Chicago Sun-Times

January 2011 Archives

Matt Forte talks contract, Jay Cutler, Bears PR

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I arrived in Dallas today, after Bears running back Matt Forte completed the rounds, as part of a promotion between Visa and the NFL.

He told Pro Football Talk that he hasn't heard anything yet, regarding a contract extension with the Bears but added, "I've expressed my interest.

"Obviously, I'm on my rookie contract and I've had a lot of production and hope to continue to produce," Forte told Pro Football Talk.

Forte is under contract for next season at a base salary of $550,000. Meanwhile, his backup Chester Taylor collected $7 million this past season after signing a four-year, $12.5 million contract.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Sirius NFL Radio, Forte talked about the criticism Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has endured since leaving the NFC title game with a Grade II MCL tear.

The Carolina Panthers have announced they have hired Eric Washington to be their defensive line coach.

Washington has been a Bears' assistant for the past three season. He was the assistant defensive line coach until his past season when he was promoted to defensive line coach when Rod Marinelli was bumped up to defensive coordinator.

"Eric brings youth and experience to our staff and is a good fit to work with our young defensive line," recently hired head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement released by the team. "He has coached on all levels of football and we are pleased to have him on our staff."


Adam Caplan of Foxsports.com is reporting that the Philadelphia Eagles have asked the Bears for permission to interview secondary coach Jon Hoke for their defensive coordinator position.

Hoke finished his second season as the Bears' secondary coach. Before coming to Chicago, Hoke spent seven years coaching defensive backs for the Houston Texans.

Here is the release issued by the Bears:


The Chicago Bears are saddened this evening to announce the passing of team Vice President Tim McCaskey.  Tim was dedicated and took great pride in working for his family's business.  Despite battling cancer over the past 17 months, Tim never allowed the illness to dampen the spirit and sense of humor he was known for at Halas Hall.

"Tim, first and foremost , was a fan - as passionate, loyal, critical, analytical, committed and devoted a Bears fan as there ever was," said the McCaskey family.  "The tenacity and dignity with which he fought this dreaded disease is an inspiration to all of us." 

The second oldest of Ed and Virginia McCaskey's 11 children, Tim was named to his vice president position in 1993 after a four-year, part-time affiliation with the club.  He spent 18 years working for IMC Fertilizer Inc. and its predecessor along with a seven-year span with Ernst & Young prior to joining the Bears.  He is a graduate of Notre Dame High School and Notre Dame University.

Tim is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren, 10 siblings and mother.

Julius Peppers fined $10,000 for hit on Aaron Rodgers

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As expected, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was fined by the NFL for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Peppers, who was assessed a 15-yard penalty during the NFC Championship game, was fined $10,000, a league source said, confirming ESPN's initial report.

Before this season, the NFL placed a priority on protecting quarterbacks, taking strong action against hits like the ones Peppers delivered. Rodgers was dogged by questions about whether he suffered a concussion, but he dismissed that speculation on Wednesday.

That's sheer sarcasm, since you can't see my face.

And I don't read and follow TMZ enough to know whether they are being sarcastic, either.

But they actually have a headline on their website that says, "Jay Cutler -- WALKING Around Los Angeles!!!" Cutler was with his girlfriend, Kristin Cavallari, at a shopping center.

Here's the link, which includes a video. http://www.tmz.com/2011/01/27/jay-cutler-kristin-cavallari-chicago-bears-los-angeles-the-grove-shopping-walking-quaterback-tough/

As noted the other day, with a Grade II MCL tear, a patient can still walk normally. He doesn't need a cane, crutches or even a brace.

"[People say], 'The guy can walk. Well, why can't he play?' It's hard to be mobile with that injury," said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an orthopedic surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles and team doctor for Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dr. ElAttrache, who performed Tom Brady's reconstructive knee surgery a couple of years ago, added that there was nothing the Bears could do for Cutler, after he stopped playing in the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers.

"Whether he's in the locker room with ice, or standing on the sideline, there's nothing else that can be done in that situation," ElAttrache said. "That's a pretty straightforward diagnosis."

The season is over, so it's a moot point. But a Grade II MCL tear usually heals from three to six weeks.

The key is to limit swelling and keep a range of motion.

In other words? Much ado about nothing.

Cutler's season is over, and there's no reason he can't eat at restaurants, climb stairs or -- gasp! -- walk and shop.

The Bears announced that Kevin O'Dea has replaced Chris Tabor as assistant special teams caoch.

O'Dea held the same position with the Bears during the 2006-07 season, when the Bears' special teams ranked No. 1 in the league in the special teams ranking systems compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. O'Dea was special teams coordinator of the New York Jets in 2008 and 2009 before serving in the same capacity with the UFL's Hartford Colonials last season.

Tabor was named the Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Tuesday.

It has been a while since we've had a Q & A and I'm guessing there are some questions floating around in the wake of Sunday's loss to the Packers. Post them here. Either Sean or I will answer them on Friday.

A source has confirmed a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Cleveland Browns are set to hire Bears' assistant special teams coach Chris Tabor.

No big surprise here. The Bears' have perhaps the best special teams coach in the league in Dave Toub. It's only logical that teams would want to hire the man who has been his right hand for the past two years.

"I believe that Chris is one of the up and coming special teams coaches in this league," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur told the team's website. "He is smart, enthusiastic and has a true passion for this area of the game. In Chris' three years with the Bears, they consistently boasted one of the best special teams groups in the league, in just about every facet. Having faced them in 2008 and 2009, I know what a challenge it was to go up against their unit. He will be a valuable addition to our coaching staff."

Although Bears' backup quarterback Todd Collins has a sore back and shoulder as a result of his brief stint in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship game, a source close to the veteran quarterback said he could have continued playing and his removal from the game was a coach's decision.

The source, who spoke with Collins on Tuesday, said the 16-year veteran passed his season-ending physical with the team.

The NFL Network has reported that Collins left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury and was planning to undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the injury today.

Collins left the game after being hit by Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji late in the third quarter. He failed to complete a pass in four attempts.

The decision to put third-stringer Caleb Hanie in the game with 57 seconds left in the third quarter was strange because it meant that neither starter Jay Cutler nor Collins could re-enter the game. That means that if Hanie had been hurt, Earl Bennett or Matt Forte would've likely been pressed into duty as an emergency quarterback.

It was that decision that made me ask Collins whether he was injured, since logic suggests it would be wiser to run a running play with Collins, let the third-quarter expire and then insert Hanie into the game, which would've allowed the Bears to go back to Collins in an emergency.

The Bears signed defensive end Nick Reed to a reserve/future contract.

Reed was originally selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round (247th overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. He played in 16 games for the Seahawks in 2009, recording eight tackles, one sack, and returned a fumble 79 yards for a touchdown. He was waived by the Seahawks after the 2010 preseason.

The NFL Network is reporting that backup quarterback Todd Collins left Sunday's loss against the Packers because of a shoulder injury and will undergo an MRI today, although when I asked Collins point-blank after the game whether he had left because of an injury, the veteran denied it.

"They just made a switch," Collins told me. "It was a coach's decision."

Collins left the game after being hit by Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji late in the third quarter. He failed to complete a pass in four attempts during two possessions.

The decision to put third-stringer Caleb Hanie in the game with 57 seconds left in the third quarter was strange because it meant that neither starter Jay Cutler nor Collins could re-enter the game. That means that if Hanie had been hurt, Earl Bennett or Matt Forte would've likely been pressed into duty as an emergency quarterback.

It was that decision that made me ask Collins whether he was injured, since logic suggests it would be wiser to run a running play with Collins, let the third-quarter expire and then insert Hanie into the game, which would've allowed the Bears to go back to Collins in an emergency.

The NFL Network is reporting that Collins will undergo an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

Anyway, either Collins looked me right in the eye and lied or the report is erroneous.

Julius Peppers not only became the first Bears defensive end to be named to the Associated Press NFL All-Pro team since Richard Dent in 1985 on Monday, he did it the hard way -- with only eight sacks.

How hard is that? Peppers is the first defensive end to make the All-Pro team with fewer than 10 sacks since sacks became an official league statistic in 1982. In fact, in the past 15 seasons, the Colts' Dwight Freeney (11 in 2005) and Peppers (11 in 2004) are the only defensive ends with fewer than 13 sacks to make the All-Pro team.

Chris Harris resists calling out Jones-Drew

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Bears safety Chris Harris valiantly fought through an injury last week to play his heart out in the Bears' 21-14 loss to the Packers on Sunday. Only Brian Urlacher and Danieal Manning had more tackles.

So he knows of what he speaks when he defended Jay Cutler from criticism by other NFL players for not being tough enough when Cutler was unable to finish the game. Among the players were the Jaguars Maurice Jones-Drew and the Eagles Asante Samuel.

''It's kind of a slap in the face,'' Harris said. ''It's kind of an unwritten code for players to [not] bash another player based on an injury. It would have been easy for me to say, 'Hey, Maurice Jones-Drew, you should have played our last two games of the season even though you have an injury and your team is still fighting for a playoff spot.' I could do that, but I'm not going to do it.''

Hanie: Preparation not hampered by No. 3 status

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Caleb Hanie spent most of the 2010 season as the No. 3 quarterback before he was thrust into the spotlight in the third quarter of the Bears' 21-14 loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. He said being No. 3 had no impact on his preparedness for the impromptu role in that game.

''It wouldn't have made a difference,'' Hanie said Monday in the Bears lockerroom. ''Jay gets all the reps with the offense. Me and Todd [Collins], we split the scout-team reps. So last week we were splitting [snaps in ] the Packers' offense.''

Defensive end Julius Peppers and receiver/kick returner Devin Hester were named the Associated Press All-Pro team Monday. The Bears were the only team with multiple representatives named.

The Bears signed guard Johan Asiata, tackle Levi Horn, linebackers Chris Johnson and Patrick Trahan and fullback Eddie Williams to reserve/futures contracts.

Tommie Harris has seen the light, excited about 2011

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It's been a long road back for Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, but he feels like he's finally made it.

''I was just getting started,'' said Harris, who had three sacks, two tackles-for-loss and four quarterback pressures in his last four games. ''I felt like that was Game 4 for me. I was just starting to feel great.''

While a late-season improvement might not be enough to keep Harris in Chicago for 2011, it was monumental for Smith, who said he ''grew up'' this year and took accountability for his demise as an impact player. ''I stopped pointing the finger at everybody else,'' Harris said. ''I paid attention to myself, which was the most difficult thing to do.

''I learned that it's not what you go through, it's how you go through it that will determine the outcome. You can either fold if things aren't going the way you wanted or you can work harder to get out of that situation. I learned how to persevere through that.''

The head 
physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers said quarterback Jay Cutler should not have finished the game and insisted he was fortunate that he didn't endure a more serious knee injury.
"With a little bit more force, the next thing to go, in that situation, is the ACL," said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the orthopedic surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles and team doctor for Dodgers. "So anybody who has a Grade II or Grade III that doesn't have an ACL injury is lucky."
As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, Cutler's MRI Monday morning revealed that Cutler suffered a Grade II MCL tear in the second quarter of Sunday's NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers.
ElAttrache, who performed knee surgery on New England's Tom Brady in October 2008, also said that how Cutler and the Bears' medical team staff handled the situation is consistent with standard protocol.
"Initially, as soon as it happens, [the patient] may say, 'That feels unusual. Then keep playing,' " ElAttrache said. "But as the knee bleeds, it becomes more stiff and uncomfortable. So initially, you might find a guy who can play a couple of series. But then when he doesn't move around, his knee will stiffen up.
"Looking at it, as time went on, he became less mobile and more uncomfortable. If you feel you're not too mobile, you're not only putting yourself but your team at risk."
Dr. David Thorson, who works with the U.S. Ski team, added that trying to continue to play would have increased the chances of Cutler tearing his ACL, a knee ligament that requires upwards of six months of rehabilitation.
With the Grade II MCL tear, the usual healing time, which doesn't require surgery, is three to six weeks. Thorson added that Grade II MCL tears are the trickiest to diagnose. A Grade III is a complete tear, and a Grade I, he said, is just stretching, with a couple of fibers potentially tearing.
Grade II MCL tears are somewhere in the middle.
"The reality is, it's not black and white," he said. "How do you know if Grade I doesn't have a few fibers torn? You can't tell it, until you do an imaging study.
"There's a broad range in there."

Lovie Smith defends deferring after winning coin toss

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And now, back to the game ...

The Bears won the coin toss prior to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, but it would be the last thing they won this season. The Packers marched -- galloped, actually -- 84 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on the opening drive. The Bears took the second-half kickoff and had great field position at the Packers 40, but went three-and-out and lost Jay Cutler for the rest of the game because of a sprained MCL.

Coach Lovie Smith said deferring the option to kick or receive at the start of the game was a sign of faith in his defense.

''We have done that a lot of the times. That's what we like to do,'' Smith said. ''In an ideal world you let their offense go out there, you have them backed up, which we did You pin 'em, get the crowd into it right away and you take off from there. And then in the second half you get the ball.

''Of course a part of the plan was stopping that first drive and we didn't.''

Angelo says Bears intend to extend Lovie's contract

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Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the Bears plan on giving Lovie Smith a contract extension after the Bears went 11-5 this season and reached the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Packers 21-14 on Sunday at Soldier Field.

We very much want to extend Lovie and the job he has done and his staff,'' Angelo said. ''Our intent is to extend Lovie. We wanted to wait until the season is over. The season is officially over for us. That will be part of the business at hand in these next several weeks.''

Smith has one year remaining on the four-year, $22-million extension he signed after the Bears reached the Super Bowl after the 2006 season. He is 63-49 in seven seasons with the Bears.

Hanie refutes critics who say Cutler didn't help him

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Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie defended teammate Jay Cutler on Monday, saying not only that Cutler would have finished the NFC Championship Game against the Packers if he could have and adding that Cutler helped him and encouraged him during the second half.

It just frustrates you to hear that stuff from anybody, let alone other players and well-known respected media guys on TV,'' Hanie said. ''I'll just tell you this: The one thing I know about Jay Cutler is that he's tough. Another thing I know about him is that he's going to stand up for his teammates. And he didn't want to let his teammates down. So if he could have been on the field and been productive at all for the team, he would have done it.''

Jay Cutler has a sprained MCL in his left knee, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith, who also said his quarterback would've been "questionable" for the Super Bowl if the Bears had defeated the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field and advanced to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on Feb. 6.

Sean Jensen of the Sun-Times reported earlier Monday that Cutler had suffered a torn MCL. However, a sprain can be a small tear. The severity of the injury was still being evaluated.

The Bears coach also defended his quarterback against chargers by former and current players that he should have remained in Sunday's 21-14 loss instead of leaving the game as a result of the injury.

"He wanted to win the game as much as anyone," Smith said. "It's pretty simple what happened yesterday. Before the half Jay hurt his knee. He showed a lot of toughness to continue to play with it."

Smith said he was surprised by the reaction of players who questioned Cutler's toughness via Twitter accounts.

"I haven't seen it before," Smith said. "It seems like if you were in that fraternity you would be stepping up for you fellow man, especially when you don't know what's going on."

Cutler injured his knee late in the second quarter, although after watching the tape of the broadcast it is difficult to determine when. He went into the locker room early at halftime and played the first series of the third quarter before leaving the game for good.

"We all made the decision then that he couldn't go," Smith said. "We took him in at the half to try to work on him, which we did. We got the treatment at halftime, didn't know for sure if he would be able to go.
 
"Jay wanted to go and tried to go the second half as he went back in that first series. You never want a player to be out on the football field if he can't protect himself and can't perform his duties during the game."
 
"Jay didn't take himself out of the game so if you want to attack somebody, you should be attacking me as the head football coach, and our medical staff. We're the ones. He wanted to go back in. He was injured and went back in in the second half so I see it the complete opposite of how it's being portrayed right now."

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo ripped the players around the NFL who criticized Jay Cutler's toughness in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, calling it ''dirty pool'' to criticize Cutler, who left the game early in the third quarter with an MCL sprain.

''I was very surprised. I think it's crap,'' an agitated Angelo said. ''I thought they were a union. If that's the way they unionize, they've got bigger issues than the ones they have wit the owners. I'm very disappointed. That to me is dirty pool.

''It is what it is. Certainly people are allowed to say what they want to say. But that doesn't make it right. And it's certainly not grounded.

Here's Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo on whether coach Lovie Smith deserves a contract extension: "We very much want to extend Lovie ... our focus and intent is to extend Lovie."

Jay Cutler has MCL tear, according to a source

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was scheduled to undergo an MRI this morning to determine the extent of a torn MCL believed to be in his left knee, according to a source close to the situation.

Neither Cutler nor coach Lovie Smith explained when the injury occurred in the second quarter, but Cutler headed to the locker room for halftime ahead of his teammates, and he tested the stability of his knee in the opening series ot the third quarter. At that point, Smith said the team made the decision to remove him from the game.

"For us, Jay hurt his knee," Smith said. "He just couldn't go; team, doctors and all, there was no decision, really. He was injured."

An MCL tear is consistent with what Cutler noted after the game, that he was hit on the outside of his knee.

The medial collateral ligament is one of the four ligaments that stabilizes the knee joint. Depending on the severity, an athlete could miss anywhere from one to six weeks, or longer.

A Grade 1 tear, which is incomplete, usually just involves pain and one to two weeks of recovery.

In a Grade 3 tear, which is complete, an athlete could have significant pain and swelling and endure instability in that knee. Surgery is not necessarily required, but the knee needs to be immobilized with a brace and crutches might be needed. It could take six weeks to heal.

Bears center Olin Kreutz will become a free-agent. But the veteran didn't mask what he thinks of coach Lovie Smith, who's contract will expire after the 2011 season.

"If they don't give Lovie a contract, that's just ignorant," Kreutz told the Sun-Times. "He's proven he's one of the best coaches in the NFL.

"That's obvious. He's a hell of a man. You can't say enough about him. This team fought all year, and I know it's cliché, but we did more than anyone thought we could do."

Despite the disappointing 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game, Kreutz said the 2010 season was a success, albeit an empty one.

"The NFC championship. But our main goal is the Super Bowl, and if you don't win it, then you're just one of the other 31 teams," he said.

"It will sit with you. Every team that doesn't win the Super Bowl, it sits with you the whole year. This will sit with you until we get to play another game."

Whether Kreutz plays another game for the Bears is unclear. Kreutz, 33, is set to be a free agent.

"That's not my call. I'll keep trying to play," Kreutz said. "I've said a million times: when you're not good enough, the NFL will let you know. So if no one wants me, I'll retire. If someone wants me, I'll play."

Packers tough on Cutler ... and Collins ... and Hanie

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Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was asked if ''Hanie was tougher to defend than Collins'' against the Bears on Sunday.

''Who's CoIlins?'' Matthews said.

After Jay Cutler left with an injury in the third quarter, it really didn't matter who the Bears played at quarterback. In fact, even Cutler didn't matter. Hounded by Packers pressure almost from the start, Cutler never looked comfortable or even close to being in rhythm in the Packers' 21-14 victory over the Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.

He had the ball under his arm and nothing but brown grass in front of him. This was going to be perhaps the greatest Brian Urlacher highlight of all time. The clip of him returning an Aaron Rodgers interception for a touchdown against the Packers in what may be the most anticipated game in the Bears' storied history would be replayed forevermore.

The only thing between the Bears' iconic middle linebacker and the end zone was Rodgers himself. It was a mismatch if there ever was one. Then Urlacher tried to cut back, only to have Rodgers get an arm on him, tripping him up and sending him crashing to the turf after a 39-yard return.

Todd Collins is likely finished as a backup quarterback with the Bears after he was ineffective on two third-quarter series and pulled in favor of Caleb Hanie, who finished with a higher quarterback rating than Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"It's tough but that's part of the job," Collins said of being thrust into a big game with little warning. "The two series I was in we didn't get anything going."

The Bears signed Collins during training camp so they wouldn't have to rely on the inexperienced Hanie if Cutler got hurt. Collins threw four interceptions in his only start against the Panthers and failed to complete a pass in four attempts Sunday.

"There's not like there was a big difference," Smith said when asked why Collins was the backup and Hanie No. 3. "That's why we went to Caleb fairly quick. But Todd was our two. We went with our two. We didn't like that and felt we needed to go a different direction and we did."

Matt Forte rushed for 70 yards. He caught a postseason franchise record 10 passes for 90 more yards. Most people expected the versatile running back to play a large role in the offense heading into Sunday's NFC Championship game at Soldier Field and he didn't disappoint, accounting for over half the team's total offensive yards.

"As a running back who can run and catch the ball, I expected to be used a lot," Forte said.

His performance in the painful 21-14 loss ended a record-smashing season for the third-year back. His 160 yards from scrimmage were the second most all-time in the postseason franchise history, trailing only George Gulyanics' 161 yards against the Los Angeles Rams in 1950.

Forte also became the first player in team history to have 50-plus yards receiving and rushing in multiple playoff games.

"Maybe we just executed better when he was in there," Forte said of third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie, who engineered both touchdown drives. "Once you get started in a game and you see some stuff they're doing, then we tried to attack them from there.
Once we got through that first half, we saw some stuff we could hit them with and that's what we started doing."

Robbie Gould is the fifth most accurate kicker in NFL history. Gould has also has kicked a career-long 54 yard field goal this season and was three of four on field goals of 50 yards or longer this season, which made coach Lovie Smith's decision to pass up 59-and 42-yard field goals in the first half curious.

The Bears had the ball on the Packers' 32-yard line when Smith passed up the 49-yarder midway through the second quarter.

"That was out of field goal range for us," Smith said. "We had to be at about the 27 going in that direction. We were just a little short as much as anything."

The wind didn't appear to be much of a factor. The streamers on top of the goal posts were fairly limp on both occasions.

"The wind was in my face," said Gould, who made a 51-yarder during warmups. "It was the right call."

The Packers weren't complaining about the field conditions after the game. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Compliments to the field crew," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought the field was excellent. The weather was great. It was much better than I anticipated during the week."

Peppers: Rules are rules

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Rules are rules

Julius Peppers wasn't complaining about the roughing the passer penalty he drew early in the fourth quarter when his helmet struck Aaron Rodgers' ear hole as the Packers' quarterback attempted to pass.

"The rules are the rules," Peppers said. "Most of the time they get it right. I don't know if he got that right or not. I didn't see the replay. They may come back and say it's a good hit but it doesn't matter when the game is over."

Urlacher defends Cutler

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While fans may be questioning Jay Cutler's toughness after he took himself out of Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship game, Brian Urlacher said there were no such concerns in the Bears' locker room.

Cutler injured his knee late in the first half. He tried to play the first series of the second half before leaving the game. Todd Collins and later Caleb Hanie replaced him.

"Jay was hurt," he said. "I don't question his toughness. He's tough as hell. He's one of the toughest players on our football team. He doesn't bitch, he doesn't complain when he gets hit. He goes out there and plays his ass off every Sunday. He practices every single day, so no, we don't question his toughness."

Todd Collins has taken over as Bears' quarterback midway through the third quarter.

Cutler's return is questionable.

Starting Packers left tackle Chad Clifton left the game with a stinger and has been replaced by T.J. Lang. His return is questionable.

A cautionary tale for Bears, Packers fans

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Let's not forget that even though this might be the biggest professional football game ever in Chicago and the winner goes to the Super Bowl, it's still just a game.

In 1949 at Packers Stadium in Green Bay, a Packers fan from Milwaukee annoyed by Bears fans who said the Packers suck, said he would swim across the nearby Fox River if the Bears beat the Packers. After the Bears won 17-0, a small crowd of fans cheered as he jumped in the river. But he never surfaced. Searchers recovered his body an hour later.

Bears-killer Walden ready for Bears' best shot

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Packers linebacker Erik Walden, who had the game of his life against the Bears in Week 17, will start in place of injured Frank Zombo in today's NFC Championship Game.

Walden, a third-year pro from Middle Tennessee State who was picked up off the street on Oct. 27 after being cut by the Dolphins, had three sacks and 12 tackles in the Packers' 10-3 victory over the Bears that put the Packers in the playoffs. He has seven tackles and one sack in two playoff games.

''I expect nothing less than their best shot [today],'' Walden said. ''I can't really say they weren't prepared for me the last time -- I had two games on film that they had seen. Maybe they didn't expect me to play that well. But I always knew my capabilities. I was just out there playing football, having fun.

''But I know they'll know exactly where I'm at [today]. I'm expecting nothing but the best from the Bears.''

Desmond Clark active for NFC Championship Game

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Desmond Clark knows what he's tweeting about.

As he indicated previously this week, the Bears forgotten tight end is active for today's NFC Championship Game against the Packers. Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu took his place on the inactive list.

Clark played in both regular-season games against the Packers. He had one catch for 12 yards in Week 3 and played on special teams in Week 17, with one tackle.

Also inactive today are safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Herman Johnson and Edwin Williams and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison.

Doug Buffone, who played in more Bears-Packers games than any player in Bears history, recalled this week when the rivalry was a real rivalry.

''Everything was juiced up,'' Buffone said. ''It was raining. We're smashing. We're fighting. Trying to win. Hornung's in the game. Jim Taylor's in the game. And we played the whole [bleepin'] game. It turned into a free-for-all.''

And that was a preseason game.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie, receiver Devin Aromashodu, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Josh Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, offensive guard Herman Johnson, guard/center Edwin Williams and defensive linemen Marcus Harrison were inactive for the Bears.

The Bears announced there would be no lineup changes, which means that Chris Harris will start at safety. The veteran suffered a hip pointer in last week's win over the Seahawks and took himself out of the game in the third quarter. Although he said earlier this week it would take an "act of God" to prevent him from playing, he also said he wouldn't put his team in jeopardy by trying to play if he wasn't healthy enough to do so effectively. Rookie Major Wright will fill-in if Harris reaggravates the injury.

For the Packers, quarterback Graham Harrell, cornerback Pat Lee, running back Dimitri Nance, cornerback Josh Gordy, linebacker Frank Zombo, center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith, center/guard Nick McDonald and defensive end Jarius Wynn were inactive.

Packers Matthews has respect for Bears' OT Webb

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Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has 16 1/2 sacks in 17 games this season, but only one in two games against the Bears. He might be able to take advantage of Bears rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb, who has made progress since becoming a starter in Week 5 but might be susceptible to pressure in more ways than one in the NFC Championship Game.

But if Matthews was licking his chops at the prospect of facing the 6-7, 328-pound rookie, he didn't let on when asked about it this week.

''He's a seventh-round [draft pick], but he's a good player. I think he's going to hang around for awhile,'' Matthews said. ''I've got my hands full with him, the tight ends, the running backs, whoever's coming my way. But he's a good player.

Matthews' speed could be a big advantage against Webb, but maybe not.

''Obviously he's a big guy. If you get too wrapped up in him he's going to hug you up and you can't get off him,'' Matthews said.''You try to run around [him] and he'll wash you buy. He's got experience beyond his years. And he's a good athlete.''

Mike McCarthy: Lovie Smith is a class act

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy is almost as big of a Lovie Smith fan as Brian Urlacher.

McCarthy is 5-5 against Smith since becoming the Packers' head coach in 2006. He also was 1-1 against Smith when McCarthy was the Saints' offensive coordinator and Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator.

In 2001, the Saints beat the Rams 34-21 in St. Louis and lost to the Rams 34-21 in New Orleans. Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks had passer ratings of 122.2 and 82.2 (six touchdowns passes, two interceptions) in those two games.

Corey Graham riding momentum of "crazy" game

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Corey Graham didn't register a single tackle, according to the official play by play of Sunday's victory over the Seattle Seahawks. But teammates and coaches insisted he was one of the stars of the game.

The backup cornerback recovered an onside kick, and he downed three punts, including two inside the Seahawks' 5-yard line.

"It's definitely not glamorous but it's very important," Graham said. "It's a big aspect of our team, and I try to go out there and make as many plays as I can. It's funny how I seemed to come up with a lot of the big plays.

"Hopefully, I can continue to be a playmaker."

The Bears don't have any doubt.

Graham led the team in special teams tackles with 25, and his teammates and coaches were trumpeting him for the Pro Bowl.

But his game Sunday was an all-timer.

Dez Clark tweets he'll play Sunday

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Veteran tight end Desmond Clark has been active only once since mid October, and he hasn't caught a pass since the end of September. But, Clark said on his Twitter account earlier today that he would play Sunday in the NFC title game.

"88 will be on the field Sunday," Clark wrote, referring to his jersey number. "Here we go 88 fandom!!! Let's get it on."

That could make sense, since the Green Bay Packers have been successful this season, blitzing and pressuring Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. If Clark's active, then he be one of four tight ends available to offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Without a traditional fullback, Martz utilizes the tight ends in that role.

Clark is a versatile player, capable of catching the ball but also blocking well. His experience could also be a plus.

If he's up, then receiver Devin Aromashodu could be inactive.

Bears all-time sack leader Richard Dent, MVP of Super Bowl XX and Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011 finalist, will serve as the team's honorary captain for Sunday's NFC Championship game at Soldier Field, the team announced.

Dent had 124.5 sacks with the Bears and 137.5 overall, which is tied for sixth best in history, although the NFL didn't start tracking sacks until 1982.

Maybe it's me, but I've sensed a I-know-something-you-don't attitude from the Bears all week. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but check out how Jay Cutler responded to a question about how the Bears are going to handle the Packers wide array of blitzes.

"We're going to handle it," Cutler said --- confidently, I might add. "Our offensive line has a good feel about what they're going to do. They might not necessarily bring the house every time. I'm not for sure. They might play a little more zone to throw us off. I'm sure there is going to be some new wrinkles so we're just going to have to feel it out as the game goes by."

One advantage to playing the Packers tough in the preseason finale is they got to see a lot of the different blitzes Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses. You can bet offensive line coach Mike Tice has had the Bears practicing picking up those and others in preparation for Sunday's game.

For a guy who is best known for the strength of his arm, Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler did serious damage with his feet in last week's divisional playoff win against Seattle.

Cutler's ability to avoid pressure by extending a play or keeping a drive alive could play a critical role in Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Cutler gained a career-high 43 yards and became the first quarterback since Otto Graham to score two touchdowns passing and two rushing in a postseason game.

"His decision to take off and go without hesitation is big," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "Obviously, with his footwork and his speed, he makes plays with his feet. I've not had a quarterback like that before. He's made some big plays for us and kept us in games and put us in position to score.

"Last week, we had a couple plays for him in the game plan to run. When you're in the playoffs, you can do those things, obviously, that you wouldn't do during the season because they are dangerous. He's just such a gifted athlete with the ball in his hand. He's a threat. The more you look at him on tape the more you realize he has some real speed."

Martz said he neither encourages nor discourages Cutler to run and doesn't advise him about when he should dive or slide to avoid hits.

"I've had that same attitude all year," Cutler said when asked if he would take more risks given the magnitude of Sunday's game. "If we've got the first down, I'll try to slide. If I have to get it or get hit or something like that, I'm going to do it. Whatever it takes at this point."

Exciting times for Earl Bennett

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In one week, Bears receiver Earl Bennett will experience a personal and a professional milestone.

On Wednesday, Bennett watched his wife deliver a baby boy, Earl Jr., who was eight pounds, 12 ounces and 22 inches. Then, on Sunday, he'll play in the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field.

"It was real cool, man," Bennett said of his son's birth. "I watched the entire thing. It was interesting, to say the least.

"It was a great moment. But, it's time to go to work. I told my wife, 'Hey, I'm sleeping upstairs, getting ready for this game.' "

Bennett, who has been slowed by an ankle injury, feels "real good" now.

"I got a lot of confidence," he said. "God gave me the talent to play this sport, and I'm looking forward to showcasing my talent and giving him the glory. I'm focused, man.

"Biggest game of my life," Bennett said, noting he'd never been to a bowl game at Vanderbilt.

Earl Jr. was supposed to arrive last week. But his wife was a week overdue, so she was induced on Wednesday.

"She was a little on edge," he said. "But it's been a joyful time.

"It's been fun, man, just looking at him, and seeing some of my image and her's. It's like, 'Wow.' "

Bennett has grown on me this season. He's six-foot, 204 pounds, but he's as tough a receiver as I've seen, and quarterback Jay Cutler obviously loves to throw him the ball. Bennett leads the team with 19 third-down catches.

"I just try to be quarterback friendly, and I try to play the game like I'm 6-6," Bennett said. "Just play hard, like I'm big."

Asked about initiating contact, Bennett said, "It's fun man.

"You got to force contact. Hines Ward, that's who I watched," he said. "I liked his toughness and his passion for the game."

Chris Harris said he will play Sunday despite suffering a hip pointer against the Seahawks unless "something drastic happens when I leave Halas Hall."

The veteran safety said he won't remain in the game if he feels as if he's hurting the defense, however. He's officially listed as questionable.

"If gutting it out means I can't get over the top of Donald Driver on a deep route, no," he said when asked if he would play no matter what. "You've got to be smart about it. If it happens to bother me to a significant extent I definitely will come out of the game. I wouldn't try to play tough guy for my own gratification of saying I played in the NFC Championship game."


This is the toughest call I've made all season.

The Packers are better offensively, even though the Bears will stuff the run and make them one-dimensional in Sunday's NFC Championship game. They may even be slightly better defensively, but the Bears special teams have been a great equalizer all season and the Bears are playing at Soldier Field.

Back and forth I go. Bears. Packers. Packers. Bears.

Some have predicted a high-scoring game. I don't see it. I don't see an extremely low-scoring game similar to the Packers' 10-3 win in the regular-season finale, either. I'm thinking 23-20 ... Bears.

They're going to have to play well AND having something else happen in their favor, such as Aaron Rodgers throwing an interception, Julius Peppers coming up with a strip sack or Devin Hester having a big day in the return game, but the Bears have been quietly confident this week and it has convinced me they can come out on top.

Last week's winner was Manimal, who predicted the Bears would win 38-24, by the way. The real score was 35-24, of course. Nicely done.

Packers respect speed of Bears' receiving corps

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The Packers dominated the Bears' wide receivers in their Week 17 matchup at Lambeau Field. Rashied Davis, playing in place of injured Earl Bennett, had seven catches for 63 yards. But Devin Hester's 16-yard catch was the only other reception by a wide receiver. Johnny Knox was shut out for the first time all season.

But Packers safety Charlie Peprah wasn't gloating this week, saying ''we've got our hands full again'' with the Bears receivers Sunday.

''They've got speed,'' Peprah said. ''All those guys can run and they can run after the catch. That's the problem they present. Big plays. The first third down [against the Seahawks], even Olsen can run like a wideout. He ran right by the safety. They all present that problem. From outside in. Even Forte out of the backfield can do the same things. We've got our hands full again.''


Packers' Peprah comes to defense of Lawyer Milloy

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Speaking of Greg Olsen, Peprah made a point of defending Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy, who was last seen chasing Olsen into the end zone on the 58-yard touchdown reception that sparked the Bears to their 35-24 victory last week.

''It turned out it wasn't his fault,'' said Peprah, who like Milloy is a strong safety. ''That's something that gets messed up in the media when they don't understand the coverage. They were in Cover-3 and [Milloy] wasn't supposed to take him down the field the way he did. But he's getting blasted all over TV and it really wasn't his fault.

''He wasn't supposed to take him that far. The middle safety, the rookie [free safety Earl Thomas] bit the wrong way and left [Milloy] out to dry. But that happens a lot in the league. As a safety, that's the price of the position. We deal with it. They see us chasing and it's our fault. I put that out there because I know he's a veteran. As a fellow co-worker [as a safety], I know it wasn't his fault.''

Northbrook-based STATS has some interesting insight based on the New York Life Protection Index.

The Bears were far more effective in the season finale, in terms of pressuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers, than in the Week 3 match up.

The Packers index rating dropped 20 points. While Rodgers was only sacked twice, both in the finale, the Bears hurried him four times and knocked him down five times. In addition, the Packers committed six false starts and five holding penalties.

The Bears, meanwhile, struggled in both games against the Packers. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked nine times, hurried eight times and knocked down 13 times.

The index ratings were 32.0 and 29.7, respectively.

That's right around their season average of 33.1, which was dead last in the NFL.

No. 54 speaks

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May favorite Brian Urlacher moment came when the middle linebacker was asked what makes Packers' running back James Starks to difficult to bring down.

The rookie sixth-round draft pick was on the physically unable to perform list for most of the season before making his NFL Debut in Week 13. His breakout game came in the wild-card win over the Eagles when he had 123 yards rushing.

"Tough, for other teams?" Urlacher asked. "We run to the football. That's what we do really well. We get a lot of guys to the football. We haven't missed a lot of tackles this year, but when we do we have guys running to the football to get him down so we'll keep doing that."

Urlacher wasn't making any kind of obvious jab at Starks --- or any jab at all. It's just funny how the kid has one good game and people start thinking he's Jim Brown.

Frankly, I don't see Starks having any impact on this game, especially after what the Bears did to Marshawn Lynch last week.

Here are some other highlights from Urlacher's time in behind the microphone:

"I've always loved playing here," he said when asked whether he minded sharing the title of being the Face of the Franchise with Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers (what about Lance Briggs?). "It's always been fun, but it's nice when you have other guys fill that role and not everything is pointed at you all the time. We've had (Devin) Hester come in. Now Jay is the face of our franchise, I'll say it, Pep (Julius Peppers) too. They got it. It's nice to have guys like that that you can kind of lean on."

In earlier post, cornerback Charles Tillman was critical of the Soldier Field playing surface. Here's what Urlacher had to say:

"You're going to slip. That's all there is to it. It wasn't as bad last week as I thought it would be. I think with the time off, they kind of fixed it a little bit maybe. You're going to slip at certain times of the game. That's just the way it's going to be. The faster you run the more chance you have of slipping if you are going to come out of a break. It's muddy and it's not great footing. I don't know what else to say."
 
Urlacher said he doesn't let the condition of the field change how he plays.

"I just try to go out there and try to run to the football," he said. "If I slip, I slip. I'll get up and keep running. It is a big deal for the defensive backs and the wideouts. They may have to try to slow down their routes or do something to get out of their breaks a little bit better."

Thursday's practice report

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Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and safety Chris Harris (hip) did not practice Thursday.

For Harris, it was the second straight day he has missed practice. The veteran injured his hip in the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Seahawks and took himself out of the game in the third quarter.

Harris has said repeatedly this week that his injury will not prevent him from playing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game Sunday.

Tinoisamoa underwent minor knee surgery earlier this season.

Charles Tillman became the latest Bears players to criticize the turf at Soldier Field, although he stopped himself before he said something inappropriate in a family newspaper --- or blog.

"Our field is a little bit harder in December and January, around that time frame," the veteran cornerback said. "It is what it is. Some people say it's a shh ... sorry field, but at the end of the day you have to play. That's what we do. We accept it, and we just play."

Tillman answerd "no" when asked if the turf affects how players make their cuts.

"Sometimes I've fallen on our field," he added. "I'll be the first to tell you that I've fallen sometimes. Sometimes I have the good break when I can plant. It is what it is."

Tillman said the soft surface doesn't give the offense or defense an advantage.
 
"Everyone is at an equal advantage on that field - offense or defense and special teams included," he said.

Will Clements saga come back to bite Mike McCarthy?

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Not only has this been the Bears' year, but almost everybody who has stood in their way seems to have been cursed.

The four teams that caused so much local consternation by whipping the Bears in the preseason didn't make the playoffs. The Giants, who humiliated the Bears on national television with nine first-half sacks of Jay Cutler, didn't make the playoffs either. The Seahawks, who beat the Bears at home in the regular season, were routed by the Bears in the playoffs. The Patriots, who embarrassed the Bears at home in December, lost their first playoff game.

The Redskins went 2-7 after beating the Bears to finish 6-10. Albert Haynesworth, who played his best game in years against the Bears and single-handedly embarrassed the Bears' offensive line, Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith with a spectacular stop of a quarterback sneak by Cutler that forced a fumble that would have been a Bears touchdown had Smith challenged it, was suspended for the final month of the season.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers cornerback Charles Woodson practiced on a limited basis Thursday -- not much beyond light running -- but coach Mike McCarthy said it's not a big deal and Woodson will start Sunday against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

Woodson has been nursing a toe injury through most of the season.

''Charles Woodson's fine,'' McCarthy said at his press conference Thursday at Lambeau Field. ''This is a normal practice week for Charles. Thursday is the day he goes through the jog through. He practiced yesterday. He'll practice tomorrow, so he'll be ready to go Sunday.''

The Bears held the Packers to 63 rushing yards in a 20-17 win on Sept. 27. When they lost to the Bears 10-3 earlier this month, Green Bay had 60 rushing yards on 23 carries.

Everyone agrees that establishing some semblance of a running game against the Bears No. 2 rushing defense could be a key for the Packers.

"One thing we've been able to do throughout the year is make teams one-dimensional," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "They've been running the ball a lot trying to become more balanced and control the clock a lot more, especially in this postseason. [James] Starks has something like 48 carries. That's the one thing they are probably going to try to do. They are going to try to run the ball, or establish the run. It's up to us to stop that and make them one-dimensional and that way put us in situations that we can capitalize on."

If the Bears can stop the run like they did against the Packers in the first two games it should make it easier to defend quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
 
"It has everything to do with it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "At least you go into every game trying to do that. Aaron Rodgers is a great player also, and they have a lot of weapons on the offensive side but [James] Starks has really given them a boost with their running game. It's tough on a defense when you're thinking about the run as much as you're thinking about the pass. Lately they're harder to defend because of that, seems like the last couple playoff games they've really gotten that running game going, but for us it would help us a lot if we can force them to go to one of those more so than having to defend both."

Lance Briggs not dead yet

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Last week, it was Brian Urlacher who said he didn't feel any added urgency to extend the team's playoff run because of his age or the age of other key defenders.

This week, Lance Briggs was asked the same question.

"No, I'm 30," the linebacker said. "I'm not dead. I don't see it that way. I don't know how many years I'll get to play, or all of us on the team will get to play, but we're going to enjoy it. Obviously it's not easy to get to the Super Bowl so I think that, more than anything else - it's just not easy. So it's hard fought. We haven't been there in years. It's precious."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he and his players aren't worrying about a window of opportunity closing but instead are focusing on the moment.

"As much as anything, I'm sure you guys can think about the present, of course, and the future and let yourself go in that direction. But to me it's just about now and what's happening at that time," Smith said. "If you're in a position to go, and you have a chance --- for four teams to have an opportunity to get to the Super Bowl and win it --- you have to assume that this is the only time you're going to get that opportunity. We have been in that position before where we're at the Super Bowl and we didn't win it then. We said, 'Okay, well next year we'll come back,' and it didn't happen. So of course the message for our football team is not to think too far beyond just trying to take advantage of a great opportunity that we have right now."

Does it matter whether or not Jim Cornelison belts out the national anthem at the Bears-Packers game Sunday at Soldier Field? To former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone, it does.

Buffone, who played in more Bears-Packers games than any player in team history (37, including nine preseason games), said Sunday's game was so big it deserved Cornelison's booming rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

''I played in some exciting games, but never like this,'' said Buffone, who does a popular Bears post-game show on WSCR-AM with former teammate Ed O'Bradovich. ''I just wish that guy was singing the national anthem that sang it [before the Bears-Seahawks game].

Rodgers on Urlacher: 'Probably my favorite' opponent

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Talk about a game within a game -- as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reads the defense when he comes to the line of scrimmage against the Bears, Brian Urlacher is reading Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers makes his call, then Urlacher makes his. Rodgers adjusts and Urlacher adjusts back. It sometimes looks like they're having more fun with it than they should. And Rodgers indicated Wednesday that might be the case.

''Brian is probably my favorite player to play against just because I enjoy the seconds between snaps,'' Rodgers said Wednesday. ''He's a very funny guy on the field. I know a lot of his calls probably don't mean a lot and he probably knows the same thing about some of my calls, so we have some fun with each other back and forth -- not only between plays, TV timeouts, at the line of scrimmage.''

Just another NFC title game for Crystal Lake's Bulaga

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Packers starting guard Bryan Bulaga, a prep All-American at Marian Central in Woodstock, said he hasn't had any problem dealing with the fact that he's a Packer from Crystal Lake facing the Bears for the NFC championship.

''Not me, I'm up here. I'm fine,'' Bulaga said Wednesday in the Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field. ''I think for my folks and my brother ... he's texting me every hour. 'I'm getting so much heat down here.' But no, it's all right. They're Packer fans, so they're able to take it, even being in the northwest [suburbs] up there.''

Packers goal vs. Bears in rubber game: Stop the run

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The Packers held the Bears to three points and intercepted Jay Cutler twice in their 10-3 victory at Lambeau Field on Jan. 2. But it wasn't a perfect effort. The Bears still rushed for 110 yards on 20 carries. Matt Forte had rushes for 21 and 25 yards on successive plays and finished with 91 yards on 15 carries.

''Forte had too many yards on us,'' Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. ''So we're going to try and shut that down this game and do what we do.''

Packers' McCarthy give props to Bears defense

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has the hottest team in the playoffs after beating the Eagles 21-16 and the Falcons 48-21 on the road. But as hot as Aaron Rodgers has been, he knows the Bears are a step up on defense.

''This is probably the best defense we've played to date,'' McCarthy said Wednesday at Lambeau Field. ''They're very sound. They've been together the whole year. The're better from the first time we played them and the second time. I was very impressed with the way they played against Seattle. They're playing at a high level.''

Martz praises Webb

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Mike Martz said he has never seen a player improve as much as right tackle J'Marcus Webb has this season.

"I don't know if 38 years of coaching that I've seen a player make this radical of improvement in the short time he has," the Bears' offensive coordinator said. "I'm very pleased with him. Obviously, it means [offensive line coach] Mike [Tice] has done a great job with him. For a young man to come in like he has and deal with the pressure of the playoffs, big games, all these game at the end of the year that are so meaningful for us, and continue to get better and have the poise he has demonstrated is really remarkable. I'm very pleased and proud of where he is."

That doesn't mean Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers won't try to Webb look like a rookie in Sunday's NFC Championship game at Soldier Field.

"Everybody is going to try to take a look at that and see if you can make him hesitant with certain things," Martz said. "That's automatic for any young player and certainly no different for him. What's remarkable about him is early he made the normal rookie mistakes, was indecisive and it hurt a little bit but he's past that. He's playing like a veteran right now. That indecisiveness, he's fought through that. He's not intimidated or anything. I'm really pleased with that."

Jim Cornelison on last few days: "It's been nuts"

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Jim Cornelison isn't exactly an overnight sensation.

This is his fourth season as the full-time National Anthem singer for the Blackhawks, who made a brilliant championship run last season to win the Stanley Cup.

But Cornelison said he was overwhelmed by the response to his performance at Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game at Soldier Field. A YouTube clip of his performance just topped 1 million page views.

"It's been nuts," Cornelison told me this morning. "As soon as I sang it, I don't know how many texts and Facebook messages I got."

He was touched by the comments, including a woman who reached out all the way from Germany.

"I was like, 'Whoa. This is different,' " he said.

But here's the scoop: Cornelison wasn't 100 percent.

Chris Harris only Bears player not to practice

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During the portion of practice open to reporters, Bears starting safety Chris Harris was the only player who did not appear to be practicing.

Harris injured his hip in the first quarter of Sunday's victory over the Seattle Seahawks then stopped playing in the third quarter.

"I'm feeling a lot better," Harris said today. "The last two days, it's been progressing and feeling better."

Asked what would prevent him from playing against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Harris said, "An act of God.

"I can't see myself not playing in that game."

Bears make roster move

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

The NFL is calling an audible.

Former American Idol contestant Lee DeWyze was scheduled to perform the National Anthem for Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. But the NFL is working to finalize the wishes of the Bears, an organization that clearly wanted Jim Cornelison to perform the honor.

"It's about the fans, and they love the anthem when Jim does it, and this is the biggest championship game ever, so we want it to start right," said Scott Hagel, the Bears senior director of corporate communications.

Cornelison, whose rousing version can be heard at Blackhawks games, performed three times this season, most recently Sunday before the Bears defeated the Seattle Seahawks 35-24. His performance has created a buzz locally and nationally with one clip on Youtube nearing 1 million views.

The newest season of American Idol is about to start on Fox, which is broadcasting the NFC title game. DeWyze, who is from Mount Prospect, was the winner of the ninth season of American Idol.

DeWyze will now perform at halftime instead.

Cornelison is in his fourth season as the Blackhawks' full-time National Anthem singer, although he's performed regularly at the United Center since 1996.

He has a background in opera, and he's performed with Plácido Domingo and Zubin Mehta.

According to his Blackhawks bio, "he's known as a heroic tenor for the dark color of his voice but ability to sing in a tenor range."

Not surprisingly, he's won some awards.

Full disclosure: I've been a lot of events, and I've heard a lot of renditions, most of them very nice. Whitney Houston's at a Super Bowl was beautiful, and Boyz to Men, one of my favorite groups as a teenager, did a cool A cappella version. But Cornelison's was chilling on Sunday, especially capped by the flyover.

Ticketmaster sells tickets to Sunday's game quickly

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You knew they wouldn't last long. But the limited number of tickets made available through Ticketmaster for the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field were sold in less than a minute.

Gone in less than 60 seconds.

The team hasn't said how many tickets were available. But there's been a buzz that they were, indeed, on sale, although you obviously had to get lucky.

Out of curiosity, who has tickets, and what are people offering you for them? Also, what price would it take for you to sell them?

Again, I'm just curious. Hope everyone is well.

The Bears signed quarterback Matt Gutierrez to a reserve/future contract Tuesday.

A former rookie free agent who signed with the Patriots out of Idaho State in 2007, Gutierrez spent time with the Bears in training camp before being released in favor of veteran Todd Collins.

He also spent time with the Chiefs.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers was the league's third-rated passer in 2010, behind only Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.

That makes it remarkable, then, that Michael Vick (4th), Matt Ryan (11th) and Drew Brees (12th) made the NFC's Pro Bowl roster ahead of him.

Rodgers has also been brilliant in the postseason, with six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a completion percentage of nearly 78 percent, which is why most analysts are picking the Packers to beat the Bears and maybe even win the Super Bowl.

But the Bears are quietly confident about how they stack up against Rodgers.

In two games this season, Rodgers completed 53 of 73 for 545 for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those are pretty impressive statistics, but the Bears aren't complaining. That's because the Packers scored 27 points combined in those two games, one on Monday night and one a must-win to punch their playoff ticket in the finale.

"We know quite a bit about Aaron Rodgers," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday, when asked if he watched film of the Packers' blowout of the Atlanta Falcons. "He's a great player. We know all of their guys and they know us. Again, it's a little bit different this week."

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher noted that the Falcons had several injuries, most notably in the secondary.

"I think the Falcons had a back-up guy in there, so they took advantage of that," Urlacher said. "[Rodgers] knows where to go with the football, he knows what coverage you're in, you're not going to trick him."

Rodgers was brilliant in a key victory over the New York Giants and in the postseason.

But in two of his final three regular season starts, Rodgers faced NFC North teams, and his numbers were underwhelming. In a loss to the Detroit Lions, Rodgers was seven for 11 for 46 yards with one interception before getting knocked out of the game with a concussion. In the finale against the Bears, he was 19 of 28 for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Bears won't be putting a limited number of tickets on sale until Tuesday.

But Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is raffling off a pair of premium seats to Sunday's NFC championship game at Soldier Field against the Green Bay Packers.

Tickets are $2 apiece, with a minimum of five.

According to the following website (http://www.celebritiesforcharity.org/raffle/jay-cutlers-nfc-championship-raffle/), the winner and a guest will get:

* Two pre-game field passes
* Winner and guest will enjoy two-night hotel accommodations in Chicago
* Winner will receive a $1,000 travel allowance
* Winner will receive a $500 allowance for meals and other expenses
* Winner will receive an autographed Jay Cutler Chicago Bears Mini Helmet

There are some other terms, but you can read it for yourself.

Proceeds benefit the Jay Cutler Foundation.

The drawing will take place Thursday.

What we witnessed last week, between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots was remarkably entertaining.

But don't expect anything close to that this week, when the Bears host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game at Soldier Field.

"I just think you just look at our history together. It does have a respectful tone, but it can be nasty also," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. " It's going to be a physical game.

"We don't like each other. You don't have to be in love with someone, or you can have some dislike, and not put it out in the media everyday. Believe me, there's not a whole lot of love for us coming up north."

Last week, there was no shortage of antics and comments from the AFC East matchup, from Wes Welker dropping foot references to poke fun at Rex Ryan to the Jets coach saying the game would come down to him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

This week, though, the NFL's oldest rivalry will be much more civilized.


"But games are supposed to be played on the field," he said. "In the end, if I felt like me doing a whole lot of talking would help us play better, I'd start doing a whole lot more of that. But it'll come down to how we play. Our guys realize that."

For my money, I'd love to see Smith talk smack, insisting this game will come down to him outfoxing Green Bay's Mike McCarthy. But don't hold your breath.

These two teams know each other well -- maybe too well.

Asked if he would break down the Packers' beatdown of the Atlanta Falcons, Smith said, "No.

"We haven't really studied that game a lot yet. We're finishing up video from our last game, but we don't really have to. We know quite a bit about Aaron Rodgers. He's a great player. We know all of their guys and they know us. Again, it's a little bit different this week. Kind of know what the game plan will be, a little bit. Know how they're going to attack us, and know how we'll attack them."

I'm sure, though, that both teams will have some wrinkles and surprises for one another.

Here are some Bears' related quotes from Sunday's "NFL GameDay Final" on NFL Network.

"I didn't trust Jay Cutler because he hadn't been in postseason play since high school, but one thing I did [trust was] this Rod Marinelli-coached defense. I knew they would come to play football."

-- Deion Sanders on the Chicago Bears defense in a 35-24 victory over the Chicago Bears

"Jay Cutler took control of this game early, built a 28-0 lead and didn't look back."

-- Steve Mariucci on Chicago QB Jay Cutler, who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two touchdowns

"He made the difference today because he gave Jay [Cutler] early confidence that he showed all game long."

-- Michael Irvin on Chicago TE Greg Olsen, who had 113 yards receiving and one touchdown

"We've got quarterbacks that have finally won their first playoff games and are ready to explode on the National Football League scene."

-- Steve Mariucci on Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers and Chicago QB Jay Cutler



While his teammates were complimenting Charles Tillman for the many plays he made during a 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Soldier Field, the veteran cornerback was beating himself up over two plays he didn't make.

"No, I'm not satisfied," Tillman said after one of his best games of the season. "We're in the NFC Championship. Great. But those two plays, you've got to make those plays because they could've been the keys to the game."

Lovie Smith's respect for receiver Mike Williams was as obvious as the confidence the Bears' coach showed in Tillman, who was informed early last week that he would draw the assignment of blanketing the one player Smith knew his defense must contain to earn the right to host the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's NFC Championship game.

Despite being locked in at right cornerback this season after playing on the left side during the first seven years of his career, Smith had Tillman cover Williams no matter where he lined up for the majority of the afternoon.

"We had planned on matching Charles Tillman up, and pressing Mike Williams a lot more to try to get him out of the game a little bit more than we did the first time around," Smith said. "They did a good job with that."

As a result, the former USC star, who caught 10 passes for 123 yards in Seahawks 23-20 win over the Bears on Oct. 17, caught four passes for 15 yards despite being targeted by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck 13 times, which was more than any other receiver in the game.

"Charles did a great job," safety Danieal Manning said. "We knew that was going to be the biggest matchup in the game, and Peanut did an exceptionally good job. He even did a good job on the touchdown.

"That happened to me one time. I broke the play up and it bounced off me and the guy caught it. The same thing happened to Peanut."

The play Manning was referring to will haunt Tillman even though he played it about as well as a cornerback can. It appeared as if he had intercepted a low Hasselbeck pass intended for Williams in the end zone in the final minutes. Instead, the ball deflected off him and was caught by Williams for the touchdown that pulled the Seahawks to within 35-17.

Williams caught another touchdown pass early in the fourth quarterback but Manning was covering him on that play.

Earlier in the game, Tillman nearly had another interception only to have it slip through his fingers. He punished himself by doing 10 pushups on the field just like the Bears do in practice.

Tillman, who works out with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the offseason, knows the Bears secondary will have to be even better next week.

"He's a great quarterback," Tillman said. "I can't say how good he is often enough."

Cutler joins ranks of Bears all-time playoff QBs

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The last time a quarterback was as good as Jay Cutler was Sunday, the Bears went to the Super Bowl.

Cutler's 111.3 passer rating Sunday (15-of-28, 274 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) was the best for a Bears quarterback in the postseason since Jim McMahon had a 120.3 rating in the Bears 21-0 victory over the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs at Soldie Field in 1986. McMahon was 11-of-21 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The only other quarterback over 100 since then was Steve Walsh, who had a 107.3 rating when Dave Wannstedt's Bears beat the Vikings 35-18 at the Metrodome in a first-round game on Jan. 1, 1995. Walsh was 15-of-23 for 221 yards, two touchdowns (nine yards to Keith Jennings; 21 yards to Jeff Graham) and one interception.

That's still the Bears' only road playoff victory since beating the Redskins 23-19 under Mike Ditka in 1984.

The strangest play of the game occurred early in the fourth quarter when Matt Forte took a direct snap from center and had his pass intended for Devin Hester intercepted by linebacker Aaron Curry.

The play was supposed to start with a ball fake to Chester Taylor but that didn't work out, either.

"I was supposed to make a ball fake and Chester didn't come across," Forte said. "He was protecting the front side. There are two reads. There's a deep read and a crossing read. I didn't see the guy in the flat."

Before the next play, Forte said he heard quarterback Jay Cutler's voice in the huddle.

"He said, 'it's not as easy as it looks back there, huh?'" Forte said. "I said, 'no, it's not.'"

Bears-Packers just another NFC title game to Peppers

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Bears players and coaches have been ridiculed for not paying enough respect to the Bears-Packers rivalry. But Julius Peppers is probably good enough to get away with it.

''Do you know how big this is going to be?'' Peppers was asked in the Bears locker room after the game.

''No. I don't know,'' he responded, to laughter from reporters. ''I'm serious. I don't know. I don't know if anybody in here knows. It's been a long time [since the Bears played the Packers in a playoff game]. Seventy years? It's going to be big on the outside. There's going to be a lot of hoopla surrounding this game. But at the end of the day, it's going to be about who executes the best and who plays football.''

Tight end Olsen comes up big in Bears' victory

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So much for the idea that there's no room for tight end Greg Olsen in Mike Martz's offense.

Olsen had three receptions for 113 yards in the Bears' 35-24 NFC divisional playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field, including a 58-yard touchdown on the Bears' third offensive play -- a deep ball from Jay Cutler that Olsen caught at the 20 and beat Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy to the end zone.

Olsen also made a nifty move down the sideline for a 33-yard catch, only to be tripped up by the 15-yard line. Still, it led to a Chester Taylor's one-yar run that gave the Bears a 14-0 lead. He also had a 22-yard catch that led to Cutler's first touchdown that made it 21-0.

''Yeah, it was nice to have a big day,'' Olsen said. ''I'm not going to lie, it did feel good to get off to a fast start and have a couple of big plays later in the game.

''It just shows you, whatever you're labeled or your position, if you ca make big plays and make things happen for our offense, you're going to do it.''

Although the Bears jumped out to a big lead and cruised to a 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field, head injuries to Seahawks tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant served as grim reminders there being no easy games in the NFL.

"It's something we live with," Bears tight end Kellen Davis said. "You have to have a little luck and a little faith and hope you make it through, but to see two guys go down in one game like that made you wonder what was going on."

Danieal Manning upended Carlson after the former Notre Dame tight end caught a short pass near the visitor's sideline on Seattle's second series. Carlson landed face first and remained on the ground for several minutes before being strapped to a board and carted from the field.

"I didn't think it was a dirty play," Manning said. "I don't play dirty. It was a clean hit. He was still in-bounds. I just made the tackle. I definitely didn't try to hurt him."

Trufant took a knee to the head from Davis after the backup tight end caught a short pass early in the third quarter.

"He was as knocked out as I've ever seen anybody be knocked out in my life," Davis said.

Trufant was also carted off the field while strapped to a board. Both players were taken to a local hospital where they were diagnosed with concussions. Both are expected to remain overnight for observation.

"He went straight for my knee," Davis said of Trufant. "I'm glad I went to chapel this morning because if my leg was planted I would've gotten hurt."

Safety Chris Harris injured his hip while tackling Marshawn Lynch in the first quarter of Sunday's 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field.

The veteran safety said he tried to play through the pain before realizing he and his teammates would be better off with him on the sideline for the remainder of the NFC divisional playoff game.

"If I couldn't be 100 percent full-speed I didn't want to be out there," he said. "I didn't want to be the guy that prevents this team from winning."

When asked if he would recover in time to play against the Packers in next Sunday's NFC Championship game at Soldier Field, he said "My ankle would have to be cut off [for me not to play.]"

Harris out with hip injury

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Safety Chris Harris has a hip injury and will not return. He's is wearing street clothes on the Bears' sideline. That means more playing time for rookie Major Wright. Harris' status for next week's NFC Championship game is not known (provided the Bears hold onto their 21-point lead, of course).

Quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, Kahlil Bell, Herman Johnson, Edwin Williams, Desmond Clark and Marcus Harrison were inactive for the Bears.

For the Seahawks, quarterback J.P. Losman, cornerback Josh Pinkard, cornerback Marcus Brown, linebacker Joe Pawelek, guard Lemuel Jeanpierre, guard Paul Fanaika, tackle Breno Giacomini and defensive tackle Amon Gordon are inactive.

There are no lineup changes for either team, which means Pisa Tinoisamoa will start at strong-side linebacker for the Bears. Tinoisamoa, who has been battling a knee injury, will be making his first start in seven weeks.

Seahawks receiver Mike Williams seemed to surprise the Bears when he caught 10 passes for 123 yards in the Seahawks' 23-20 victory at Soldier.

Cornerback Charles Tillman, noting that the Bears did not sack Matt Hasselbeck in that game, is hoping the Bears can put more pressure on Hasselbeck this time.

''It would be nice to get a sack this game on Hasselbeck,'' Tillman said. ''You can't throw the ball if you're on your back. So definitely we want to get a lot of pass rush going on and things like that, hopefully that can [disrupt] the timing between him and  Mike Williams.''

Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said pressure will help, but it'll have to be a team effort.

''We'll have a better feel for him after playing him once, that's the biggest thing -- understanding what he's trying to do,'' Hoke said. ''But we just need to play better. We didn't express the defense the way it needed to be expressed. We just didn't play well. We didn't play with the energy that we're capable of.''

Williams had 65 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns this season. He had just 13 catches for 97 yards (7.5 per catch) in the last six weeks, missing two games with an injury. But he had five catches for 68 yards and a 38-yard touchdown in the Seahawks' upset of the Saints last week.

"You could say that," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked if limiting Williams was a point of emphasis. "He had a career day against us last time. Mike is a good player. You have to respect what he has done as far as being out of the league a couple years and working hard to get back in and now playing at a level he thought he could play at all along. We can't let him have another day like that. If we let him have another day like that we'll lose."

--- Mark Potash

Coaches and players have sidestepped questions about the shift in the offensive philosophy, which can be broken down quite easily.

B.B. and A.B.

Before the Bye, and After the Bye.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz couldn't dial up enough passes during the team's 4-3 start. But, after their bye Halloween weekend, the Bears have become far more balanced, with Matt Forte having one of the best finishes for a running back in the NFL.

During an appearance this morning on ESPN 1000 with Waddle and Silvy, Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice provided the most telling answer I've heard yet.

"As a staff, Mike and I and [Lovie] Smith talked about getting the best guys we felt possible solidified by the bye weekend," Tice said. "We had some younger guys we thought would come along a little bit faster than they did early in the season. We had some injury problems, most notably to Chris Williams, a little ding to Roberto Garza on the right knee, [and he] had surgery.

"And then once we came out of the bye, we did like every staff, we looked at who we are and what we were trying to do, and looked at who we really were and what we could actually do. I think Coach Martz has done a great job of adapting to that. We started to put together a little more rhythm and balance on offense."

That's Tice's attempt at diplomacy. But, whatever the impetus, Martz changed gears and emphasized the run -- and the Bears offense has been better since.


Seattle scores 10 fourth-quarter points to make the final score of Sunday's divisional playoff game at Soldier Field closer than the game really will be: Bears 31, Seahawks 20.

Nobody was close enough to predicting the final score of the Packers' 10-3 win in the regular-season finale to merit a mention.

You know the routine: Your prediction goes here.


Hoke likes it where he is

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Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said he is not interested in joining his brother Brady Hoke, who was hired as Michigan's head coach this week.

''I'm happy where I'm at and happy doing what I'm doing,'' said Hoke, a former Bears defensive back who joined Lovie Smith's staff in 2009 after seven years with the Houston Texans. ''He knows how much I enjoy coaching pro football. We've never had that discussion. Something I've always wanted to do is coach in the National Football League.''

Jon Hoke, like his younger brother a Ball State graduate, enthusiastically endorsed Michigan's hiring as its football coach.

''They hired the right guy. There's no doubt about it,'' he said. ''I'm extremely proud of him. That's been a goal of his to get that job. And he'll do a great job, because he has great passion for the University of Michigan and the football program.''

Devin Hester said he expects more opportunities to return punts now that postseason has arrived.

"It's playoff time, you can't afford to give up good field position," said Hester, who returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown in a loss to the Seahawks earlier this season. "I expect that out of coaches. In playoff situations, you give up good field position, you put yourself in a bad predicament. You don't want to do that in playoff time."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sounded like a man who thinks his punt coverage team is up to the challenge.

"He's a great player that has done everything you can do," Carroll said of Hester. "We've got to respect that. We like our special-teams efforts. We know that our guys can play, and we're gonna do the best things we can do to deal with him [and] all of the impact he can bring to the game. So we're ready for it."

Bears work out receiver who starred in CFL

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Receiver Andy Fantuz has made the rounds in the NFL of late, and he worked out for the Bears on Wednesday, according to a league source.

Fantuz, who has also worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, has been a star for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. Last season, he caught 87 passes for 1,380 yards with six touchdowns.

Fantuz is 6 foot 4, 221 pounds.

The Canadian is quite popular. He's got his own cereal, "Fantuz Flakes."

The Bears also had defensive end Nick Reed in for a visit. A former All-American at Oregon, Reed was injured and released in early September by the Seahawks. He also had recent visits with the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer has been one of the most outspoken critics of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. But the former NFL quarterback said Cutler and the Bears offense has been more successful since they've cut back on passes.

"[Mike] Martz has done an incredible job, whether it was mandated by Lovie [Smith], of calling games, that are just best for this football team, not necessarily Cutler," Dilfer said on a conference call today.

"They've taken away eight to 10 passes," Dilfer said. "That's eight less chances of chaos in the pocket. That's when Jay has problems. That's helped Jay's progression, and growth as a quarterback."

Matt Hasselbeck said the Seahawks Week 6 win over the Bears was the first time he ran the offense the way first-year coach Pete Carroll wanted him to.

"That was the first game where I found the balance that Pete's looking for in terms of being aggressive but being smart, protecting the football," he said. "But at the same time you don't want to drive a car like a student driver. You want to drive a car like you know what you're doing without being reckless."

Hasselbeck completed 25 of 40 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's 23-20 win.

"If we can just keep games tight and we're still in the game and you get to play with decision-making that is sound instead of crazy desperation things, then you can play football the way you want and you've got a chance to win the game."

Hasselbeck said Carroll tells lots of stories, including some about the 1985 Bears.

"We'll keep that confidential til after this game," Hasselbeck said. "I don't want to offend any of the '85 Bears. I think a lot of those guys. They might still come after me."

The veteran is in the final year of his contract and doesn't know if he will return to Seattle next season.

"We've had good communication all year long, even going back to March when they made a trade," Hasselbeck said. "They're looking for the next guy here; I get that, I know that. I'm not concerning myself with that. I'm just trying to play the best football I can."

The Bears don't have to look far to find motivation this week, and not just because a win over the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Soldier Field would send them to NFC Championship game. All coaches had to do this week was turn on video of the Seahawks' 23-20 win over the Bears on Oct. 17.

"It was kind of tough to watch," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We weren't where we thought we were, even at the time. There were a lot of things we were doing that we haven't done of late, and we need to keep it that way."

Seattle defensive backs combined for 3 1/2 of the Seahawks' six sacks of Jay Cutler in that game. The Bears offense failed to convert a third down in a dozen tries.

"We just look at the mistakes and they were kind of amazed at some of the things that they did," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "That's just where we were at that time. We just had to get better piece by piece. It doesn't come in big [chunks], obviously, and they were very patient with it. We've gotten better. We've got a long ways to go, and fortunately, we're real good on defense and special teams."

Bears counting on 'Martz Effect' vs. Seahawks

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The Seahawks had an extra week to prepare for the Bears when they beat them 23-20 at Soldier Field in October. This time it's the Bears with an extra week to prepare for their divisional playoff game against the Seahawks on Sunday, though they didn't know it would be the Seahawks until last Sunday.

Either way, Jay Cutler and Olin Kreutz are among those who expect that offensive coordinator Mike Martz will make the difference.

''Coach Martz is one of the best in the world at what he does,'' center Olin Kreutz said. ''So if you give him an extra week to prepare for somebody, it's going to show.''

Cutler said that with an extra week of preparation, he'd take Martz over anyone.

''He gets a better feel for what they're going to do in certain situations, which gives him an advantage in calling plays on third down, in the red zone, on second and long,'' Cutler said. ''He can see things. He can dial things up that he might be hesitant to call if he doesn't see enough film on them, or if they're doing a lot of different stuff.'

Jay Cutler under the media microscope

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Bears tight end Greg Olsen tried to be polite, answering a line of Jay Cutler questions during a press conference Wednesday.

He didn't know the reporter by face, although Rick Reilly of ESPN is one of the most prominent sports journalists in the country.

What's Cutler's personality like?

"I don't really think his goal is to have people to get a certain thing," Olsen diplomatically said. "He is what he is, and he's our leader, he's our quarterback, and guys on this team, we know him, and that's all that matters.

"It's not a popularity..."

But before Olsen could finish the thought, Reilly asked if Cutler was misunderstood.

"Yeah, I do. I think people form their opinions on people, based on a lot of misinformation and what not. But, again, no one on this team, including Jay, is too concerned with that," Olsen said. "He's our guy, he's our quarterback, we all believe in him. He's our leader. He's a great teammate. All that stuff is not even a question around here, with the players."

Later, Olsen noted that he's surprised to hear people draw conclusions about Cutler, without actually interacting with him.

"Everyone else on the outside forms their opinions based off nothing, pretty much," he said.

But when Reilly asked if Cutler is funny, Olsen was ready to move on.

"Can we move onto something else?" he said, clearly annoyed.

So Olsen was excited to answer the next non Cutler related, whether it was about taxes or his New Year's resolution.

Cutler, meanwhile, sidestepped and downplayed every question.

Asked if about his public image, Cutler said, "I don't worry about it.

"I don't know what my public image is."

Full disclosure: I've known Reilly for more than a decade, and I've read his work -- most in Sports Illustrated -- since I was a teenager. As always, I'll be interested to read his take.

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman missed practice Wednesday with an unspecified illness, but is expected to play Sunday in the divisional playoff game against the Seahawks at Soldier Field, coach Lovie Smith said.

''Oh sure, pretty confident [he'll play],'' Smith said. ''He was sick today. He should be fine. I don't think that's an issue at all.''

Bears not taking 8-9 Seahawks lightly

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While Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie was doing his best to rile Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the Bears were giving the Seattle Seahawks their due respect as the conqueror of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.

If they see an 8-9 team that needed a near-perfect game to beat the Bears 23-20 at Soldier Field and is a 10-point underdog for Sunday's divisional playoff game, they're not saying so.

''A lot of people think we're going to bulldoze these guys, but they're going to be a tough opponent,'' Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. ''It's the NFL. The playoffs. Playing for all the marbles. Everybody's back is against the wall. We expect them to bring their 'A' game.''

Wednesday practice report

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Veteran cornerback Peanut Tillman was excused from practice today because of illness. Everybody else practiced, according to coach Lovie Smith.

"He was sick today," Smith said when asked about whether Tillman would play in the divisional playoff game against Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field. "He should be fine. I don't think there's an issue at all."

Business-like Cutler ready for anything vs. Seahawks

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You can say this much for Jay Cutler -- success hasn't changed him.

A division-championship quarterback for the first time in his career, Cutler met a larger media contingent than normal at his weekly press conference Wednesday -- more local reporters, out-of-town reporters, national reporters. But only the stage was bigger at Halas Hall. Cutler was Cutler.

Preparing for the first playoff game of his NFL career, Cutler didn't seem fazed by the added attention or magnitude of the situation. The Bears are 10-point favorites over the upstart Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field.

''I think it's normal inside the building right now,'' Cutler said. ''The guys are as business as usual. We've had good meetings so far. The guys are attentive. I think the week off really helped everybody kind of rejuvenate, and get their legs back. It's gonna be a fun game on Sunday.''

Bears nearly drafted RB James Starks

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In an interesting piece for the National Football Post, former college scouting director Greg Gabriel revealed that the Bears nearly selected running back James Starks in the sixth round of last April's NFL Draft. Starks ended up being selected by the Green Bay Packers later in the sixth round and emerged late in the season.

The Bears had Starks, a former running back at the University of Buffalo, rated high, and they couldn't pass him up early in the sixth round, even though they had signed veteran Chester Taylor to back up starter Matt Forte.

According to Gabriel, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo decided to draft Starks over quarterback Dan LeFevour, and contract negotiator Cliff Stein even contacted Starks' agent to have initial discussions on a contract, per the team's usual protocol.

But Angelo made a last-second change, according to Gabriel, and picked LeFevour, who ended up being released and signed by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers picked Starks 12 picks later, and he keyed the team's Wildcard Playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles with 123 rushing yards.

Check out Gabriel's full report by checking out the link below.
http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/NFL-playoffs-rookie-report-card.html

Lance Briggs may have been diplomatic when talking about how his absence had little impact in the Seahawks 23-20 win over the Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 17 but Matt Hasselbeck isn't buying it. The Seahawks quarterback said Briggs not being in the Bears lineup because of an ankle injury was a huge advantage for he and his teammates.

"For us to sit back and say, 'Oh, hey, we beat them at their place. We can do it again,' that would be a dangerous way to feel because Lance Briggs did not play in that [first] game," Hasselbeck told ESPNChicago.com

Hasselbeck completed 25 of 40 pases for 242 yards and a toucdown in that game.

"Going into that game, we fully expected him to play," Hasselbeck said of Briggs. "He didn't play, and that was a big deal. He's huge. I think he's arguably one of the best defensive players in the game. He is a big, big-time difference maker and a great football player. So as hard as this game is going to be, the fact that he's back takes it up to a whole other level."

According to SeatGeek.com, the Seahawks-Bears game on Sunday averages $321 per ticket, the highest of all divisional playoff games.

Other statistics from SeatGeek.com:

* This is a 42% increase over Bears average ticket prices for the season at home ($226) and a huge 181% increase over Seahawks average ticket prices ($114)

* The most affordable tickets can be had in the 400 section of Soldier Field for $138 while tickets are listing at $2,326 down near the field

http://seatgeek.com/nfc-divisional-game-seattle-seahawks-at-chicago-bears-tickets/nfl/2011-01-16/499527/

Who was missing against the Seahawks in October?

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The answer, of course, is Lance Briggs.

The Bears Pro Bowl weakside linebacker did not play in that game, with an ankle injury.

Briggs was diplomatic today, when asked about his potential impact.

"Not really," Briggs said, when asked if he would have made a difference in that game, which the Bears lost 23-20 at Soldier Field. "Not the way the way that game turned out. Obviously, I wanted to play in that game, but Brian Iwuh played great. He did a great job that game, and in the [Washington] Redskins game.

"So, for me, it's wanting to get a first crack at them."

But several of Briggs' teammates disagreed.

"It'll be big to get him back," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "This defense, we all work together. It's not a one-person show. We all have to play our role. But missing Lance was big for us. Having him back in there will settle rotation, and it's going to be huge for us."

All season long, the Bears have busted out the underdog card at every turn.

No one respects us. No one likes our quarterback, our offensive line, our head coach and general manager... fill in the blank.

But after one of the great playoff upsets in NFL history, when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints on Saturday, the Bears are a 10-point favorite on Sunday.

"We don't really listen to a lot of things that are said on the outside," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I didn't really know that until now. It doesn't really matter. When you have a playoff team, why do you even have favorites?

"We have to take care of business. Any team can beat the other on any day."

It's a wise shift for Smith, since it's hard to find ways to make the Seahawks a favorite against the Bears.

In a season filled with breaks, the Bears caught arguably the biggest yet. The top-seeded Atlanta Falcons get stuck with the always dangerous Green Bay Packers (10-6) because the Seahawks, by virtue of "winning" a division, are technically seeded higher, despite an inferior record (7-9).

Surely, the Falcons can't be too pleased how this has gone down.

But in Chicago, they are adjusting to the new role.

"If we're picked to win, good," Devin Hester said. "If not, it's OK, because we're used to being the underdog. But we have to do it, at the end of the day. It's all up to us."

"That's a little different," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said of being a 10-point favorite.


PHILADELPHIA --- What seemed far-fetched on Friday happened, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has followed this Bears this season.

The breaks keep falling like dominoes. The latest? The Packers win over the Eagles on Sunday means the Bears will host the worst playoff team in NFL history when the Seahawks come to Soldier Field for the NFC divisional playoffs on Sunday.


That's not to say a win over the Seahawks is guaranteed by any means. They may have ranked 28th on offense and 27th defensively during the regular season but they were much improved in both phases against the Saints and should be confident after beating the Bears 23-20 at Soldier Field on Oct. 17.

"The way Marshawn Lynch is running I'd be nervous, Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said, referring to the Seahawks running back, who sealed the win over the Saints with a determined, 67-yard run. "It's kind of funny that fans of a rival are rooting for you but it's a cool thing."

The Packers victory sends Green Bay to the Georgia Dome to play the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night. If the Bears beat the Seahawks and the Packers defeat the Falcons, the NFC Championship game would not only be played at Soldier Field but would feature the league's longest-running rivalry. The Bears and Packers have only met once in the postseason, and that was in 1941.

"That would be amazing," Bishop said of the prospect of playing the Bears in two weeks.

The Packers led 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled early in the third period and the Eagles recovered, setting up Michael Vick's 24-yard pass to Jason Avant to pull Philly to within 14-10. Rodgers and the Packers answered with a 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by a perfectly executed screen pass to running back Brandon Jackson, who caught the ball and waited for three of his linemen to run interference before following them into the end zone 7:33 left in the third.

The Eagles might have come all the way back if not for two missed field goals by David Akers and an inability to stop sixth-round pick James Starks, who rushed for 123 yards.

"We're in the playoffs now," tackle Chad Clifton said. "Every team we face is going to be talented, but if we're able to run the ball and run the ball well, and not just be one dimensional, we're going to be a dangerous team. Our defense can shut down anyone. Offensively, we know what we can do throwing the ball. If we can run it successfully throughout the playoffs, we'll be dangerous."

Seattle defensive backs combined for 3 1/2 of the Seahawks' six sacks of Jay Cutler in the Seahawks win earlier this season, The Bears offense was struggling before the bye and failed to convert on third down in a dozen tries. The usually strong defense was even suspect as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck engineered drives of 80 and 92 yards.
A 89-yard punt return by Devin Hester gave the Bears a breath of life but Robbie Gould's last-gasp onside kick failed.
"I did a terrible job in getting the team ready," Bears coach Lovie Smith told WBBM (AM-780) at the time.

Go Packers?

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When was the last time Bears Nation was united in cheering for its arch rivals? If the Packers beat the Eagles today, the Bears will host the Seahawks in a divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Given how many breaks the Bears have received this season, is there any doubt who will end up on top?

The Seahawks beat the Bears earlier in the season, of course. Still, the prospect of playing the only 7-9 team in history to make the playoffs --- even if they did knock off the Saints --- is preferable to hosting Michael Vick and the Eagles.

Which of the following 14 unrestricted free agents will return to the Bears next season and which will wind up with other teams won't be known for some time because free-agent acquisitions will be on hold until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Here's a thumbnail review of each with a rating gauging their value to the Bears moving forward. A "1" means the team likely has little interest in re-signing the player. A "5" means they are likely to do everything possible to re-sign the player.

Anthony Adams: The underrated defensive tackle does the dirty work inside and is part of an under-appreciated unit that has been highly effective this season. Adams is more of a traditional nose tackle and is a good enough player that he will likely explore other options before returning to the Bears. Rating: 4

Josh Bullocks: The reserve defensive back has never challenged for a starting role on defense but has been solid on special teams. The problem is, there are only so many players the Bears can keep solely for special teams. Rating: 1

Urlacher wins award

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Brian Urlacher has been named the league's defensive player of the month.

Urlacher led the NFC with 49 tackles this month to go along with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three passes defensed.

This is the first time in Urlacher's career he had been thus honored. Julius Peppers was named defensive player of the month for November.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has heard team leaders such as Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher criticize the turf at Soldier Field. He has watched late-season games against the Eagles, Jets and Patriots, but nothing he has seen or heard makes him feel as if a new surface is a priority.

"The surface is the surface," he said. "You've got two seasons here in Chicago. As the year goes on, the surface isn't going to be as good. The bottom line is that it's a safe surface and that's what we're fixed on, making sure we play on a safe surface. We've been able to win on that surface; we've lost on that surface. I don't see it being an advantage to anybody. It's the teams that play well that win."

Angelo said team president Ted Phillips is focused on learning more about the safety of natural grass versus artificial surfaces before any decision is made.
 
"We'll talk about it," he said. "We talked about it last year. I know Ted's said that he wants to get more comfortable in the research. I'm not ruling it out and we'll do our due diligence with the research. Everybody wants a fast surface. I don't think any NFL team wants to play with 3 inches of grass on the field. Every team is looking for that and we're no different. So we'll go through that again and see what the results are based on the research and going forward."

Tackling key to secondary

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The Bears secondary was considered a weakness heading into the season but that hasn't necessarily been the case, especially when you consider how well players like Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have tackled, which is a key to running a successful cover-2 defense.

"We have been pleased with our secondary, especially a guy like Tim Jennings," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "When we started off the season, you guys, and ladies, weren't asking a lot of questions about Tim Jennings, but now he's one of our guys. To tell if you're a tough football team or not, a lot of times you can base that on whether your corners tackle. Adding Tim Jennings to the mix, our corners definitely tackle."

Jennings was signed for depth at cornerback during the offseason, won the starting job and hasn't looked back. One of the keys to the success of the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder is how physical he has been.

"That back row and really our corners, they have tackled," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "I can't believe there's a better tackling group of corners in the NFL, and they do it all, from rerouting to ball skills and takeaways. They've done a great job. Discipline. But I'm so proud of those guys, how they tackle. Because in our system, you have to tackle. Those guys, they're outstanding. So are our safeties."

There have been persistent rumors that general manager Jerry Angelo might step down at the end of the season, especially if things didn't go well for the Bears.

"That's not going to happen," he said Thursday. "I'm very fortunate to be here and as long as I'm blessed with health, I'll continue to do what I love and that's being part of football."

Jerry Angelo said the 2010 Bears may not be the most talented team he has seen during his decade as the Bears general manager but said when he considers the intangibles it may be the best team.

"This is the best football team we've had because of the things this team had to go through," he said. "In years past, in '06, we got off to a fast start. I think we were 6-1, we had everything locked up for the most part. Our division wasn't near as tough as it was this year. But what we accomplished this year, personally, I take the most satisfaction of the years that I've been here because of how the deck was stacked against us. Again, that says a lot about our coaches, it says a lot about our players."

Thursday's practice report

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The Bears practiced indoors at the Walter Payton Center for the second straight day. Although the media was only allowed to view the first 10 minutes of practice, it appeared that linebacker Nick Roach (shoulder), safety Major Wright (lower leg), safety Chris Harris (stinger) and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (injury unknown, if any) did not practice.

Earl Bennett will be ready to go for playoff opener

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The Bears sure seemed to miss wide receiver Earl Bennett against the Packers on Sunday. At least Jay Cutler did.

Bennett sat out the Bears' 10-3 loss at Lambeau Field with an ankle injury. But he said Wednesday he'll be ready for the playoff game.

''It's going to help me out a lot -- getting well and getting ready for whoever we're playing,'' Bennett said of sitting out the regular-season finale. ''I'm going to be able to go full speed. It definitely helped.''

Jay Cutler: 'We're Not Fixing Anything'

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Though the Packers held the Bears to three points and 227 yards last week, the Bears don't think the 10-3 loss was as much of a red flag as it might have appeared.

''We're not fixing anything,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said. ''We're going to run our offense exactly how we've been running it. We took a look at the film and learned from it, corrected the mistakes we had to correct. But we're not changing anything. We're not going to let off what we're doing. The guys have a very good belief in what we're doing and know why we do it.''

As expected, coach Lovie Smith also was unfazed and sees his team in good shape to peak at the right time.

''I don't have a lot of complaints about where we are right now,'' he said. ''I'm not overly concerned about anything we're doing. We know we need to make some improvements, but that's just normal for us.''

Bears boning up on Saints -- just in case

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Lovie Smith rarely if ever tips his hand, but he acknowledged the Bears are spending more time preparing for the New Orleans Saints than their other possible opponents, the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles.

But mostly because the Bears have played the Seahawks and Eagles this season. The Bears haven't played the Saints since beating them 27-24 in overtime on Dec. 11, 2008 at Soldier Field.

''That's what we've done,'' Smith said when asked if he's preparing for the Saints. ''At the same time, we have a history with the Saints. We know that coaching staff has been in place, so it's not like anyone has been a big surprise to us. But we'll look at everyone to spend a little bit more time on the Saints.''

It was back to the basics during a workout inside the Walter Payton Center on Wednesday.

"We're kind of waiting around to see who we're playing but we can get some good stuff done," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "[We can] self scout, look at what we've done the last five, six weeks and try to improve on it."

Mike Martz defends run-pass balance against Packers

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It was puzzling, how the Bears seemed to drift away from the run against the Green Bay Packers, especially when Matt Forte got off to such a strong start.

After gaining just three yards on the opening series, Forte exploded for runs of 25 and 21 yards on the third series before taking a break. Then, in the second quarter, Forte turned a short pass into a 27-yard gain. For the half, Forte had six runs for 54 yards and four catches for 41 yards. All told, the Bears ran the ball nine times in the first half for 65 yards and attempted 13 passes.

By game's end, Jay Cutler was 21 of 39 for just 168 yards, and the Bears finished with 20 carries for 110 yards.

"The last 12 plays were probably passes, I think," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "Other than that, I think we had 23 called runs and 24 called passes or somewhere - there were a couple of plays in between there - but we were trying to get something going in the passing game on first down a little bit more than maybe what we have in the past.

"Didn't make any of those plays, and we've got to make them, obviously. We had eight opportunities in the passing game to make really big plays, and we didn't make one of them, which is not like us. I'm very disappointed in that. And of course if you don't make the play on first down, you give them second and 10 and so forth and so on. So that was unlike us, both in terms of the numbers and performance, I think, in the passing game, really."

But Martz's numbers are off. On the opening series of the second half, the Bears did have balance. Forte ran the ball four times for 20 yards, while Cutler was two-for-five for 17 yards. But one more run by Forte, Cutler attempted eight consecutive passes. That included two three-and-outs to end the third quarter.

Reporters were only allowed to watch players stretch for a few minutes. But, it appeared safety Chris Harris (stinger) was going to practice today while rookie Major Wright (right leg) didn't have his helmet.

Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Nick Roach (shoulder) also didn't appear like they would practice.

As has been pointed out numerous times, the Bears have been remarkably fortunate with their health.

By the way, they are practicing inside today.

Bears re-sign Peterman

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The Bears signed receiver Eric Peterman to the practice squad.

Peterman was with the Bears during the offseason and preseason before being waived following an injury on Aug. 23. The former Northwestern standout joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He will take the practice squad spot created when the Vikings signed receiver Juaquin Iglesias to their 53-man roster.

Receiver Johnny Knox started Sunday morning needing 40 yards to reach 1,000 receiving yards.

By Sunday evening, Knox still needed 40 yards.

Knox went without a catch for the first time this season, although he was targeted eight times by quarterback Jay Cutler. He was hoping to become the first Bears receiver to top 1,000 yards since Marty Booker in 2001.

Asked if he was disappointed not to reach his stated goal, Knox said, "Not really.

"It was more important to get this win, and knock the [Green Bay] Packers out, so we don't have to play them a third time. But, it is what it is."

Knox had at least one drop, and he didn't provide Packers safety Charlie Peprah much resistance on a key interception in the end zone during the third quarter.

"There was no miscommunication," Knox said. "It was just a play that happens in football. "

Asked if he could have done anything different on the play, Knox said, "When I watch film, I can give you a better answer."

Knox, though, did lament one easy catch he wasn't able to secure because he slipped.

"I just got to have better body control and give the play a chance," he said.

Entering the game, Knox led the team in catches and receiving yards. But, running back Matt Forte had eight catches to tie him for the team lead.

For the season, Knox had 51 catches for 960 yards with five touchdowns.

The Bears defense has played poorly in three of the past four games, so it was important for the unit to play well against the high-octane Packers, which they did.

Aaron Rodgers completed 19 of 28 passes for 229 yards with one touchdown. Rodgers was also his team's leading rusher with seven carries for 21 yards.

"The last couple of weeks, teams have been scoring a lot of points on us, so defensively it was important for the Packers to only get 10 points," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "We were effective and we did the things we needed to do. We were very disciplined. That's really what it comes down to against a high-powered offense."

Sacks don't bother Lovie

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The Packers had six sacks, which might make you think the offensive line had a lousy game, and maybe it did.

There were other factors as well, though. The Packers blitzed as much as any team has blitzed the Bears all season, especially late in the game.

"It's a concern anytime you give up a sack," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But it was a ittle too much pressure on my quarterback today and there were a lot of reasons for that. There is nothing negative about what happened today. We have a little bit of time to clean up the things we need to do. This was a good measuring stick for us moving forward."

The Bears accomplished their primary goal by not suffering a major injury.

Linebacker Nick Roach injured his shoulder on the first defensive play of the game and did not return. Major Wright left the game with a lower leg injury and Chris Harris suffered a stinger, but said he was fine afterwards. Receiver Earl Bennett, who has been nursing a sore ankle, was inactive.

"Hopefully, with a little bit of rest they'll be OK," Smith said.

GREEN BAY, Wis. --- The Bears still don't know who their first-round playoff opponent will be, but they do know they will host a divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on Sunday, Jan. 16 at 12-noon.

The Philadelphia Eagles, the winner of Sunday night's St. Louis Rams-Seattle Seahawks game and the New Orleans Saints remain possible opponents heading into wild card weekend.

"We wanted to play well and we wanted to carry some of the momentum we've built the last couple week into the playoffs," tight end Greg Olsen said after Sunday's 10-3 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field. "We didn't get anybody hurt, which is a good thing. We didn't end the regular season the way we hoped but we're still in a good position to make a run. We've just got to clean some stuff up this week, get healed up and play better."

The winner of Sunday night's Rams-Seahawks game will host the Saints on Saturday at 3:30. The Bears may not know their first-round opponent until after the Packers-Eagles game, which is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Sunday.

In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts will host the New York Jets on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at 12 noon.

"We're looking forward to it," running back Matt Forte said of the week off. "We get a little break, so everybody can get healthy and get ready for that first playoff game and try to make a run to the Super Bowl."

Safety Major Wright has a lower leg injury and will not return in the second half.

Forte matches Payton

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A twisting, 27-yard catch and run on third down in the second quarter pushed Matt Forte over 500 receiving yards, which makes him the first Bears player since Walter Payton to have 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season.

With a 25-yard run late in the first quarter, Matt Forte surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season. It's the second time in his three-year career that Forte has rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

So much for the Bears top priority --- staying healthy.

Nick Roach injured his shoulder on the first defensive play of the game. He will not return. Pisa Tinoisamoa replaced him at strong-side linebacker. #bears

Sunday's inactives

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Earl Bennett is inactive for today's game against the Packers. Bennett has a sore ankle and although he practiced Friday and was listed as questionable for the game, Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't want to take chances with a receiver who has gotten more valuable as the season has gone on.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Herman Johnson, guard Edwin Williams and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison were also inactive.

Nick Roach will start at strongside linebacker for Pisa Tinoisamoa.

For the Packers, quarterback Graham Harrell, safety Atari Bigby, fullback Korey Hall, linebacker Frank Zombo, guard Nick McDonald and defensive end Cullen Jenkins were inactive. The team also announced the signing of guard/center Evan Dietrich.

Erik Walden will start at right outside linebacker for Frank Zombo.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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