will stay at Olivet Nazarene through 2012

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The Bears and Olivet Nazarene University signed a two-year agreement to hold Bears training camp in Bourbonnais through 2012.

The Bears also have an option for 2013.

The university has been home to the Bears during training camp for the past nine years. The school, about 60 miles south of Chicago, has steadily improved the facilities, and they now have four practice fields, air-conditioned locker rooms and dining facility, a weight room, meeting rooms and dorms for players and staff and has enabled thousands of Bears fans to enjoy training camp practices.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said his sore right throwing shoulder shouldn't be an issue heading into Sunday's game at Soldier Field.

"If we were playing the game today, I definitely would be in there," he said. "It felt good on the couple throws I had, I took good mental reps and I'll be ready to go Sunday."

Here's what Sanchez had to say about how he has developed since his rookie year:

"For the last two games before the Pittsburgh game, I would've said I'm making better decisions; using my legs a little more, sliding a lot better, getting rid of the ball, getting to my check-downs a lot faster," he said. "But those two weeks we didn't play very well. I reverted back to some of those poor decisions, not having two hands on the ball and just got sloppy with my fundamentals. That's what hurt us my rookie year and what I cleaned up for the playoffs. I thought I had a good grasp on it through the beginning and middle part of the year. And then for this push I felt like I got sloppy with them so it's just getting back to fundamentals."

Sanchez said he is impressed with the Bears defense, especially with what he has seen from Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

"Unbelievable. I mean, these guys are...You watch them on film and you're like, 'How are we even going to attack these guys?'" he said. "Their front seven is great, their back end does such a good job because of their pass rush and they're smart guys, they keep everything in front of them. They have so many tipped balls at the line of scrimmage that end up not just being incompletions, but being interceptions. Peppers is diving for interceptions, Urlacher and Briggs are everywhere on film and they cover really well on the back end so it's going to be a big-time challenge for us. We're excited about it, we're ready to compete, but we're going to have our hands full."

Mike Martz said he's enjoying his role as Bears offensive coordinator. He went on to day that this is the best staff he has ever been a part of and he enjoys the players he's coaching.

He did admit, however, that he would welcome another head coaching opportunity if one were offered.

"Sure," he said. "If the opportunity were to come up again, who knows? Shoot, I'm 59 years old. I'm very happy with what I'm doing right now. And if that's it for me, I'd be the happiest guy in the world, too."

Wednesday's injury report

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Safety James Ihedigbo (knee/ankle), safety Eric Smith (concussion), receiver Santonio Holmes (toe), fullback Tony Richardson (not injury related), running back LaDainian Tomlinson (not injury related) and tackle Damien Woody (knee) did not practice for the Jets. Defensive lineman Trevor Pryce (hip), cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder) were limited.

Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) did not participate in the Bears' walk-through inside the Walter Payton Center. Linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) were limited.

Count Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco among Devin Hester's fans.

"His numbers are ridiculous," Ochocinco said on the T.Ocho Show on Versus. "Right now, Devin Hester is the best punt returner in the history of the NFL. Period."

Check out the clip for yourself.

http://www.versus.com/tocho-show/videos/tocho-show-greatest-ever/

The show airs regularly on Tuesday nights at 9:30 and features Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, talking about different topics, ranging from sports to pop culture.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said former Illinois standout Brandon Moore deserves to play in his first Pro Bowl this season.

The former college defensive lineman from West Side High in Gary, Ind., is anchoring the Jets line from his right guard position.

"He really should go," Ryan said. "It would be a shame if he doesn't make it this year. He started over 100 straight games for us so he's a great leader but he's a talented guy. He benches like 600 pounds. He's just a strong, tough guy, tougher than a boot. He's kind of a throwback guard, he can pull, trap, base block, good in pass protection.

"If I would've been here, he probably would still be a defensive lineman. I'm glad he's not though because he's been a tremendous player for us at guard."

Bears receiver Devin Hester just set an NFL record Monday, returning 14 in his career for touchdowns and passing Brian Mitchell.

But Hester isn't done.

"I don't want to just settle with 14," Hester said. "That's not a lot to me. I want to make sure this record is put out there far, so when the next guy comes along - when Devin Hester Jr. comes on - then it'll be well worth it."

Hester, though, was flattered that Deion Sanders told ESPN 1000 Tuesday that he's a Hall of Fame player.

"It's a great feeling, to get mentioned as a Hall of Famer, still in my career," Hester said. "You normally get selected, 20 years down, after you finish football."

Here's what Sanders told Waddle & Silvy: "Devin is a Hall of Famer, I can't think of a player that has an impact on the game the way he has. He is phenomenal and not only that he is a great kid."

Wright expects fine

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Major Wright said he expects to be fined for his hit on quarterback Joe Webb in the fourth quarter of Monday night's game. The rookie safety appeared to launch himself on a blitz, resulting in the kind of helmet-to-helmet hit the league is trying to eliminate.

"My teammates have been getting on me about it," he said. "It happens. For me, it was just playing football and being aggressive. That's just my game."

Four videos posted on the website Deadspin.com show a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Michelle Ryan, wife of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, appearing in what could be described as foot-fetish videos.

In some scenes, the cameraman's voice sounds a lot like her husband Rex, who was asked during a conference call with Chicago media on Wednesday morning if the videos could become a potential distraction leading up to his team's game against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

"To be honest --- and I get it. I know you need to ask and all that stuff. But it's a personal matter and I'm really not going to discuss it," Ryan said.

Meanwhile, here's the link to the Deadspin.com report:

Rex Ryan talked about the old days, when he was a ball boy for the Bears and his father Buddy was the team's controversial defensive coordinator.

"All through high school I was a ball boy," Ryan said. "I remember painting sleds and goal posts and that kind of stuff. You name it, we did it all, my brother and I.

roster move

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The Bears signed defensive back K.J. Gerard to the practice squad and terminated the practice squad contract of receiver Jeff Moturi.

Gerard signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2009 out of Northern Arizona. The 6-1, 192-pounder spent a majority of last season on the Ravens practice squad before being elevated to the active roster on November 18, 2009, appearing in three contests before being placed on injured reserve. Gerard recorded two special teams tackles in those three contests.

Bears defensive line terrorizes Vikings

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On a night when several Purple People Eaters were honored, the Bears defensive line was the one that put on a show in the snow.

Henry Melton tipped a pass that Julius Peppers intercepted. Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina had sacks, and even rookie defensive end Corey Wootton stepped up and knocked out Brett Favre with a sack early in the second quarter, shortly before the Minnesota Vikings honored their 50 greatest players on their 50th anniversary at halftime at TCF Bank Stadium.

"It's good. It's good that everybody can pitch in, and help the team win and do their part," Peppers said of the defensive line's play. "We're going to need different guys to step up at different times. It's good that it happened tonight, in a big game for us."

Wootton, a fourth-round pick out of Northwestern, hadn't seen much playing time this season. But he showcased his athleticism on the sack of Favre, getting past Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie and wrapping up and slamming the quarterback down.

"He did a great job," Peppers said of Wootton. "We got some good depth and when guys get opportunities, guys make plays. It was huge for him. We're going to need him, down the road."

Peppers downplayed the fact that Favre was upgraded from out to questionable and started the game.

"We didn't care about it. Obviously, it was a surprise. But it doesn't matter who the quarterback is," he said. "We had to play sound football. We just started slow."

Regarding the field conditions, Peppers said, "It was a little slippery.

"It was hard, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it was going to be, prior to the game.
Couple of frozen spots. It was pretty good, for the most part."

Updated: Hester breaks record

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MINNEAPOLIS --- Devin Hester was inconsolable when he allowed himself to be tripped up by Detroit Lions punter Nick Harris on what what may well have been his record-setting 14th kick returned for a touchdown earlier this month, but he wasn't similarly frustrated when he was tackled six yards shy of the goal line after returning the second half kickoff 79 yards.

Hester ended the suspense the next time he touched the ball when he returned a Chris Kluwe punt 64 yards for a touchdown to break Brian Mitchell's record with 12:06 left in the third quarter of the Bears NFC North-clinching victory over the Vikings on Monday night TCF Bank Stadium.

"I remember coaches who said I would only be a punt and kick returner," Hester said of his critics coming out of college. I am a kick and punt returner, but I'm the best ever to do it."

Where the Bears stand in the NFC

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At 10-4, the Bears are the No. 2 seed in the NFC, since they have the head-to-head over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Unfortunately, since the Atlanta Falcons are 12-2, the Bears cannot get the No. 1 seed. Even if the Falcons lose their final two games and the Bears win their final two, the Falcons would have the advantage because they would have a superior conference record (they are presently 9-1).

But, the good news for the Bears is that they can do no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC, which means they would host a wildcard game.

The bad news? Right now, the No. 6 seed is the New York Giants. They aren't the same team now, given an assortment of injuries, but the Giants handed the Bears their second-worst whipping of the season.

The Bears final two games are at home against the New York Jets then on the road at the Green Bay Packers.

Wootton knocks out Favre

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Corey Wootton first career sack could end up being the final play of Brett Favre's Hall of Fame career.

The rookie defensive end from Northwestern beat Vikings Pro Bowl tackle Bryant McKinnie early in the second quarter, spun the veteran quarterback around and slammed him to the turf. It appeared that Favre's left shoulder, not his previously injured right one, hit the turf first.

Favre spent several minutes on the ground before walking off the field with what was described as a head injury. He was replaced by rookie Joe Webb.

Brett Favre will start against the Bears tonight while Adrian Peterson has been deactivated.

Peterson was expected to be in the lineup for tonight's game despite missing practices earlier this week because of a knee injury suffered when he collided with teammate Tarvaris Jackson in last week's loss to the Giants. Rookie Toby Gerhart will start in his place.

Favre threw several passes approximately three hours before the game under the watchful eye of Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers and members of the training staff.

Earlier this week, Favre found it too painful to throw during practice. Earlier Monday, the Vikings requested and were granted permission to upgrade Favre's status from "out" to "questionable."

Here are the Bears' inactives: quarterback Caleb Hanie, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, guard Herman Johnson, guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive lineman Marcus Harrison.

For the Vikings, quarterback R.J. Archer, quarterback Patrick Ramsey, receiver Greg Lewis, safety Tyrell Johnson, safety Jamarca Sanford, tackle Thomas Welch and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy were inactive.

Vikings punter tees off on TCF Bank Stadium turf

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The Minnesota Vikings, the NFL and University of Minnesota have consistently insisted that the turf at TCF Bank Stadium would be fine for Monday's game.

But after the Vikings practiced at the stadium for the first time Sunday, punter Chris Kluwe called the turf "unplayable" and called the NFL "hypocritical," given the emphasis on player safety.

"The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion," Kluwe said on his Twitter page. "I find it interesting that the NFL can claim an emphasis on player safety, and then tell us the field is fine. It's beyond hypocritical."

According to Kluwe, any player who hits his head on the turf is "getting a concussion," also noting that he hopes no one "gets catastrophically injured at the trainwreck that's about to take place tomorrow night."

Shortly thereafter, however, Kluwe said he was done addressing the field.

"I've been asked not to tweet anymore about the field so as not to distract teammates (who were there) and I will honor that," Kluwe wrote.

Kluwe's comments contrasted those of Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier.

After the walk through, Frazier commended the condition of the field.

"A great job by the people that have worked on it all week long," Frazier told the team's website. "It really seems to me that there are going to be safe conditions. It's not something that our players have to be concerned about. We can just go out and play football, so it should be good for both teams."

Seedy Backslash is claiming victory for being the only person to predict the Pats would beat the Bears last week. Since his pick was 37-31, and the Patriots won 36-7, it's a hollow victory, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless.

As for this week, the Bears may have spent as much time worrying about where they will play instead of who they're going to play.

They can clinch the NFC North if the Patriots beat the Packers tonight. But what if the Packers win? As unlikely as that might seem, if that were to happen, it could take away the team's motivation.

This is going to be a weird game in a weird setting. In the end, however, I expect the Bears to come out on top in a low-scoring affair. My prediction: 16-9.

Cornerback Zach Bowman is ready in case Charles Tillman aggravates a foot injury that limited him during practice this week. Bowman and not nickelback D.J. Moore, who leads the team with four interceptions, will fill in for Tillman if he can't go or needs rest.

Bowman began the season as a starter before being replaced by Tim Jennings.

"I've been taking some extra reps this week but I'm sure Charles will be fine," Bowman said.

Bears practice at NU

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The Bears practiced at Northwestern's outdoor facility Saturday, which was their only chance to attempt to simulate conditions at TCF Bank Stadium, where Monday night's game will be played after the Metrodome collapsed.

The team ventured away from Halas Hall to give players an opportunity to see what traction will be like on Monday. Unlike most NFL stadiums, the University of Minnesota's home field does not have heating coils to keep the artificial turf soft. Grounds crews have been heating the surface beneath a thermal tarp to thaw the field.

"It was good to go down there today to let the guys try different pairs of shoes," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We haven't played outside on artificial turf for a while. You'd have to say Baltimore last year was similar but it will be a lot colder for this game."

While Bears officials lauded Northwestern for it's efforts to prepare the outdoor practice field for Saturday's practice, players are still unsure what to expect come Monday night.

"We'll only get a feel for what it's going to be like when we get there," safety Danieal Manning said.

Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams doesn't offer much praise.

Just ask Bears Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz.

But Williams has a lot of respect for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

"He's just a gunslinger, and he just wants to play. I ain't mad at him. If he throws a pick, he'll just keep coming," Williams said. "He ain't shell shocked, or gun shy. I tip my hat off to that. Some quarterbacks go in the hole. He don't go in the hole, and he's not scared to throw the ball.

"I love to play him. He's a tough boy. He can run, and he'll take the hits, and he'll get up and he'll talk to you. I love that."

Asked if he reminds him of anyone, Williams said, "He's like Brett Favre.

"He's a tough guy, too."

Williams recalled when Favre was the Green Bay Packers, and he'd bury him or knock him down.

"He'd say, 'That's all you got, Pat?' I used to love playing Brett," Williams said.

Williams said he also respects the 2010 Bears.

"I tip my hat off to them. They're playing good all around," he said. "Their offense is up and down, but they're still playing good over there."

As for the Bears offense, Williams said it's predicated on the run.

"If they run the ball, then their offense clicks. If they don't run the ball real good, that whole offense falls apart," Williams said. "They got to run the ball, in Chicago, for that offense to work."

Finally, I asked Williams about the Bears offensive line.

"They got some young guys over there," he said, "but, they still play us tough."

Friday's final injury report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) is questionable for the Bears.

For the Vikings, quarterback Brett Favre (shoulder/ankle), guard Steve Hutchinson (thumb) and safety Tyrell Johnson will not play.

Defensive end Ray Edwards (ankle), running back Adrian Peterson (ankle/knee) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) are questionable.

Cornerback Asher Allen (ankle) and quarterback Joe Webb (hamstring) are probable.

Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier confirmed Saturday that Joe Webb will make his first career start against the Bears on Monday night.

The rookie sixth-round draft pick from Alabama-Birmingham has completed two of five passes for eight yards in limited action. He also has one run for 16 yards.

The Vikings were expected to move Webb to receiver but moved him back to quarterback during training camp.

"He's fast. He's a big, athletic guy," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's got a strong arm. You respect every man you line up against in this league and then we've got to go out and execute.

"This guy can move. He sees a crease and he'll take off. So we've got to make sure we're disciplined in our rush lanes and overlap, all the things we have to accomplish. It comes back to what we do. We know what he is; now we've got to go out and execute our plan."

Friday's practice report

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Running back Chester Taylor (knee), cornerback Charles Tillman (foot) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) fully participated in Friday's practice inside the Walter Payton Center.

For the Vikings, quarterback Brett Favre (shoulder/ankle), guard Steve Hutchinson (thumb), safety Tyrell Johnson (knee), running back Andrian Peterson (ankle/knee) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) did not practice. Defensive end Ray Edwards participated on a limited basis.

Not only is Brian Urlacher enjoying being back on the field after missing the final 15 games of last season with a wrist injury, but he's also having fun playing meaningful games deep into the season once again.

"It's nice to have games that mean something in December," he said. "We haven't had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston. But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, it's fun. You're practicing for a reason, for a purpose. It's easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and it's still attainable."

Barring a miraculous return from a shoulder injury, Urlacher has seen his last of Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

"I like playing against Favre," he said. "He's a competitor. It stinks to see him go out the way he did with an injury like that. But [it's] not hurting my feelings that we're not playing against him. I'll tell you that much."

1. Q: Olin Kreutz has been a solid starter for 12 years and been a part of the team for 13. Has any Chicago Bear player ever held one position on the offensive line for as long as Kreutz? Also who are the players that have if any?

A: George Trafton and Keith Van Horne played center and tackle, respectively, for 13 years each. George Trafton played center for 12 seasons while Stan Jones and George Musso logged 12 seasons while moving back and forth between tackle and guard. Mark Bortz played guard and Jay Hilgenberg center for 11 years, too. Hopefully, I didn't leave out anybody.

The debate over Monday night's game being moved to TCF Bank Stadium raged on Friday when Lance Briggs spoke with reporters.

The veteran linebacker made it clear that he prefers the game be moved to another NFL venue instead of playing at the University of Minnesota's home field.

"When you're playing on a surface similar to what I'm standing on right now, it's everything," Briggs said, referring to the carpeted but otherwise hard floor inside the press room at Halas Hall. "Anyone falling. Anyone slipping. A lot of guys, we all have families, we all want to protect ourselves, and if it's more based on fan base or how many more fans are going to be there who are from Chicago than Minnesota, than I just don't agree with it.

Percy Harvin on if he will play Monday: "Oh yeah"

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Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin said he feels great after visiting with a specialist for his migraines in Arizona for a week.

Harvin, who has missed the last two games, was asked if he will play Monday night against the Bears.

"Oh yeah," he said confidently.

Harvin has long battled migraines, and he said owner Zygi Wilf helped him find a new doctor in Arizona, who had worked with other athletes, including former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis.

"We found the best doctor we could possibly find," Harvin said. "So I went there for a week. We came out there with some positive things. The doctor was real confident. He treated a couple of players...

"I felt real confident coming out of there."

Harvin said he changed his medication.

"I'm feeling great now," he said.

Asked if it's been frustrating, Harvin showed tremendous perspective.

"You get frustrated. But then I go to the doctor, and see people who can't even get out the bed every single day," he said. "Then I see I got it good.

"I realize I'm blessed."

Robbie Gould said Bears players are concerned about the possible dangers of playing Monday night's game against the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium but are prepared to do so.

"Everyone has [voiced concerns]," said the Bears' kicker, who is also the team's union representative. "I know that Minnesota players have done so. We've been in contact with the NFLPA. The biggest concern that players have is that we want to make sure the surface is not going to create more risk than there already is in the game, especially with the NFL right now being in such a forefront for player safety. So the biggest concern is the playing conditions of the field and obviously playing on a frozen field will create a little more risk for players. I think the NFL, the NFLPA and the Bears and the Vikings as organizations will make an educated and responsible decision as far as making sure players don't get put in a potential for advanced or more risk, because I don't think the game deserves to put players in that kind of environment. I know there's a lot of people up there from our organization, the PA and the NFL, and something will get done and in a timely manner."
 
Bears safety Chris Harris took his opinion to his Twitter account, and he didn't back down at Halas Hall.

''If you're going to preach player safety, you would think they would put you in the best conditions to be safe. I don't think an icy field is the best conditions,'' Harris said.

"At the end of the day, you have to be safe," he said. "With the NFL cracking down on player safety, fining people $50,000, $75,000 for hits because they want the game to be safter, I don't think it's very safe to play on a frozen field.

''It's kind of like going outside and me trying to run in cleats and cut on a parking lot. You want to talk about player safety -- Aaron Rodgers got a concussion inside a dome. Imagine a quarterback going down and hitting his head on that surface [at Minnesota], what it would do.''

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman also expressed concerns, though not quite as vehemently as Harris.

''If the field's froze, who the hell wants to play on that?,'' Tillman said. ''I'd much rather play in Minnesota. I'd much rather play in the Metrodome. But it's an unfortunate accident that happened. With that being said, icy field ... this is a year we're cracking-down on player safety, concussions and stuff. You want to fine guys $75,000, but we're going to play on a frozen field? It doesn't make sense to me.

Tillman, though, said he will trust the NFL's judgment on whether the field is playable.

''If it passes the NFL's inspection, nothing to complain about,'' he said. ''But if not, I don't think it's smart for the Minnesota players or for us.''

But Harris was a little more leery. Asked if he trusted the NFL's judgment on the issue, he laughed derisively and said, ''No comment.''

''You don't have a choice. They tell you what to do in the NFL. It's pretty much a dictatorship,'' Harris said earlier. ''It's sad, but that's the way it goes. We don't have a voice as far as what we feel is safe. It's unfortunate.''

Jared Allen didn't see the Vikings freefall coming. He never could've predicted a team that nearly reached the Super Bowl last season would be without a permanent head coach after Brad Childress was fired, without a home after the Metrodome's collapse, and without a quarterback heading into Monday night's game against the Bears.

As of now, the plan is to play the game at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Gophers.

"It's a good thing I'm not a betting man," Allen told reporters during a conference call with Chicago media. "I would have lost a lot of money, saying we're going to make the playoffs this year.

"It's been a shock, man. It really has, going from being a play away to going to a Super Bowl to not going to the playoffs and losing a head coach and just kind of a lot of the turmoil around here. But it's a learning process. It is what it is. You just got to put your nose down and make sure you're doing the right things and put your best effort on tape, week in and week out."

The Bears could clinch the NFC North with a Packers loss to the Patriots on Sunday coupled with a win over the Vikings on Monday night.

"You don't want to be the team that allows a team to win something," Allen said. "We're out here to spoil everybody's parade, and I think it's important for us to strive to get to 8-8. You have to find something positive in this mess and strive for it. One big thing is, we got the Chicago Bears, a division rival coming in, not necessarily our home field but our home state. We need to put on a good performance for our fans."

NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said reports that the Bears were preparing a protest over the site of Monday night's game against the Vikings are inaccurate.

The league's senior vice president of public relations also said via e-mail that the plan is to play Monday night's Bears-Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium, which is where the University of Minnesota's football team plays. He said the league is working closely with both teams as preparations to ready the venue continue.

An alternate site was needed when the Metrodome's roof collapsed last week from the weight of snow accumulation.

Vikings play-by-play voice Paul Allen said today on his radio show that the Bears may file a protest with the league over playing at TCF Bank Stadium, according to profootballtalk.com. On his daily show on KFAN, Allen said the Bears primary concern is a potentially frozen field that could result in injuries to players.

TCF Bank Stadium was never intended as a winter sports venue but is the best alternative to the Metrodome if the game is to remain in the Twin Cities, which the Vikings prefer after playing their last game against the Giants at Ford Field in Detroit on Monday night.

"When you say 'home game,' you'd like it to be at the Metrodome and in front of our fans, and we feel we have a tremendous advantage when we play at home," Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier said. "To go to Detroit, it was great to see the number of people that showed up, and what the Lions organization and league did to pull that together in a short time. But it wasn't the same as being at the Metrodome by any means, so you just have to make the most of the situation."

There are also reports that the game could be played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, thus allowing ESPN to televise back-to-back "Monday Night Football" games from the same venue.

Frazier said TCF was the likely site during his conference call with Chicago media on Thursday morning.

"They're still going through some things to make sure but it's probably about an 80-90 percent chance that's where we're going to be," he said. "[I'm] not sure of alternatives. I'm not certain where we'd end up."

Mike Martz is under contract to Bears in 2011

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In my story today, ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski stressed how important it is that Mike Martz return as offensive coordinator next season, to work with quarterback Jay Cutler.

http://www.suntimes.com/sports/2866339-419/cutler-bears-jaworski-martz-season.html

It's important to note that Martz is under contract in 2011, as well as offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Given all that the Bears have invested in Cutler -- draft picks, money -- they need to provide the 27-year-old quarterback some continuity. He seems to like Martz and his offense, and Jaworski projected a a big step next season for Cutler.

''I think it's critical for the development of Cutler that Mike Martz returns,'' Jaworski said. ''That second year, [quarterbacks] have that quantum leap. I think that will happen with Martz and Cutler.''

Jaworski added that Martz's system "takes time to master."

''Occasionally, I see a lot of special attributes. I don't see it consistent enough. Sometimes, the undisciplined Jay Cutler comes in that huddle. That [consistency] comes with time, in the same scheme.''

Neil will answer them and post it Friday!

The Bears may be leading a division, but their players aren't overwhelming fans.

Defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Brian Urlacher and kick returner Devin Hester lead their positions in the NFC but their teammates aren't among the top five at other positions.

Center Olin Kreutz, who is third at his position, is the only offensive player on his team listed in the top five.

Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs is third at his position, behind Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware.

Bears kicker Robbie Gould and punter Brad Maynard are both fifth at their respective positions.

Bears special teams coach Dave Toub will be happy to know that cornerback Corey Graham has actually cracked the top five. He's fifth for NFC special teamer.

Voting ends next Monday.

Fan votes count a third, along with coaches and players.

Chester Taylor surprises kids at Boys & Girls Club

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Michael Thomas, 11, knew something special was about to take place.

He and about 200 other children -- aged 8 to 14 -- were at their annual football awards banquet at the Daniel A. Cotter Boys and Girls Club. A team of volunteers from Verizon Wireless were there, and regional business sales director Andrew Brady presented the club a check for $3,500.

Spaghetti, hot dogs and other snacks were being spread out on tables, and assorted volunteers were racing throughout the gym at the club located in the Lakeview projects.

But as he wrapped up his brief speech, Brady mentioned they had one more surprise in store for them.

Thomas quickly realized the surprise, when Brady mentioned he wore No. 29.

"It was Chester Taylor," said Thomas, who is from Logan Square.

He's a Bears fan, and he knows most of the players, although his favorite is receiver Johnny Knox.

Still, Thomas was thrilled to meet Taylor and receive an autographed photo.

But his highlight?

"When he took pictures with us," Thomas said.

Brady said it was a natural fit to help the club, since Verizon has a new partnership with the NFL, which boasts a successful Play 60 initiative, which encourages children to fight childhood obesity. And thanks to the partnership -- Verizon is now the NFL's official wireless provider -- they were able to get a Bears player.

"Chester was very amicable and he jumped at the opportunity," Brady said.

The challenge, of course, was to keep the surprise, a surprise.

"For us, we really kept it under wraps," Brady said.

Taylor said the event was special to him, because he had challenges growing up in Detroit.

"It's a good thing to give back, because I came from the projects," Taylor said. "It's good coming from the neighborhood I came from, seeing kids doing good and something positive with their lives, instead of running with the wrong crowd."

Taylor said he didn't have a Boys and Girls Club to go to, and he learned to play football with his older brothers and other neighborhood kids.

"But we didn't play flag football," he said. "I played with my older brother in the streets."

Practice squad moves

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The Chicago Bears replaced linebacker Marcus Buggs on their practice squad with linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

Lawrence was signed by the Rams in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota. He later spent time with the Eagles.
               

Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that Brett Favre could play against the Bears on Monday night.

Favre's record streak of 297 consecutive starts ended before Monday night's loss to the Giants.

If neither Favre (shoulder) nor backup Tavaris Jackson (toe) can go, the Vikings would use rookie Joe Webb, who is still nursing a store hamstring injury. Jackson injured his toe against the Giants and his status is "in jeopardy."

The Minnesota Vikings still don't know which stadium they will play next Monday night's game against the Bears.

But one Vikings vice president insisted he knows where the game will be.

"We will play in Minneapolis, in front of our fans," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development.

Bagley said team officials last night talked with representatives from the NFL and University of Minnesota to prepare a backup plan, in case the Metrodome can't be fixed by Monday.

Today, they had a more serious conversation with the university's facilities operation, as well as security.

"We began the discussion and are moving forward, to determine what needs to be done," Bagley said.

Like everyone else, Bagley is awaiting a timetable from the Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome. They are expected to have a determination later today.

Bears last in new New York Life Protection Index

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The Bears have the league's worst pass protection, according to the New York Life Protection Index.

Created by Northbrook-based STATS, the index measures a team's aptitude in pass protection using a formula that includes the length of a team's pass attempts combined with penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

The top five teams in the New York Life Protection Index are either in first or second place in their respective divisions.

The Colts are No. 1 with an index rating of 90.6 out of 100. The Bears, meanwhile, are last at 29.6.

The best performance in a game was by the Colts against the Dallas Cowboys Dec. 5.

The worst performance? You guessed it. The Oct. 3 Bears loss to the New York Giants. The Bears scored -54.5, surrendering 10 sacks.

"New York Life is pleased to partner with STATS to create this innovative index that demonstrates the importance of being protected on the football field and bring more attention to the often unsung heroes that battle in the trenches - the offensive line," said Mark W. Pfaff, executive vice president, New York Life. "Just as an offensive line is designed to protect its quarterback's blind side, New York Life offers life insurance products that protect individuals, families and businesses from unforeseen circumstances."

In the last four years, teams that finished in the top 12 in the New York Life Protection Index have made the playoffs 63 percent of the time (30/ 48), averaging 10.3 wins.

In the same time span, teams with an above average protection index (54 -60, depending on the year) have made the playoffs 55 percent of the time (35/ 64), while teams with a below average protection index have made the playoffs just 20 percent of the time (13/ 64).

And of the eight teams who have made the Super Bowl in the last four years, only one team (the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers) has finished outside of the top 12, and both of last year's teams (Colts and New Orleans Saints) finished in the top 3.

Metrodome decision won't come until Tuesday evening

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Representatives from Birdair, the company that handles the fabric of the roof on the Metrodome, checked out the damage Monday evening but weren't able to pinpoint a timetable, Sports Facilities Commission chair Roy Terwilliger said.

Terwillger had been hopeful that information would have been nailed down Monday night but Birdair is awaiting additional crews to arrive to help assess the situation.

"They're set up to go to work tomorrow," Terwilliger said. "But they won't advise us until 6 tomorrow evening."

Terwilliger said an overlap with the University of Minnesota may be necessary, but he noted that's ultimately the Vikings and the NFL's call.

University officials had said they needed four days to get TCF Bank Stadium ready to host the Vikings-Bears game next Monday night.

"It's been a long day," Terwilliger said. "But, I was hopeful they would be able to tell us right away, they had no problem. But they couldn't."

After the collapse of the Metrodome roof, the Vikings home game against the New York Giants was moved to tonight at Ford Field in Detroit. The Vikings lost the game 21-3 to move to 5-8, virtually ensuring they will not defend their NFC North crown. The Vikings are not mathematically eliminated, but they would essentially need several teams to not win another game in order to even have a chance to reach the postseason.

Rookie makes Major mistake

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Major Wright was supposed to have deep responsibility on Deion Branch's 59-yard run and catch as the final seconds of the first half expired. The stunning touchdown gave the Patriots a 33-0 lead at the half.

Smith said the rookie safety must learn from it.

"Especially when you're a young football player, you're going to have some days like that," Smith said. "You're going to have some plays that you would like to have back. It just wasn't Major. We could've gotten a better pass rush. There are a few other things we could've done in there. But yes he has to be back there. That was his responsibility on that one."

Charles Tillman was seen limping around the locker room after Sunday's night game but Smith said he should be able to practice Wednesday.

"He's good to go as far as I know," Smith said. "From the game you have some bumps and bruises, but we're expecting everyone to practice the next time we play."

Running back Chester Taylor said he has recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss practice time last week.

"I had treatment all week last week so I'm ready to go this week," he said.

Metrodome decision may come later tonight

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The chair of the Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome, is still hopeful that the Minnesota Vikings can host the Bears at home next Monday night.

"We're obviously optimistic we'll get everything done and ready for next Monday night," said Roy Terwilliger, the chair of the Sports Facilities Commission. "We don't want to lose this game out of town."

Terwilliger was awaiting the arrival Monday evening of representatives of Birdair, a Buffalo-based company that handles the fabric of roofs on stadiums throughout the country.

They will then be able to provide a timetable on repairing the dome.

"We're hopeful yet that it's tonight," Terwilliger said.

If not, he said, they would have news by Tuesday morning. If the Metrodome couldn't be repaired in time, the next option would be TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota football team.

"We have to find a way to keep the game in Minnesota," Terwilliger said.

Bears review Patriots loss and move on

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The Bears wrapped up film review of Sunday's 36-7 loss to the New England Patriots earlier this afternoon.

Now, their focus is on the Minnesota Vikings.

Next Monday night, at a stadium to be determined soon -- almost certainly in Minneapolis -- the Bears will play the Vikings. If the Patriots roll over the Green Bay Packers Sunday, then the Bears can clinch the NFC North by beating the Vikings.

"There were things we did do well, but not even close enough to be competitive, let alone win. But believe it or not, this week we can wrap this whole thing up, which, at the beginning of the season, was our ultimate goal," tight end Greg Olsen said "For as bad as things looked yesterday, we're fortunate that we're in a position to achieve everything that we wanted."

If they lose and the Packers pull off an upset, then the Bears will create huge headaches for themselves.

"The easiest way to get into the playoffs is to win your division," Olsen said. "You don't have to count on wildcards and tiebreakers and all that. Just win your division, and you're in, then, as you know in the past, anything can happen.

"We have our future in our hands here, going forward. We have a huge division game, national TV, Monday night, a chance to kind of redeem ourselves from yesterday's poor performance."

Officials in Minnesota are trying to determine whether next week's game can be played in the Twin Cities. Due to a blizzard, which collapsed the roof at the Metrodome, the Vikings "home" game against the New York Giants will be played at Ford Field in Detroit tonight.

Chicago Bears and NFC Playoff Picture

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Thanks to the Detroit Lions, the Bears remain in the drivers' seat for the NFC North title, despite an embarrassing 36-7 loss Sunday at Soldier Field.

Currently, the Bears are 9-4, which would be good for the second seed in the NFC, behind the 11-2 Atlanta Falcons. The Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) are the third-seed, followed by the 6-7 St. Louis Rams. The current wildcards are the 10-3 New Orleans Saints and the 8-4 New York Giants.

The Giants play the Minnesota Vikings tonight at Ford Field in Detroit, and the game is significant on several levels. A Vikings loss would essentially ensure they do not win the NFC North again. They would move to 5-8, which means they'd need several other NFC teams to not win another game in the final three weeks. But, the Giants do have the victory over the Bears, which could prove important down the stretch for seeding positioning.

As noted yesterday, the Bears can clinch the NFC North by having the Green Bay Packers lose to the New England Patriots, in Foxboro, Mass., and then beating the Vikings next Monday night. If both scenarios happen, then the Bears would be guaranteed a better division record, which is the second tie-breaker.

The Bears didn't lose any ground in the battle with the Packers. But, they hurt their chances for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Falcons have two of their final three games at home, and their only difficult game is against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome, Dec. 27. Their other two games are against the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers.

Bears fans find a real hero

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta braved blizzard conditions and a rotten performance by the Bears to receive a hero's welcome at Soldier Field on Sunday. He's been through worse.

Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor -- the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual in the United States -- for his heroic actions in the war in Afghanistan, was an honored guest at the Bears-Patriots game.

What was left of a crowd of 62,347 gave him a standing ovation as he came out of the southwest tunnel near the end of the third quarter when the Bears acknowledged his service to his country and the Medal of Honor award.

Tom Brady makes it look easy

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Tom Brady and the Patriots offense looked way too comfortable in blizzard conditions against the Bears' third-ranked defense Sunday.

''We've been pretty good in the snow over the years. I think because we practice in it quite a bit,'' Brady said after the Patriots gained 475 yards in a 36-7 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.

''We don't go out in our bubble very often. If it's windy, we practice out there. If it's snowing, we practice in the snow. If it's raining, we practice in the rain. Some conditions are a big tougher than others.''

If it's any consolation, the Bears remain in first place in the NFC North with a 9-4 record, a game ahead of the Packers, who lost to the Lions 7-3. The Bears can clinch the division title next week with a win over Minnesota coupled with a Packers loss.

"We can't count on other teams," Cutler said. "We have to take care of our business. We have to win games. We don't want to slide in the backdoor. We want to be playing our best football right now so we can make a serious run at this."

Quarterback Jay Cutler called Soldier Field's sod the worst in the league earlier this week, prompting the Chicago Park District, which maintains the field, to call a press conference during which stadium officials proclaimed it to be the best.

Worst, best or somewhere in between, Cutler said the field was no issue Sunday.

"They didn't call me," Cutler said when asked if he had been contacted by the park district. [Julius Peppers] said something about it, too. It is what it is. They can say that the field is good.

"The field had no effect on the outcome today. We got beat by a very, very good team. Whether we were on turf or not it wouldn't have mattered."

Tom Brady tried to scramble but ended up in the arms of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonije for a two-yard loss on the Patriots first series.

It was a good sign at the time. Pressure would be paramount to stopping Brady and the prolific New England offense.

Unfortunately for the Bears, it would be the last time they would sack Brady until the game was long decided. The three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback had so much time he was able to consistently covert third-and-longs while picking apart the Bears cover-2 defense en route to a convincing 36-7 win on a snow-swept late afternoon at Soldier Field.

"Even when you get pressure on him he'll find guys open," said defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who started for the first time since Week 2. "It was a tough deal. We have to get back to the drawing board."

With Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins back after a lengthy holdout, the Patriots have one of the better offensive lines in the league and perhaps the best unit the Bears have played against this season. Whether it was the Patriots line or the smaller, quicker Bears defensive line struggling to get a first-step advantage on the snowy field, the competition up front quickly turned into a mismatch.

Brady had plenty of time to covert a third-and-10, third-and-12 and a third-and-7 on their first scoring drive.

"The footing was difficult, especially when you're trying to get off," defensive lineman Henry Melton. "Their offensive line was coming off and pushing us back."

The Bears finished with three sacks but two came during mop-up time in the fourth quarter.

With the wind whipping and the snow swirling, the Bears had another chance to make a prime-time statement in a game that looked as if it was being played inside a snow globe that had been shaken up.

Instead, they played like a little kid that puts on too many snow clothes, falls over and can't get up.

It was the Patriots who looked more at home in elements straight off a Currier and Ives holiday card during their 36-7 demolition of the Bears at Soldier Field.

Detroit Lions help Bears

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The Lions did the Bears a huge favor, upsetting the Green Bay Packers 7-3 today at Ford Field.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game, and backup Matt Flynn couldn't lead his team to a win. On 4th and 1, in the final minute, Flynn couldn't connect on a long pass to the end zone, intended for receiver Greg Jennings.

The Packers are now 8-5, and they head to New England next week then close out with the New York Giants and Bears at Lambeau Field.

Point: Decisive advantage now for the Bears.

Tommie starting at DT

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Tommie Harris will start at defensive tackle. It's his first start since the Bears played Dallas in Week 2.

"He has been a man about everything and has earned the right to start again," coach Lovie Smith told WBBM.

Today's inactives

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Quarterback Caleb Hanie, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, guard Herman Johnson, guard Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison are in active for today's game.

Robbie Gould has not only extended his range on field goals but is sending kickoffs deeper than ever.

The Bears kicker hit a career-long 54-yard field goal against the Lions last week. It was his third field goal of 50 yards or more in four tries this season.

Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, who is 6-foot-8, appreciates new tackle Herman Johnson's size.

"I like it when they're bigger than me," Tice said of Johnson, who is 6-foot-8, 370-pounds. "He's just another big kid who has some athleticism, and we thought we would get him in the fold. I like big guys that can move."

Earlier today, I wrote that all the intangibles seemed to be leaning the Bears way leading up to Sunday's game against the Patriots at Soldier Field.

Here's another: According the Boston Herald via ProFootballTalk.com, Patriots rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes has been suspended for the final four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

1Q: The last time the Bears played the Patriots was in 2006. At that time, the Bears were a confident group on defense, excelled on special teams and had a serviceable offense. Did anyone predict the Bears would beat the Patriots? Do you believe the team has a better chance of beating the Patriots this time around because of Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler? --- Alex Navarro

A: The last time the Bears played the Patriots they lost 17-13 in a hard-fought, turnover-marred game. At the time, I didn't think it was a bad loss. If you'll remember, the Bears were on the tail end of a brutal three-game stretch where they played the Giants, Jets and Patriots on the road. They won the first two of those games. To answer your question, the Bears have a better chance this time around because they are at home and the Patriots are on coming off an emotional win against a divisional opponent and have a short week. Having Peppers doesn't hurt, either.

2. Q: What is up with the Bears wasting at least one timeout a half just because, apparently, they can't get the play relayed in in time? Is this an equipment thing? If so, why can't the Bears get better equipment? Are these times when Jay Cutler doesn't like the play -- from what I understand there are no audibles in Mike Martz's offense, right? Do the coaches fall behind sometimes so they just end up burning a timeout? Fortunately, it hasn't really come back to haunt them since they've been the team running time off the clock at the end of the games, but it's still baffling and I haven't seen it addressed anywhere. What's going on here? --- Marcusm

A: There have been several times this season where there have been equipment malfunctions. Every team uses the same equipment and has to deal with problems when they occur. It happens. On other occasions, it's confusion over a play call. Just as likely, it's a problem related to the wrong personnel group being on the field for that particular play. While there are no audibles in Martz's system, flexibility is built-in so that shouldn't be an issue. The more time Cutler and other players have in Martz's offense, the less such situations should be tolerated. That said, things happen. On plenty of occasions Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have had similar problems, believe it or not.

Not only has Ndamukong Suh been fined $15,000 for his hit on Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter of last week's Lions game but Cliff Avril has been fined the same amount for roughing Cutler in the second quarter.

Pisa Tinoisamoa ruled out, Nick Roach will start

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Bears starting strongside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa has been ruled out for Sunday's game, coach Lovie Smith said today.

Nick Roach, who left last Sunday's game with a back injury, will start instead. It will be Roach's third start of the season, but he started 15 games last season and nine in 2008.

Roach's presence will be important because the New England Patriots boast two of the best pair of tight ends in the NFL, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have combined for 10 receiving touchdowns.

Pats DT Gerard Warren fan of Jay Cutler

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New England Patriots defensive tackle Gerard Warren has bounced a round the league, since the Cleveland Browns made him the third overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

He spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons in Denver, where he was a teammate of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Count Warren a fan.

"They got a heck of a quarterback in Jay Cutler. I was with him in Denver, and I watched him grow," Warren said.

Warren highlighted Cutler's arm strength and release, but he liked something even more.

"When he was there, he was young, but I saw that fire in his eyes," Warren said. "He wanted to win."

It will be close. That's my first prediction. This is a flip-a-coin game if you ask me.

It's hard to go against Tom Brady, who has the patience and accuracy to pick apart the cover-2. The guy is on a mission this year.

That said, the intangibles once again favor the Bears. The Pats are coming off an emotional win over a division rival, have had a short week to prepare and are on the road. Throw in the field conditions --- Bill Belichick's team plays on artificial turf, remember --- and I'm taking the Bears in a cliff-hanger, 24-23.

You?

Tinoisamoa still out, but Roach returns

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It's looking more and more like strongside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa won't play against the Patriots on Sunday, but backup Nick Roach should be available to take his place.

Tinoisamoa, still bothered by a sore knee, did not practice again on Thursday. But Roach, who has a lower back injury, did practice and would start alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs against the Patriots if Tinoisamoa can't go.

Don't worry. Brian Urlacher remembers what happened the last time these two teams played. He also has the utmost respect for Tom Brady, who is not only perhaps the game's greatest passer but proved against Urlacher and the Bears in 2006 that he can also be a scramblin' man.

"He's the best," Urlacher said of Brady. "He knows what to do with the football. If you play zone, he throws the checkdowns. If you put seven in the box, he runs it. He just knows where to go with the football every time. You're not going to trick him. You may get pressure on him, you may hurt him a little bit, but he's smart. He has a great arm. He knows everything. Big challenge for us.

"And he runs fast, too. I remember he's really fast. Good runner."

We're not hearing the this-is-just-another-game routine at Halas Hall this week. Sunday's game against the 10-2 Patriots is a big one. You won't hear any Bears denying it.

"Another big game for us, linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We said the same thing about Philly. It was the biggest game we've had in a long time, and this one is the same way. Not a conference opponent, but still, [they have] the best record in the NFL coming in here."

Lance Briggs said nothing needs to be said between defensive players in terms of what they must do Sunday at Soldier Field.

"Defensively, we don't necessarily need to talk to each other about how we need to play because it's understood," he said. "The season is too important to have to go to a guy and say, 'Hey, we need to pick it up.' A lot of these guys I've been playing with for a long time and the younger guys understand what this means to us as a team, organization and as a city.

"We don't need to say anything; it's all understood."

Devin Hester exercising patience

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Devin Hester needs just one more kick return touchdown to own the all-time record by himself.

Currently, Hester shares the mark with Brian Mitchell.

But Hester said he isn't too anxious.

"At the end of the day, I have to have patience, and the fans have to have patience. I just realize that, I'm starting to appreciate it more than if I would have broke it earlier this year," he said. "I don't think I would have appreciated it as much.

"But now that I see that it's a big thing, and I'm really looking forward to breaking this record. And now if I break it, I think it would mean more to me. I don't know if this is something God placed in my life, to have patience, and you're not ready to receive this right now. But in a game like this, running a punt back in a game situation like this - winning a game or something like that - would really mean a lot to me. So, be patient with everything and let it happen."

Hester was close to popping a punt return for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions, but he was tripped up by the punter, Nick Harris.

As almost always, Sean and/or I will answer them and they will be posted on the website on Friday.

Bears make roster move

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The Bears re-signed defensive end Ervin Baldwin to the practice squad.

Extended forecasts for Sunday's game against the Patriots at Soldier Field call for highs in the low 20s. High winds and snow could create near-blizzard conditions, which New England coach Bill Belichick said could force him to alter his game plan as the game approaches.

He said the key is staying flexible throughout the week because the weather could change.

"You have to adjust to as you get closer to game time and are more confident what the conditions are going to be," Belichick said. "We practiced in the elements. I'm sure the Bears have to. There are a lot of experienced players on both teams who have played in less-than-ideal conditions. Both teams will have to adjust to whatever those are. Meantime, if you feel strongly that certain type of weather conditions are going to prevail then you might be able to make certain kinds of adjustments coming into the game. But that's hard, to put all your eggs in one basket like that."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he and his coaches will prepare for anything and everything.

"You prepare for all situations that come up each week but it's not like we're going to start doing things differently than we normally do this time of year," he said.

Wednesday's injury report

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Running back Chester Taylor (knee), linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and linebacker Nick Roach (back) did not practice for the Bears.

For the Patriots, cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hip) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) did not practice while quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder, foot) and nose tackle Myron Pryor (back) were limited.

Robbie Gould thankful to face his first NFL team

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Robbie Gould, a one-time Pro Bowl selection, has developed a strong reputation as the Bears kicker.

But Gould got his start as an undrafted free agent in 2005 with the New England Patriots.

"I got a lot of praise for Bill Belichick and their coaching staff, and their players," Gould said. "That's where I started. That's who gave me the opportunity to be seen. If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be in the league right now, and I definitely would not have gotten a chance to get picked up by Chicago."

The Patriots released Gould because they already had Adam Vinatieri, one of the best kickers -- and certainly the most clutch -- in NFL history. But Vinatieri left after that season, signing a free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts, and Gould's done well for himself in Chicago.

"Robbie is an outstanding kicker with a big leg. He's a very accurate guy and right at the top as the most accurate kickers. Kicking in a place like Chicago, which is a lot more challenging than other places in the league you can kick in, that says even more about the quality of his performance," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Asked if he's proven to the Patriots what they missed out on, Gould said, "I think they already know, to an extent."

Gould has made 19 of 23 field goals this season, including a career-long 54-yarder Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa not practicing today

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Bears strongside linebackers Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa did not have their helmets, and were not participating in the early portion of practice today.

On Sunday, after Roach left the game with a hip injury, Rod Wilson stepped in at strongside linebacker. But the Bears typically just left nickel cornerback D.J. Moore on the field and played without a third linebacker.

If Roach and Tinoisamoa can't go, then it will come down to Wilson or even Brian Iwuh. But Iwuh has more experience playing defense.

Bill Belichick hosted a conference call with Chicago-area media this morning and had more to say about the Bears --- a lot more to say. Here is the transcript.

"They've really been an impressive team," the Patriots coach said. "They are certainly playing well lately.

"Offensively, [Jay] Cutler is playing very well. He's having an outstanding year. I've been very impressed with him. He does so many things well, his accuracy, his release, reading coverages, getting rid of the ball quickly, just managing the team. He's really playing well. They've got great skill players. Fast. [Earl] Bennett has really come on for them. [Greg} Olsen has done a great job for them in the passing game. Of course, [Matt} Forte has been tremendous with big plays, running, passing. You don't often see big plays made by players at that position as often as he makes them in both the running game and the passing game. He's extremely dangerous.

Bears' playoff odds

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According to www.makeNFLplayoffs.com, the Bears have a 99.4 percent chance of making the playoffs if they go 2-2. That percentage would drop to 77.4 if they finish 1-3. They would still have a 20.5 percent chance of earning a postseason berth if they lost all four of their remaining games.

Bears announce roster moves

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The Bears signed guard Herman Johnson to the active roster and linebacker Marcus Buggs and receiver Jeff Moturi to the practice squad on Tuesday.

They waived defensive end Barry Turner and terminated the practice squad contracts of defensive end Ervin Baldwin, former Homewood-Flossmoor and Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes and tackle James Marten.

Johnson was a fifth-round pick of the Cardinals in 2009. The former LSU offensive lineman spent last season on the Cardinals active roster but was inactive for all 16 games. He had been on Arizona's practice squad during the first 13 weeks of this season.

Buggs was on the Bears' practice squad for the first six weeks of this season. Moturi was originally signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of UTEP earlier this year. He also spent time on the Colts' practice squad.

Turner made his debut in a loss to the Redskins earlier this season and had one tackle.

Belichick on the Bears

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Bill Belichick held his usual day-after-game conference call on Tuesday. Player personnel director Nick Caserio and quarterbacks' coach Bill O'Brien also participated in the call.

Here were their comments relating to his team's showdown with the Patriots on Sunday at Soldier Field.


Forecast for Patriots-Bears

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The extended forecast calls for a high of 23 degrees, with 70 percent chance of snow and 27-mph winds. I don't know if this will be any kind of advantage for the Bears given New England is also an outdoor, cold-weather team, but it could be a tough day for quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jay Cutler.

As regular readers of this blog know, we don't usually post predictions until the Friday before a Sunday game. In the wake of the Patriots 45-3 drubbing of the Jets on Monday night, it seemed more fitting to begin the debate early.

Personally, I'm not ready to make a prediction until Friday. I need to digest all the news, notes, matchups and stats during the week before I'm ready to inch out on a limb.

I will post the usual prediction entry on Friday. This is such a high-profile matchup, however, that the debate should start early.

For example, as effective as Lovie Smith's cover-2 defense has been this season, and as ideally suited as it was to defending Michael Vick, who struggled scrambling around while trying to throw touch passes over Bears' linebackers and in front of the secondary, I don't think it will be as successful against Brady.

Chris Harris sad he and his teammates feel as if they are already in playoff mode, especially given the teams difficult remaining schedule.

The Bears will host the Patriots on Sunday before traveling to Minnesota to play the Vikings. They will then host the Jets before closing out the regular season in Green Bay.

"This is a three-time Super Bowl champion," Harris said of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "How can you not be pumped up to play him? Some people have this team being the best team in the NFL so we get to see where we're at and how good we actually are."

Lions defensive end Cliff Avril had a career-high three sacks against the Bears while primarily matched up with rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb.

"There are always a lot of factors involved with it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But of course we don't want to give up that many [sacks], and we'll continue to get better along the offensive line. But you have to give Cliff his due also. He had a heck of a game. Those three sacks were big."
After the game, Webb said that he felt more comfortable as the game progressed.

"I felt like I got better and held my own and helped us get a much-needed win," he said.

Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa underwent what coach Lovie Smith described as a "minor scope" on his sore right knee. How long he will be sidelined remains to be seen, which could be a concern since backup linebacker Nick Roach also left Sunday's 24-20 win over the Lions with a hip injury and did not return.

"He needed a scope," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked if Tinoisamoa underwent the procedure so he would have time to recover before the playoffs. "No more than that. If a player needs to get something fixed, that's all we take into consideration. He needed it done right now. He had been trying to play through the pain."

Rod Wilson filled in for Tinoisamoa and Roach against the Lions and may continue to do so if neither linebacker is available for Sunday's game against the Patriots at Soldier Field. It's also possible Brian Iwuh could get some playing time. Iwuh filled in capably when weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs missed the Seahawks game earlier this season with an ankle injury.

Depending on the severity of the injuries, the Bears may also look to sign a linebacker for depth.

"Rod knows all three linebacker positions," safety Chris Harris said. "Rod is a very good player. Me and Rod came in the same year in '05. He's a very smart football player. He knows what's going on and is capable of playing all three positions. We'll be fine."

D.J. Moore's confidence if off the charts but he somehow manages to avoid coming across as obnoxiously cocky, which is no small feat. Take the play-making nickelback's answer to a question about what has changed for him from last season to this season.

"I didn't play last year," he said, earnestly. "Sometimes you've just got to wait and I had a little different attitude last year. I could've played last year but sometimes you've got to wait when it's not your time."

Linebacker depth tested

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Brain Urlacher has often said he believes the Bears have the deepest linebacking corps in the league. That depth was tested Sunday when Nick Roach injured his hip in the first quarter. Roach was the replacement for Pisa Tinoisamoa, who was inactive with a knee injury. Rod Wilson replaced Roach at strong-side or "Sam" linebacker but did not register a tackle.

"He hadn't played a lot of 'Sam' in his career but he did a good job today," Urlacher said. "We're going to need our [other linebackers], obviously."

Drew Stanton's quarterback rating of 102.4 was the highest against the Bears' all season, beating out Michael Vick's rating of 94.2 last week.

The third-string quarterback from Michigan State completed 16 of 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in just his second career start.

"Those are good stats but at the end of the day you want to get the win," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "He played well today. Hats off to him. They had us off balance and ran some good plays against us. They controlled the first half. He played a great game but you want to get the win instead of great stats."

After the game, referee Ed Hochuli said he flagged Ndamukong Suh for unnecessary roughness in the fourth quarter after the Lions defensive tackle hit Jay Cutler from behind because the contact was "an unnecessary non-football act."

The penalty, which came during the game-winning drive, gave the Bears a first-and-goal on the 7.

"I had a great angle to make a play and get the ball out, and that's what I went after," Suh said.

Another big day for Bennett

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Earl Bennett laughed when asked if he has a different mentality on third down.

"Catch it and get the first," he said. "I'm just trying to make plays. Whatever is called, I'm going to run my route to the best of my ability and keep moving until they tackle me."

It might sound simple, but it's working for Bennett, who has the first 100-yard receiving game of his career against the Lions on Sunday when he caught seven passes for 104 yards, including a 12-yard gain on third-and-four during the Bears' game -winning drive in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps more important, four of those catches came on third down and resulted in a Bears' first down.

"The coaches are calling great plays and putting us in position to make them and we just want to make them," Bennett said. "Whether it's me, Devin [Hester] or Johnny [Knox], everybody is out there trying to make plays and trying to help the team out."

Bennett had four catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles last week.

The captain comes through

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DETROIT --- If you think the Bears' defense was ineffective with Brian Urlacher during the first half of Sunday's 24-20 win over the Lions, imagine where they would have been without him.

The team's captain and middle linebacker helped hold a shaky defense together in the first half, making nine of his season-high 17 tackles during the first two quarters. The total, which will likely continue to climb when the coaches' tape is evaluated, was tied for the fourth highest total of his career.

"He's the constant on this defense," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "If you can't count on anything else you can count on him to show up every week. He's the leader. He's the star. We all follow his lead and today he picked us up when things weren't going so well."

The Bears defense allowed 253 yards and 17 points during a first half that saw Urlacher make the bulk of his tackles farther from the line of scrimmage than he would like. Missing tackles was a problem for the entire team during the first two quarters. Urlacher even whiffed on a couple, including a Maurice Morris run early in the second quarter that rookie Major Wright cleaned up with a big hit.

In the second half, the defense allowed 49 yards and three points.

"We made a ton of adjustments at halftime," Urlacher said, rolling his eyes. "We didn't do anything. We came out and played better in the second half. We just didn't tackle well in the first half. We didn't read our keys. We didn't make plays. In the second half we did what we do, we got to the quarterback, we stopped the run and we got to the football."

What may have been the worst defensive series of the season occurred right before halftime when Lions running back Jahvid Best ran off tackle and disappeared into a scrum of players only to emerge a moment later before sprinting 45 yards. On the next play, quarterback Drew Stanton hit Calvin Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown pass to give the Lions a 17-14 lead at the break.

"We got muddled up there," Urlacher said, referring to Best's run. "I was in the "B" gap on the other side. All of a sudden he took off running. That's what I saw. I don't know what happened."

Urlacher could not have cared less when informed of his tackle total after the game.

"I was just trying to do my job," he said. "We had some busts. They had some long plays. They're fast. Their running back is pretty fast. He had a couple long runs on us but we made plays at the end."

Here's what Tom Jackson had to say about the Bears defense earlier today.

"Israel Idonije on the right end, Julius Peppers on the left end and Brian Urlacher in the middle of the field. I think right now, there is no group better or more aggressive than the Chicago Bears."

Nick Roach has injured his hip and will not return. Rod Wilson has replaced him.

Kyle Vanden Bosch inactive for Detroit Lions

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Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is inactive for today's game against the Bears.

That's a somewhat surprising decision, since many expected the veteran to play through a neck injury.

Vanden Bosch had four sacks on the season, and he was among the league leaders in quarterback hits.

Bears strong side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is inactive for today's game, and Nick Roach will start in his place.

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

The Detroit Lions other inactives are: quarterback Matthew Stafford, quarterback Shaun Hill, cornerback Tye Hill, offensive lineman Jason Fox, guard Donald Thomas, defensive end Willie Young and receiver Bryant Johnson.

Answers to your questions

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1) Will the division go to the winner of game 16 versus the Packers? Right now we have a one game lead. If that holds steady to game 16 and we lose, we fall back to the 2nd tiebreaker- division record. If we beat the Vikings and Lions that will be a tie as well. Then we fall back to common games, where I think we're tied again (in the division we have 12 common games, the only non-common ones are versus NFC South and versus NFC West, so we're both 6-2 in common games). Then we go to strength of victory, where I believe the Packers lead. So it seems to me unless we can pick up 1 more win in the next 4 than the Pack, we're heading to a winner take all last game.
Gabe

A: Who knows, at this point. But, the Packers have made that final game mean something, since they did one thing the Bears have not: sweep the Vikings.
The Bears and Packers have one game remaining against the Lions. But the Bears play the Vikings on Monday Night Football Dec. 20.
If, by chance, both teams do finish with the same division record, then the next tie-breaker would be common opponents. Right now, the Bears are 6-2, and the Packers are 7-2. The advantage for the Bears is that they've beaten the Miami Dolphins, which beat the Packers. The advantage for the Packers is that they've beaten the New York Jets already. Both teams have a game remaining against the New England Patriots, although the Bears host them while the Packers visit them.
The Giants, meanwhile, head to Lambeau Field Dec. 26.
The point? It's a little early. So much can change. But take this to the bank: the Bears can't afford to lose Sunday.

2) I've seen coaches deliver team balls to players and give speeches on NFL Network, but I have never seen Coach Lovie Smith. Does he hand out game balls after games?

Kosmos

A: Yes, Smith does allow NFL cameras inside the locker room, when he addresses his team after games. And, yes, he does award game balls. But, unlike some coaches, he award them during the week, a few days after the game.


3) Why in the name of Buddah is Todd Collins the 2nd string QB?
Mike

A: Collins has far more experience, in many ways. Not only in actual NFL games but also in the Martz offense. He had a miserable performance against the Carolina Panthers, but he was still relatively new to the team, signing toward the end of August.

4) A lady named Katrina taught that we forget about the color paint on the bathroom walls when the roof has been blown off the house. That seems to fit the Bears offensive line. Now that they have a analogous dry place to sleep, is there remodeling still to do? For example, are they buying or renting Chris Williams at guard? Are youngsters like Lance Louis and Edwin Williams still in the mix for the future? Will O-line be an off season priority for Jerry Angelo?
MSBear Fan

A: They do see promise in those young players, but I'm sure the Bears will seriously consider adding another player to the mix. Overall, it's a relatively old unit, so they need an infusion of youth. The ones you mentioned certainly fit into the mix, but I'm not sure they see them all as starters of the future.

5) How close do you think we are to being the next "Over the Hill Gang", at least on our defense? And do you see that as an issue?
Jocko

A: Who is over the hill? Yes, they've got some 30-year-old players, but most of them still appear to have several quality seasons left in them. Younger players like Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and D.J. Moore have shown promise, but the Bears need to beef up the defensive pipeline, especially at cornerback.
Charles Tillman is looking like he's inching closer to a time when he'll need to play safety, since he's slowing down. The x factor is Zack Bowman, who was projected to be the cornerback of the future but got supplanted by an unheralded free agent (Tim Jennings).

Although Sunday's game in Detroit is sandwiched between a huge win over the Eagles and next week's showdown with the Patriots, several Bears' players said they aren't about to look past the 2-9 Lions.

"There are no trap games for us this year," Lance Briggs said. "Every week is another week for us to go out and improve ourselves and improve the ball club. It's another opportunity to get ourselves a step closer to the playoffs and a championship."

Vanden Bosch out

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Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) did not practice Friday and has been listed as "doubtful."

Tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee) is "questionable." Defensive end Cliff Avril (quadriceps), running back Jahvid Best (toe), receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin), tight end Tony Scheffler (rib) and offensive tackle Corey Williams (shoulder) are "probable."

Cutler not fined

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Jay Cutler will not be fined for drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty flag during the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-26 win over the Eagles at Soldier Field, but a league spokesperson said that any additional offenses against game officials this season will be considered a violation and could warrant a fine.

Cutler was flagged for complaining to officials after pass interference was not called after his third-down pass to Matt Forte fell incomplete.

Lovie Smith was optimistic earlier this week that his entire roster would be available for Sunday's game against the Lions.

That optimism began to wane when Pisa Tinoisamoa couldn't practice Thursday. After the veteran linebacker was nowhere to be found during Friday's practice, Smith officially ruled him "out."

Nick Roach will start in his place.

Give BearsGeoff a hand. He was closest to predicting the Bears 31-26 win over the Eagles last Sunday when he offered up 30-23.

I don't see how Drew Stanton and the Bears can score much Sunday, folks. I'm taking the Bears, 24-13.

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the Lions head coach from 2006-08, and although he is familiar with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, who is expected to start Sunday, and other Lions' players, it's not necessarily a big advantage, according to Bears' coach Lovie Smith

"It helps with not only that but with all of the personnel," Smith said when asked specifically about Stanton. "At the same time we do a lot of evaluation of the players ourselves and seeing how they're playing now. Rod hasn't been up there for a couple years now so we're kind of going on that.

"When you play a division opponent you pretty much know what both teams are going to do. Then it's about execution and which team wants it the most that day and we hope we want it a lot more than them."

Lance Briggs learned his lesson once, so he won't be guaranteeing a Bears' victory Sunday in Detroit, even if the odds are overwhelmingly in his team's favor.

The Bears are 8-3, the Lions are 2-9, and have lost 18 straight against NFC North opponents and five straight against the Bears.

Asked if he wanted to guarantee a win, Briggs said, "Everybody is calling this a trap game. "That's a trap question right there."

Thursday practice report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee), who didn't practice with the Bears on Wednesday, participated on a limited basis Thursday.

For the Lions, tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) joined quarterbacks Shaun Hill (finger) and Matthew Stafford (shoulder) on the sideline during practice.

Running back Jahvid Best (toe), receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) and tight end Tony Scheffler (rib) were limited.

When asked how far this Bears team could go, Brian Urlacher didn't hesitate.

"We think the Super Bowl," he said. "We'd like to think that. We've got to take care of one game at a time. First, we've got to try and beat Detroit and then whoever's after that, but you've got to take it one step in the division and then whatever playoffs you make and then you've got to try and get to the NFC championship.

"We'll take it one week at a time, but we think we're pretty good. We're getting better every week, which is what you want to do this late in the season, and we've done that. Since the bye week, we've been pretty good. We've just got to keep trying to get better."

Urlacher admitted that the lack of respect the Bears have received this season has been a source of motivation.

"We play on that pretty well," he said. "We've done a good job of it. Coach Smith hypes it up pretty good, and we kind of thrive on that. But other than that, if you can't get ready to play and get ready for a game at this point in the season or even at the beginning of the season, something's wrong. You shouldn't be playing football. Because now they mean a lot --- unless you're 2-9 or so, then they don't mean as much. But our games mean a lot right now, so we need to be ready to play."

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who recalled once being "tricked" into guaranteeing a win, is taking advantage of what Detroit Lions receiver Nate Burleson said Wednesday.

"It should fire them up," Briggs said. "I know it definitely fires us up. We've got it pinned up everywhere in our meeting rooms."

Briggs then recalled the 2004 season, when he said reported "tricked" him into guaranteeing a win. The Bears were hosting the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field and, despite a rough start, they'd won three in a row.

"We got beat like 45-12 or something like that," Briggs said. "Peyton Manning. I'm not going to guarantee more wins."

The Bears actually lost 41-10, and they only won one of their final seven games in a 5-11 year.

Burleson said on a radio show earlier in the week that the Lions would win, before news that quarterback Shaun Hill would be out, but he stood by his words Wednesday.

"Yeah, I said we will win on Sunday," Burleson said. "We only got five games left, and my goal is to finish the season 7-9. Like I've been saying all year, we don't have a team on the schedule that we can't beat."

A reporter noted to Briggs that the Bears had won 18 straight against the Lions and wondered if it would be safe to guarantee a win.

"Everybody is calling this a trap game," Briggs said. "That's a trap question right there."

But Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said that's always dangerous.

"I think we're going to win," he said, "but I'm not going to guarantee it."

But Urlacher acknowledged that confidence is important.

"Yeah, I know what he's saying," Urlacher said of Burleson's comment. "You fully expect to win every game. If you don't believe that, why are you playing or why are you getting ready to play?

"I'm not sure you go out and say that, but I think we all believe that."

Either Sean or I will answer them on Friday ...

By beating the Eagles, the Bears have increased their chance of making the NFL playoffs from 76.8% to 81.5%, according to makeNFLplayoffs.com.

The website also calculates the team's chances of winning the NFC North this season have risen from 53 percent to 68.9 percent.

If the Bears win three of their last five, they have a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs. They have a 85.5% chance of making the playoffs if they win two of five and a 31.3 percent chance if they go 1-4.

Mike Martz says Johnny Knox is a No. 1 receiver

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Bears receiver Johnny Knox leads his team in catches (40) and receiving yards (740), and he's the team's most targeted player.

But he's a modest 16th in the NFL in receiving yards, he's tied for 27th in the NFC in catches, and he's scored jus two touchdowns.

So is the second-year receiver a true No. 1?

He is in Mike Martz's eyes.

"That's what it is in our offense," Martz said of Knox's spot. "The X position has a tendency get isolated. A guy with real speed like Johnny has creates a lot of opportunities. So one on one, like you saw in that game... I think he's an elite player.

"I'm not sure he even knows how good he can be with that much speed. He's just learning, too. So absolutely, he would be considered that position, X, and particularly Johnny with his speed... Yeah, he's a No. 1 receiver."

Knox is on pace for 58 catches for 1,076 yards. If he sticks to that projection, Knox will be the first Bears receiver to top 1,000 yards in a single season since Marty Booker in 2002.

Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) did not practice Wednesday because of what coach Lovie Smith described as "soreness." Receiver Rashied Davis (shoulder) was the only other player who was limited during the team's indoor workout in the Walter Payton Center.

"We should have everybody available for the game this week," Smith said.

For the Lions, Kicker Jason Hanson (knee) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) joined quarterbacks Shaun Hill (finger) and Matthew Stafford (shoulder) on the sideline during practice.

Running back Jahvid Best (toe), receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) and tight end Tony Scheffler (rib) were limited.

Best has had three weeks to recover from his turf toe injury and is expected to play Sunday.

Stanton not a fan of Martz

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Mike Martz seems to have a higher opinion of Drew Stanton than the former Michigan State product has of his ex-offensive coordinator.

"That's behind me and I want to leave it back there," Stanton told MLive.com when asked about Martz, who was the Lions' offensive coordinator in 2006-07. "That was something that I had to go through and I grew up in the process. I'm stronger now because of it. Obviously, with some of the stuff that he was doing with my mechanics and what-not just wasn't natural for me. That's not my focus. I'm not taking a snap against Mike Martz so I'm not really too worried about what he's got going on over there, other than just trying to get more points than they do."

The Bears will play a third-string quarterback for the second time in three weeks when they travel to Detroit on Sunday.

With Shaun Hill out with a broke right index finger, the Lions announced Wednesday that Michigan State product Drew Stanton would make his second career start against the Bears. Stanton has played in three games this season, completing 20 of 35 passes for 233 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Jay Cutler confident his team can go all the way

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who was named NFC offensive player of the week, sees Super Bowl potential in his team.

"You've got to believe that or there's no use playing right now," Cutler said.

Just a moment earlier, Cutler talked about the impact of Sunday's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I think the team's excited," he said. "I think everyone's got their feet back on the ground now but you could tell what it meant to that team in the locker room afterwards, how excited the team was. I think in the back of everyone's mind we got a little respect for beating a team like that."

Still, he pointed out that veterans like Julius Peppers, Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher made the same point.

"We're far from finished," Cutler said.

Here are some other highlights from Cutler's press conference today:

Jay Cutler's performance in the Bears' 31-26 win over the Eagles on Sunday has earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

In other news, Julius Peppers became the first Bears players since Trace Armstrong in 1990 to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Month.

His four sacks during the month of November were tied for second in the league. He also had 13 tackles, deflected a pass that was intercepted and had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage during the month.

Cutler posted a career-high 146.2 passer rating against the Eagles by completing 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

It was the third time Cutler has won the award during his career.

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