Chicago Sun-Times

October 2011 Archives

Bears might be catching Eagles at the wrong time

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The Bears caught the Philadelphia Eagles at the right place at the right time last season. But after the Eagles routed the Dallas Cowboys 34-7 at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night, it doesn't look like the Bears' timing is quite as fortuitous this time around.

When the Bears played the Eagles last Nov. 28, they were at Soldier Field; the Eagles were coming off an emotional come-from-behind victory over the rival New York Giants in a pivotal game between 6-3 teams that ultimately decided which team would make the playoffs and which would not; and the Eagles were without star cornerback Asante Samuel. The Bears won 31-26 to move to 8-3 en route to the NFC North title.

Just the Bears' luck, the Eagles (3-4) are looking like the "Dream Team" for the first time since a Week 1 victory over the Rams. Nnamdi Asomugha had an interception of Tony Romo and Jason Babin sacked Romo in the first quarter to spark the impressive rout. The Eagles dominated time-of-possession, controlling the ball for 42:09 to just 17:51 for the Cowboys.

Packers game looms large on Bears' road to the playoffs

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The Bears jumped from 14th to 10th in ESPN's weekly NFL power rankings this week. They're the highest ranked 4-3 team -- as they probably should be considering they've played the second toughest schedule in the NFL statistically and ahead of the No. 11 Giants (4-2) and No. 16 Bengals (4-2.)

John Clayton's comment on the Bears was interesting: "By beating the Bucs in London, the Bears ensured they will be in the playoff hunt until the end."

With victories over the other two 4-3 teams in the NFC that essentially give them a one-game lead in a playoff-berth scenario, the Bears should be in then playoff hunt until the end. After playing the Eagles on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia next week, they play four of their next six games at home (Lions, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks) and the two road games are against the Raiders (4-3) and Broncos (2-4).

Rival Lions claim Chris Harris off waivers

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Chris Harris won't have to wait long for a chance to burn his former team. But they won't have to wait long for a chance to burn him, either.

Harris' agent, Albert Elias, has confirmed that the Detroit Lions have claimed the former Bears starting safety, who was released Thursday. The Bears play the Lions on Nov. 13 at Soldier Field.

''It's going to be weird,'' Harris told the Detroit Free Press. ''It's going to be kind of a surreal feeling, but I think it's going to be fun. It's definitely going to be fun.''

Injuries have left the Lions thin at safety. Starters Louis Delmas (hip) and Amari Spievey (hamstring) have both been hurt his season. Vincent Fuller (elbow) was put on injured reserve Friday. Erik Coleman (sprained ankle) was put on injured reserve on Oct. 13. John Wendling, who started for Spievey against the Bears, had a bum knee earlier this season.

Inside look at the Bears snap count

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There's a lot of fancy statistics nowadays, and the website Pro Football Focus has many of them.

But there's a rudimentary one that tells you plenty about how a team views its players. How many snaps do they get?

Here's a look at the snap count of the Bears on offense and defense, courtesy of Pro Football Focus. On an aside, I had a chance to spend time with two of the heads of PFF, Neil Hornsby and Khaled Elsayed, while in London, where they are based. They are passionate about football and, if you are too, you'll love many of the stats they track.


1) Roberto Garza, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams with 459 snaps.

2) Jay Cutler with 453 snaps.

3) Matt Forte with 372 snaps.

4) Devin Hester with 348 snaps.

5) Chris Spencer with 342 snaps.

6) Kellen Davis with 323 snaps.

7) Lance Louis with 276 snaps.

8) Johnny Knox with 273 snaps.

9) Dane Sanzenbacher with 240 snaps.

10) Frank Omiyale with 181 snaps.

11) Roy Williams with 180 snaps.

12) Sam Hurd with 153 snaps.

13) Tyler Klutts with 133 snaps.

14) Matt Spaeth with 114 snaps.

15) Gabe Carimi with 100 snaps.

16) Earl Bennett with 56 snaps.

17) Marion Barber with 47 snaps.

18) Kahlil Bell with 40 snaps.

19) Edwin Williams with 24 snaps.

20) Kyle Adams with 11 snaps.

21) Caleb Hanie with 6 snaps.

When he started working on "Mike Ditka: A Football Life," NFL Films producer Bennett Viseltear figured the central character was carefully crafted.

"I guess, as an outside fan, some of that was an act. Always the tough guy, always Iron Mike Ditka," Viseltear said. "But that's how he is."

As a player, as a coach, as an NFL commentator, Ditka shoots it straight, with nary a filter, and always with a lot of flair.

Viseltear recalled how they were at an ESPN production meeting, and people were preparing plates of food.

"Ditka grabs a burger, no plate, takes a bit, puts it on the table in front of him," Viseltear said. "That's Ditka.

"No frills, no fuss."

"Mike Ditka: A Football Life," premiers Thursday night at 9 p.m. CST on the NFL Network.

It's a terrific peak at an NFL lifer, a Hall of Fame player who then coached one of the greatest teams ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Viseltear, who co-produced it with Steve Seidman, noted that they interviewed Ditka for about three hours and followed him around for many more.

"He's a larger than life guy," Viseltear said. "He's big in person, and he's got a big personality. He can be intimidating, and gruff, but he can be fun too.

"He never refused anything. He was really fun to work with."

Chris Harris: "I got a lot of football ahead of me"

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After his release from the Bears, veteran safety Chris Harris told the Sun-Times that he's confident that he's got "at least three of four years" left in him.

"I got a lot of football ahead of me," he said. "I'm just hoping to get an opportunity somewhere, this year."

On Thursday, as he planned to head out of town during the bye, Harris was surprised when he was informed upon his arrival at Halas Hall to go visit with coach Lovie Smith.

Harris said he visited with Smith for about five minutes, he wasn't told why he went from starter on Sunday to released -- with five other safeties still on the roster -- Thursday.

"I wish I knew," Harris said. "That's the million dollar question everyone wants answered."

Asked why he didn't ask Smith, Harris said, "Me getting answers isn't going to change anything.

"I listened to what he had to say, then I thanked him for giving me the opportunity."

Still, Harris did take exception to Smith questioning his ability to play special teams.

"I played special teams in Carolina," he said. "For someone to say I can't play special teams is wrong. I wasn't asked to play special teams, but I can play them."

Harris said he stepped in for a few plays last season, when someone else got hurt.

Finally, I asked Harris if he's lost a step.

"I don't think that's a legitimate concern, at all. My speed is the same at 2005. I was never a blazer," he said. "But the only thing that's changed is, I'm smarter.

"Am I as athletic as other safeties on this team? No. They're probably more athletic, but athleticism isn't what got me drafted or into the starting lineup. It's because of my smarts."

Still, Harris made clear that he's not bitter.

"It's a business, and I handle it as such," he said. "Disappointed? Yeah. But not bitter. I don't burn any bridges.

"I take the punch, and I keep on moving."

Other teams can claim the remainder of his contract by 4 p.m. Friday.

Lovie Smith explains the release of Chris Harris

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Lovie Smith explained Thursday after a brief practice why the Bears released veteran safety Chris Harris. Here's an unfiltered look at his comments.

Opening statement: "We'll talk about Chris. Chris Harris helped us win a lot of football games around here. One of the guys.

"But, it is a business, and for us, it's about production. We felt like we had some other options that we felt pretty good about, at the safety position. Had a chance to talk to Chris this morning.

"That's never any fun, when you have to go a different direction again, from one of the guys who's been around here for a while. But we did.

"We're excited about the safeties we do have here. You don't make a move like that, unless you feel good about it, and we do."

On the locker room impact: "We have other professionals in the locker room, and I assume that all of our guys are like that. It's about what you can do on the football field; we make decisions based on that. We don't all of a sudden wake up one morning and just say, 'Hey, we're going to go this direction.' It's a pattern. And I feel good about the decision we had to make."

On how Harris handled the news: "He handled it the way you'd expect him to. Chris Harris is a professional. So he handled it the right way. Disappointed, like you would assume all players would be. But he understood. Chris is a guy that has done a lot for us around here. He'll always be a Chicago Bear, but we're moving in a different direction now."

On if Harris' skills declined: "I think it's a combination of a lot of things. But we base things on play, on the field. Chris played the first game. I know he had an injury there, that knocked him out of a couple of the games. But it's the body of work. And just not one thing. Then it's just a gut feeling, as a head football coach. It's a gut feeling for me. I felt like we needed to go in a different direction. Again, I like our options we have here right now."

With Harris out, who else will the Bears cut?

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The last time the Bears cut a player as suddenly as they did Chris Harris on Thursday -- that I can remember anyway -- was in 1998, when Dave Wannstedt was asked at a press conference at Halas Hall about defensive end Mark Thomas, a starter who had been struggling with an injury.

Standing behind a lectern in the media room, Wannstedt turned and looked kind of nervously at media relations director Brian Harlan, then said, in classic Wanny fashion, ''Ahh ... Mark was cut today.''

That surprising news created an immediate buzz in the media room, when WSCR-AM reporter Dan Bernstein stood up and asked one of the best follow-up questions I've ever heard at Halas Hall: ''Was anyone else cut?''

So with that episode in mind, my first response to the sudden demise of Harris was ''Who else will they cut?'' If the Bears are willing to release a veteran less than half a season removed from being named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, who else is in jeopardy?

Bears release Chris Harris

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Days after starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, veteran safety Chris Harris was released by the Bears this morning.

The Bears on Wednesday worked out defensive linemen and two safeties, Darcel McBath and Tom Nelson, who played at Illinois State and is from Arlington Heights. But early indications are the Bears will not fill the roster spot with either of those players.

Harris was expected to return to the bench, when Major Wright got healthy. Wright said earlier in the week he expected to return after the bye.

"I was just released this morning by the Bears," Harris wrote on his Twitter account. "Thank u for the opp to play football n do what I luv. I'm looking toward my next venture."

"This business known as the NFL is a strange one," he wrote. "Chicago I want to thank u for all the luv u have shown me over the yrs. u will b missed."

UPDATE: The Bears website confirmed the news of Harris' release at 9 a.m.

Bears' schedule toughest in NFC -- so far

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Through seven weeks, the Bears have played the toughest schedule in the NFC.

The record of the Bears' first seven opponents is 25-17 (.595). The Cowboys and 49ers (19-13, .594) are next. For what it's worth, the unbeaten Packers have played teams with a combined record of 18-22 (.450).

Five of the Bears' seven opponents are over .500 -- the Packers (7-0), Lions (5-2), Saints (5-2), Falcons (4-3) and Buccaneers (4-3). The Bears also have played the Panthers (2-5) and Vikings (1-6).

Through seven weeks, the Buffalo Bills have played the toughest schedule in the NFL. They're six opponents are a combined 20-11 (.645) against the rest of the NFL. The Bears are second.

Asking Mike Martz how Matt Forte compares to Marshall Faulk seemed kind of silly in August. And while Forte still is not Marshall Faulk -- not even close, really -- through seven games he's playing at a Faulk-like pace. That's not a fluke sample, either.

After seven games, Forte leads the NFL in total yards among non-quarterbacks with 1,091 -- 672 rushing yards on 124 carries (5.4 yards per carry) with two touchdowns; and 419 yards on 38 receptions (11.0 per catch), with one touchdown. He leads the NFL in rushes of 20 yards or more with nine.

So at this moment, comparisons to Faulk aren't unreasonable. He's having that kind of season.

''Well, they're different guys, but they certainly do the same kinds of things,'' Martz said. ''The intelligence there -- the football IQ is off the charts with Matt. You can tell him in the classroom and he has it. He is not one of those guys who you have to go up to and walk through it or anything like that.

Rush offer Terrell Owens a contract

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The Bears haven't expressed an interest in free-agent receiver Terrell Owens, but another Chicago football franchise has.

The Rush announced that they have extended a contract offer to the six-time Pro Bowl receiver for the 2012 season.

"We feel that this is an ideal time to approach the future NFL Hall of Famer," Rush general manager and team resident Gene Nudo said. "It would be a fantastic honor to add Terrell to our current roster for the 2012 season."

One of the concerns about Owens is some of the on- and off-field drama he generates. But the Rush would welcome that.

"Terrell would absolutely complement our current wide receiving corps," Rush coach Bob McMillen said. "His animation and over-the-top energy would be an excellent addition in the locker room, and the Chicago fans would undoubtedly welcome him here in Chicago."

The Rush went so far as to offer a special $81 Flex Plan, in honor of Owens' jersey number. It includes four tickets to a Rush home game, as well as four Rush hats and four Rush Nike Dri-Fit training shirts.

Owens held an open workout on Tuesday but not a single NFL team showed up. Here's an account of it from Pro Football Talk.

During his weekly chat with the Bears website, general manager Jerry Angelo explained why former receiver Bernard Berrian isn't a fit at Halas Hall anymore.

Berrian, who signed a lucrative six-year, $42 million free agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings less than four years ago, was released Tuesday and replaced by a seventh-round draft pick.

His best season with the Vikings was his first, when he had 48 catches for 964 yards and scored seven touchdowns. In the three seasons since, though, Berrian has scored just four touchdowns.

Asked about the interest in Berrian, Angelo said, "Right now we're doing everything we can to get our receivers in a groove.

"We just talked about Roy [Williams]. Then there's Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett will be back now. It's not about the quantity of receivers; it's about the quality.

"What Bernard can do well, we have receivers who can do those same things. We certainly have respect for Bernard and like Bernard. We just don't want to run up and down the starting line because when you bring players in they take reps, and then whose reps does he take?"

The Bears also have undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who leads his team with three receiving touchdowns.

Where the Bears stand heading into the bye

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I've got to pack up and prepare for my 4:45 car to London-Heathrow.

But I wanted to share some thoughts from this side of the pond.

1) The 4-3 Bears are three games behind the undefeated Green Bay Packers. But, they are just a game behind Detroit in the NFC North, because the Lions have lost consecutive games to fall to 5-2. But there are a couple of important things to note. As it stands, the Bears would be the last wildcard. They have the same record as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, but they have the head-to-head edge over both teams. In addition, the Falcons just beat the Lions today, so that may factor in, at some point. The Lions, of course, would be the fifth seed.

2) The arrival date of the Bears and Bucs was much ado about nothing. The Bucs, who arrived Monday, were sluggish. The Bears, meanwhile, arrived Thursday and started strong but faded late. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who didn't play well, said he had "jet lag." Most other players, though, downplayed that a an issue. The Bears had plenty of time to get acclimated. Frankly, I'm sort of sick that I even mentioned this.

3) The Bears offensive line continues to show signs of progress -- without one of its best players, rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi. The improved play of Lance Louis makes things interesting. In fairness, shouldn't he be given a chance to compete with Chris Spencer at right guard? But, Spencer has really played well, despite his right hand injury. He made several key blocks in London. Yes, there were issues in the fourth quarter but those are more learning opportunities for the linemen and other blockers.

4) The Bears defense is coming back to life. Let's dismiss the four interceptions, just for the sake of it. And yes the Bucs top two running backs weren't around for most of the game. But, the Bears still allowed the Bucs to gain just 2.7 yards per carry, a figure that would be much lower if they hadn't given up a 13-yarder to Kregg Lumpkin. The Bears only registered one sack, but they did a nice job pressuring and rushing Josh Freeman, a very dangerous young quarterback. The performance, though, was somewhat spoiled by the two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

5) There's a new one-two punch in Chicago. Matt Forte didn't surprise anyone. He finished with 25 carries for 145 yards, and he also had a key 36-yard catch to set up the team's final field goal. But Marion Barber averaged 6.5 yards per carry, and he scored a 12-yard touchdown. Barber, though, has got to do a better job of catching the ball.

6) Perhaps most important, the Bears are getting healthier. Although Earl Bennett practiced quite a bit last week, the team deactivated him for Sunday's game. Why not give him the extra week to get even stronger? Same goes for Carimi, who may even practice later this week. It would also be important to get some of those defensive linemen back to health, especially Julius Peppers, who has played through the bum knee.

Forte keeps raising the bar for himself -- and Bears

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Roy Williams wasn't surprised that Matt Forte just keeps getting better

''He's the man,'' Williams said after Forte rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and added 38 yards on two receptions in the Bears' 24-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night at Wembley Stadium in London. ''I've said it from Week 1, he's the most valuable player on this football team.''

Actually, that used to be saying something. Not it's stating the obvious. Forte has been even better than that.

How much better?

''I think he's the best player in the NFL right now,'' teammate Brian Urlacher said. ''You look at everything he's done this year. It's just amazing. He's done everything.''

Bears receiver Roy Williams scored a touchdown, and he led his team with 59 receiving yards.

That's good.

But Roy Williams also dropped a pass.

That's bad.

First the good.

Buccaneers cornerback E.J. Biggers tried to press him at the line of scrimmage. Williams got around him, and he got wide open en route to a 25-yard touchdown.

"I got lightning speed, man. Still got it," he said. "I'm 29 years old, and I still got it."

Williams said he expected an inside throw but Jay Cutler tossed it outside instead.

"He threw it away from the safety," Williams said. "He's smarter than me."

But in the first quarter, Williams lamented a drop in the middle of the field. On the next play, Cutler's pass to Marion Barber was deflected and intercepted.

"I made it interesting. My drop led to mistake after mistake," Williams said. "We had the momentum, and my drop led to the interception, and the safety the play after that. So I put that on me. You can't have that.

"I can't say it won't happen again, but it won't happen again."

Either way, Williams acknowledged the significance of the game.

"It was a big win for us, no matter how you win," he said. "They're in the other locker room sad and depressed, and have a long flight. Our flight is a little shorter - might be a little longer but in our eyes will be a little shorter - because we won the game.

"You have to win the ugly ones too."

He's got that right.

Bears have a strong international following

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the "home" team at Wembley Stadium.

But Bears fans are here in force, too.

I saw many on my flight, and I saw even more Bears fans throughout the city -- at all hours. I ran in many who made the trip from Chicago or somewhere else in the U.S.

But I was fascinated by fans of the Bears who are from other parts of the world. I met fans from India, Germany and several other European countries. But the one I got to know best was Keith Wallace, who works for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he became a fan, because of the 1985 Bears. He traveled to the Bears preseason game at Wembley Stadium, and he's been a loyal fan ever since.

He watches all of the games.

But here's what blew me away. He and his wife Lynn named their daughter Devin.

"We agreed on Devin as the name, as he returned the Super Bowl kickoff."

Devin Mitchell is four years old.

His oldest daughter is Tayne, 9.

Click here to see Keith's daughters.
Keith and his family took a six-hour train ride from Scotland to the game. He was among those who met up with me, Michael Wright of ESPN Chicago, Albert Breer of the NFL Network and Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus at Sports Cafe Saturday night.

I was fortunate to buy him a beer.

They are at the game tonight.

Chris Harris back in the starting lineup

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Major Wright didn't last long in the starting lineup again.

The oft-injured second-year safety was listed as probable this week. But he is inactive for today's game.

He'll be replaced in the lineup by veteran Chris Harris, who was deactivated for last week's victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Rookie Chris Conte is still starting at free safety but veteran Brandon Meriweather is active, as well.

Other inactives for the Bears include right tackle Gabe Carimi, defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, receiver Earl Bennett, defensive end Mario Addison and defensive end Corey Wootton.

Bennett, Carimi and Toeaina may return coming out of the bye.

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cornerback Myron Lewis, running back LaGarrette Blount, center Jeff Faine and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are inactive. The latter three are key players for the Bucs.

Jet lag? Bucs have their own travel issues in this game

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LONDON -- The impact of jet lag has been a hot topic as the Bears prepare to play the Buccaneers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. Will the Bears be able to adjust to the six-hour time change after arriving in London on Friday morning? Will the Buccaneers be at an advantage because they've been here for six days?

Maybe they will and maybe they won't. But there are other variables that go into the dynamic of playing overseas in a foreign country and not all of them favor the Buccaneers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a fan forum at a luxurious London hotel. About 130 fans were there, wearing jerseys representing most of the league's team.

The first question was from a Bears fan, who wanted to know if Goodell was open to reconsider the kickoff rule, which has impacted Devin Hester and the Bears.

"It's higher than we thought, quite frankly," Goodell said. "We'd like to see it play out.

"We haven't, in my mind, come up with the best solution yet."

Goodell added that they would re-evaluate the rule, at season's end.

"It's also something we're not going to compromise, and that's player safety," he said.

Goodell also said he did not believe the Bears were among the several teams that have expressed an interest in playing a game in London annually.

Here are other highlights from his presser:

* A Bengals fan asks about the NFL's personal conduct policy, as it relates to former Bears running back Cedric Benson: "Cedric is a great young man. He cannot put himself in a position, where he's going to either be violating the law or put himself in a position where people even accuse him.

"I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. I hope Cedric has a great career, because he's a fine young man."

* On if teams that play in London should come earlier: "Every team is trying to figure out what the right way to do that is, because these games are competitive. These count. We want teams to feel comfortable with the way they're preparing for the game. So we're not as concerned about when they arrive. The fact that they're here playing is a great promotion for their league and their club."

* On if the Bucs have shown an interest in playing annually in London: "They've shown an interest, just by being here two out of three years. We want to get as many teams back here. But if teams are interested in coming back consistency, we'd be willing to look at that.

* On if the Bears have expressed an interest in doing that? "I don't believe so."

Bears take a crack at cricket

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Before a practice Friday at the Surrey County Cricket Club, the Bears visited with some cricket players, who showed them the basics of their sport.

Then, they gave it a shot.

Brian Urlacher had a few nice liners, then he took over pitching duties.

Lance Briggs didn't fare so well, although Urlacher didn't give him much to work with, and Charles Tillman had modest success getting the ball to travel too far.

But Jay Cutler was a natural -- and he lined up as a lefty.

A decorated baseball player in high school, Cutler hit the cricket ball -- made of solid leather with a rubber core -- a decent distance in the air.

Click here for the video of Cutler.

LONDON -- Less than 48 hours until kickoff, and the game between the Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium is selling well.

Because of the lockout, ticket sales didn't start until September. But about 75,000 tickets are accounted for, which is about 9,000 short of capacity for an American football game.

This, however, doesn't reflect poorly on the NFL here.

A Sept. 6 match between England and Wales had an attendance of 77,128, about 13,000 short of capacity. And the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final between Wigan and Leeds had an attendance of 78,482, which means there were about 12,000 empty seats.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster by clicking here

UPDATE: According to Pro Football Talk, last year's game between the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers had an official attendance of 83,941. In 2010, the game between the New England Patriots and Bucs had 84,254.

Lovie Smith pitches NyQuil/ DayQuil

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Bears coach Lovie Smith turns down endorsement opportunities.

But he couldn't think of any reason to pass when NyQuil and DayQuil came calling.

"For me, I don't do a lot," Smith said. "But it's easy because it's a product that I use.

"They approached us, with their theme about, "There are no sick days for an NFL coach.' As a coach, you don't miss for any reason, so you need something to help you go to work."

Smith and his son Matt, who helped finalize the deal, traveled to Vancouver in May to shoot the commercial.

"I just loved doing the commercial," he said. "We had a blast."

A man of few words, Smith doesn't utter a single word in the commercial, although there are scenes of him on the sideline and in front of a white board, talking to his players. The best part, though, is him snoring and sleeping, in his Bears pajamas, with NyQuil on his nightstand.

Smith recalled how NyQuil was a part of his life growing up in Texas.

"They didn't have a Day Quil," he said. "The green cups. Yes. Vivid [memories]."

Jay Cutler said he doesn't regret telling offensive coordinator Mike Martz, ''[Bleep] you'' during the Bears' victory over the Vikings on Sunday night, but added that it's all part of competitors being competitive in the heat of battle.

''Things happen You guys were fighting in the hallways last week,'' he said Wednesday, referring to an altercation between rival reporters in the media room at Halas Hall. ''I'm not going to make a big deal of this. It's not a big deal. We're all in the same team in this building. We're going to try and win football games.''

Buccaneers Raheem Morris: Peppers 'a pain in the neck'

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris has not-so-found memories of Julius Peppers tormenting the Bucs twice a year when Peppers was with the Carolina Panthers.

Peppers has 15 1/2 sacks in 15 career games against the Buccaneers. The Panthers were 10-5 overall with Peppers, 6-2 when he had a sack, 4-3 when he did not.

''He's been a pain in the neck for us, man,'' said Morris, who has been with the Buccaneers for all but one season since 2002, when Peppers was a rookie. ''He's an awesome player He always finds a way to make plays happen. He always find s a way to get his hands on the ball ... and hit your quarterback. He is certainly one of the premier ends in the league, if not the best.''

Bucs hope early arrival in London gives them an edge

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Will previous experience give the Buccaneers an edge over the Bears for their game at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday?

The Bears and Buccaneers are taking different logistical approaches for the NFL's annual international game in the United Kingdom. The Buccaneers arrived on Monday night and will conduct their entire preparation in England. The Bears are practicing Wednesday and Thursday at Halas Hall and will arrive in London on Friday morning after flying overnight.

The Buccaneers played in the London game in 2009 -- and lost to the New England Patriots 35-7. Coach Raheem Morris notes they were not a very good team -- the Bucs were 0-6 at the time; the Patriots were the Patriots. But the previous experience did play a part in the decision to arrive earlier this time.

''I just wanted to get these guys acclimated quicker than we did the last time,'' Morris said from Penny Hill Park near London, where the Buccaneers are practicing. ''Get these guys in the city, situated in their hotel rooms. Kind of having the ability to be out here on your off day and see the city, get all that stuff out of your system, and get right into your game week and right to your planning and having the guys in a little better situation than the last time.''

Roy Williams says he's "feeling good"

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It was hardly a dominant effort. But Roy Williams had his best game with the Bears since the season opener, catching three passes for 50 yards in the rout of the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday night.

But health may factor into his success.

"I'm all the way there. I'm back," Williams told me. "I'm feeling good."

That's important, since the last time I spoke to him, he said he was inching toward 90 percent. Williams had been slowed with a groin injury, off and on. He looked smooth against the Vikings.

And while he only had three catches, they were important ones, especially in setting the tone for the Bears offense.

"It was a good Bears win, all around," he said. "We scored in all three phases."

Asked if there was anything special about the chemistry between he and Jay Cutler, Williams said, "Just throw and catch.

"That's it."

If only it were that simple for the Bears.

Brandon Meriweather stays positive, after demotion

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Bears safety Brandon Meriweather refuses to make excuses, although he was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 2.

"I'm not an excuse maker. I feel, if you throw me in a situation, I'll come out feet first," he said. "I landed on my head, on this one. But it's still a long season. I'm hoping everything will get better, in time."

Meriweather acknowledged that the safeties have been giving up to many big plays and coaches have to act accordingly. Last week, he and Chris Harris were benched, and rookie Chris Conte and Major Wright started at the safety spots.

"The decision they made, of course I'm not happy about it. But I got to understand," he said. "It's a business. It's a, 'What have you done for me lately' business.

"I'm sure, sooner or later, I'll be back out there. I just have to be patient, and get back to the basics."

The Bears may want to consider putting him back in the lineup for the upcoming game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London. In 2009, when he was with the New England Patriots, Meriweather intercepted two passes -- returning one of them for a 39-yard touchdown -- in a 35-7 rout of the Bucs.

Asked about his favorite part of the trip to London, he said, "The game was the highlight for me."

He said players will have fun there.

"It's something new. A lot of guys don't even leave the country, that often," he said. "So when you get a chance, you get to enjoy it."

Matt Forte's agent insists his client focused on season

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With a report suggesting that teams may be interested in his client, agent Adisa Bakari insisted Matt Forte is focused on the current season.

The Chicago Tribune reported that teams have expressed an interest in Forte but ESPN Chicago quoted Bears general manager Jerry Angelo as saying no teams had contacted him about his star running back.

"Matt's a Bear and wants to remain a Bear," Bakari said. "We're unaware of any teams expressing an interest to trade for him by today's deadline. Matt's focused on continuing to help the Bears win in 2011."

I had the pleasure of writing about Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who has a great perspective on life because of his daughter Tiana. Click here to read the story from Sunday.

On Monday night, at Morton's The Steakhouse in Northbrook, Tillman hosted a Cornerstone Foundation event there.

It was bigger than last year's event at Morton's in downtown Chicago, he said.

"We have the entire restaurant," he said. "And I have more [teammates] than last year."

Bears on hand were: Matt Forte, to Johnny Knox, Matt Toeaina, Corey Graham, Caleb Hanie, Craig Steltz, Anthony Adams, Frank Omiyale, D.J. Moore, Tim Jennings and Brandon Meriweather.

Moore was the funniest, poking fun at one attendee by calling him Jerry Rice.

"I bussed tables and washed dishes, so this is a step up for me," Omiyale said of serving food from a platter.

All the players I talked to were relieved about the dominant victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

But there was definitely a buzz about Chris Harris asking to be traded.

"He's a great friend and a great teammate. He's a key figure for the defense," Tillman said. "But Chris Harris has to do what's best for him and his family. Teams make business moves all the time."

Tillman said Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte "held their own."

As for Meriweather, he was surprised when I asked him about Harris' trade request.

"I didn't know that. Wow," he said. "I just tried to call Chris.

"Chris is a great player, and he's a smart player and fun to be around. He's one of the ones I'm closest to on the team. I hope Chris gets to play one year with me and we can go through the bumps and bruises together. I'm one of those people who likes people to stay together."

Chris Harris "felt disrespected"

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It seemed like a knee jerk reaction, when safety Chris Harris asked the Bears to allow him to seek a trade, a day after he was deactivated.

But context is important in understanding where he is coming from.

A sixth-round pick in 2005, Harris was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a fifth-round pick in August 2007. He started 15 games for the Panthers, finished with 101 tackles and he led the league with eight forced fumbles.

During the 2010 offseason, the Panthers were considering a trade of Harris, then the Bears entered the picture. They wanted him back... except at a discount.

"I knew the scheme, and the players, and coaches, and I felt I had a good chance of winning," Harris told the Sun-Times Monday. You can call it loyal, or dumb or naïve. But I did it."

Instead of making a little more than $2 million in 2010, Harris accepted a pay cut from the Bears to $800,000. Then, in 2011, instead of $2.4 million, Harris would make about $1.5 million.

So, in all, Harris lost $2.1 million to re-join the Bears.

After he struggled against the Detroit Lions, Harris was surprised to be inactive for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

"Yeah, I felt disrespected by being inactive," Harris said.

"It's a business move, just like they made a business move," Harris said later. "It's nothing personal. I feel they have shown that they are moving in a different direction, and I'm apparently not a part of the future plans."

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon, and the Bears have given Harris' agent Albert Elias a chance to explore options elsewhere.

"I'm pretty sure the percentage of a trade going down are not very high, considering the amount of time we have," Harris said. "But crazier things have happened."

If a trade doesn't come to fruition, Harris insisted he won't be a distraction in any way.

"I'm going to be right there doing my job and being a good teammate and being a professional," Harris said. "I have a strong bond with a lot of guys on the team. So I want to see them succeed and do well."

Bears not too concerned about Devin Hester injury

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Bears receiver Devin Hester, who scored two touchdowns Sunday night, didn't finish the game because of a chest injury.

But Bears coach Lovie Smith downplayed the severity of it Monday.

"Shouldn't be serious," he said. "We're going to put it in the bumps and bruises section."

Receiver Earl Bennett has missed four games with a chest injury. But his is considered far more serious than Hester's.

Bennett fully participated in last Friday's practice, although he was inactive against the Minnesota Vikings.

Asked more about Hester's injury, Smith said, "Whenever Devin Hester isn't on the field and doesn't finish, I'm concerned.

"But we weren't too concerned about it and we aren't still."

In the normal context of most NFL games, Jay Cutler yelling to somebody on the Bears sideline ''Tell him I said [bleep] you" or something close to that would be as inconsequential as Lovie Smith says it was Sunday night when Jay Cutler profanely vented an expletive after breaking the huddle in the Bears-Vikings game.

Tempers flare in the heat of battle in many professions. Just the other day in the media room at Halas Hall, one reporter told a competitor, ''[Bleep] you, bitch!'' in a rare heated exchange. Columnists from the same paper have had to be separated by cooler heads. It happens.

But the context of Cutler's ire makes it at least seem like it was more than just creative tension. As often as these disagreements supposedly happen in the NFL, how often do they happen when your team is winning 23-3? And how often do they happen on the field when a quarterback is getting ready to run a play? Don't those things usually happen on the sideline?

Chris Harris' agent: "It's nothing personal"

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The agent for safety Chris Harris insisted the opportunity to shop for a new club isn't personal and downplayed any problems if his client remains with the Bears.

"Jerry is a mentor to me. We go back a long way," agent Albert Elias said. "He does things the right way.

"This was a situation where I wasn't happy, and I had to represent my client. At the end of the day, we shook hands, hugged each other and moved on. It's nothing personal. It's business," Elias said.

Asked if Harris would create any problems if he stayed on the team, Elias said, "No.

"Chris will be a head coach one day. We're not just going to be traded to any team. All we wanted was an opportunity. If it doesn't work out, then Chris will be a back up and support his team."

Impressive rout of Vikings a small step for 3-3 Bears

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Julius Peppers, a steady voice of reason in the Bears' locker room, said it best:

''It's something to build it. We're not there yet,'' Peppers said after the Bears' 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at Soldier Field.

An impressive rout of a 1-4 team at home was nothing more than that, and nothing less. This is exactly who the Bears are this season -- good enough, well-rounded enough and well-coached enough to take full advantage of a favorable situation. But change the dynamic at all -- like on the road, in a dome, against a quarterback in his prime -- and the Bears are a hit-or-miss proposition at best. It's hard to knock five sacks and a safety, but until they do that against the Lions in Ford Field -- like the 49ers did Sunday -- all you've really done is held serve.

Chris Harris will ask Bears to trade him

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If he gets his way, Chris Harris will not be with the Bears much longer.

Harris will ask the Bears to trade him before the official deadline Tuesday afternoon, according to a source familiar with the situation. ESPN Chicago first reported the story.

It's been a roller coaster for Harris.

He started the season, but he injured his hamstring in the season opener and missed the next three games. Then, he returned to the lineup against the Detroit Lions but struggled. He was benched last week but expected to serve in a backup role.

Hours before kickoff, though, he was informed that he wouldn't even be active.

"If you're not in the starting lineup, you have to be able to play special teams. We base the rest of those positions on special teams," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked about Harris Sunday night. "It's how we've always done it. We'll continue to do it that way.

"When you say special teams are important, you have to have some guys that you feel like can do the job there. That was the main reason Chris didn't dress."

Several teams have a need at safety, including playoff contenders like the the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.

The Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks also could use some help at the position.

Will Bears trade Chris Harris?

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The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 18.

I suspect there's a chance that the Bears will ship safety Chris Harris elsewhere before then.

There's a clear divide between player and club.

Harris intercepted five passes last season, and he was named an All-Pro. But the Bears have treated him like a rent-a-player, drafting yet another safety (Chris Conte) and not making much of an effort to re-sign him to a contract, since his current deal expires after this season.

He was sidelined for three games, and his play was seemingly missed. But, in a start against the Detroit Lions, he and Brandon Meriweather had rough games, and they were both benched during the week.

The surprise, however, is that Harris was also inactive.

He wasn't available for comment, but Harris had some interesting posts on his Twitter account.

At 12:10, he wrote, "It's a beautiful day for football."

Then, about four hours later, he wrote, "... God will never put more on you than you can bear."

At 5:11, he wrote, "Most difficulties we face [are] pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things."

Then, after the game, he wrote, "Speak to me Lord!"

In the end, if given a chance, the Bears may take anything for Harris.

Bears coach Lovie Smith suggested Harris didn't play because he doesn't play special teams.

"That was the main reason Chris didn't dress," Smith said.

There, of course, has to be more. And if so, since he'll be a free-agent after the season anyway, the Bears may find a suitor who is thin at the position.

Behind starters Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte is Harris, Meriweather, Craig Steltz and undrafted rookie Anthony Walters.

Peppers active, Chris Harris out for Vikings game

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In a rare move that's not that surprising but still notable, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers will be active for tonight's game against the Vikings after being downgraded to doubtful on Friday.

The move appears to be a not-so-veiled attempt at retribution for the shenanigans the Vikings pulled on the Bears last year, when Brett Favre was listed as "out" on Friday, upgraded to "questionable" on Saturday and "started" on Monday night. So technically, Peppers has gotten healthier in the two days before game time than Favre.

That was just one facet of one of the most newsworthy inactive lists in a long time. Chris Harris, demoted from his starting strong safety position after last week's loss to the Lions, isn't even active against the Vikings.

Who wins tonight?

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The Bears and Minnesota Vikings are both desperate teams.

Whoever loses gets sole possession of last place in the NFC North, where the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are already 6-0.

I picked the Bears to win tonight because the weakness of the defense is against the pass, and Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb has really, really struggled this season. He's completing just under 57 percent of his passes, and he's been one-hopping a lot of balls.

So, if he goes off for 300 yards, then the Bears should start sounding the panic alarms.

The key for the Bears offense will be to get in third and manageable situations. They haven't been very good at it, so far this season. But if they consistently face third and long, then Viking defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison will be able to go after Jay Cutler.

There was a lot of urgency from key players on both teams.

A victory for either team won't be celebrated too much. But a loss would be devastating.

I have Bears 20-17.

What's your prediction?

Peppers doubtful, might not play against Vikings

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Bears coach Lovie Smith said defensive end Julius Peppers did not practice and has been downgraded to doubtful for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field because of a sprained knee he suffered against the Lions on Monday night.

It appears Nick Reed would replace Peppers if he can't play. Corey Wootton is a possibility, but he is recovering from a broken hand.

''We've downgraded Julius Peppers to doubtful,'' Smith said after practice on Friday at Halas Hall. ''He wasn't able to do anything today. Still hopeful. When a guy doesn't practice at all during the week, we're not too optimistic, but we'll see.''

Angela Torma isn't from Chicago, and she didn't quite know what to expect when she and NFL Films co-producer Steve Lucatuorto were tasked to capture the life of late Bears running back Walter Payton.

But when she headed to Chicago for the Payton family's annual "Sweetness Run," Torma quickly realized how much of an impact he had on his countless fans, including one who travels annually from California.

"Just the turnout, 10 years after he died," Torma said, when asked what stood out to her the most. "Just to see how many people still love this man.

"Not being from Chicago, it's really surprising but to see it firsthand was amazing."

Tonight, the NFL Network will air "Walter Payton: A Football Life," a 46-minute documentary.
It's beautifully done, featuring a number of memorable interviews, from Ashton Kutcher to Ray Lewis to Jim Brown and his wife, Connie, and their two children, Brittany and Jarrett. There are jaw-dropping highlight runs, and there are tear-inducing snippets, like Jarrett hugging his father, after he breaks down during his press conference to announce to the world that he had a rare liver disease in February 1999.

Torma and Lucatuorto didn't paint him as perfect, addressing his disappointment of not scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl and alluding to his post-career challenges, whether with his family or his health.

Frustrated Urlacher confident Bears can fix defense

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Even Brian Urlacher is a little bewildered by the Bears' struggling defense this season. The Bears have dropped from ninth to 23rd in total offense, from second to 28th in rushing defense and fourth to 17th in points allowed. And they've already allowed touchdown plays of 88, 79 and 73 yards -- longer than anything they allowed last season.

"That hasn't happened around here in a long time,'' Urlacher said before practice Thursday. ''We're steady. We don't give up a lot of big plays. We make teams grind it out, long drives to score on us. It just hasn't worked out that way for some reason. We've made some mistakes, mental errors and they've gotten big plays on us."

Some fans and other critics see it as a sign the Bears' defense is getting old, but Urlacher insisted the Bears aren't dead yet.

"It's fixable,'' he said. ''We have players to do our defense. The mental errors and mistakes are just killing us right now. We've got to fix those.''

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFC with 498 rushing yards, watched ESPN's Monday Night Football game with interest, especially with Detroit's Jahvid Best having a career night.

"Of course you get excited, when you see the team you're playing get gashed," Peterson said today at the Minnesota Vikings' headquarters. "But, then again, in reality, maybe those opportunities won't be there. Maybe they will."

He's obviously hoping for the latter.

Peterson, though, has tremendous respect for the Bears defense.

"Those guys like to try and create turnovers, by trying to punch the ball out. They've been doing that for years," he said. "They're an aggressive defense; they swarm to the ball.

"It's pretty much the same defense, the same faces."

Except the Bears defense is struggling, ranked 29th in the NFL.

"You notice some holes, and you look forward to try and take advantage of those. But that was last week," Peterson said. "One thing I've learned: you can't get caught up in, 'Well, the Bears are 28th ranked run defense.' Kansas City was [28th], and I only had [80] yards.' So you can't get caught up in that, at all."

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was lauded for his low-risk/high-reward additions to the roster after the NFL lockout ended. But after five games, the best thing you can say about them is that the Bears didn't waste a ton of money.

Wide receiver Roy Williams has six receptions for 83 yards and no touchdowns. For whatever reason, the lack of a rapport with quarterback Jay Cutler is palpable. As difficult as it is to quantify an abstract effect, it's easy to see Cutler has little confidence in Williams.

Safety Brandon Meriweather has had the difficult task of learning the Bears' defense in an even shorter period of time -- he was signed on Sept. 4, one week before the first game of the regular season. But he's been like a back-up sump pump that fails. Since becoming a starter in Week 2 after injuries to Chris Harris and Major Wright, Meriweather has more negative impact plays than positive ones.

Changes could be in store for 2-3 Bears

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Lovie Smith is always hard to read because, more than most coaches who don't want to give anything away, he tries to throw you off the trail But he hinted at lineup or rotation changes this week as the Bears face a must-win game against the 1-4 Vikings at Soldier Field.

''There's always a chance,'' Smith said when asked about personnel changes. ''We evaluate the performance from the last game. There are some things we didn't like form the last game. The coaching staff has to do a better job. Starting with us.

''From there it's all about performance on the football field. We're not pleased with some of the performances we've gotten. I never talk about changes we're going to make, before we hit the practice field and talk to the guys. But it's always a chance of that.''

Julius Peppers and Matt Toeaina have sprained knees

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The depth of the Bears defensive line will be tested this week.

Julius Peppers and Matt Toeaina both sprained their knees against the Detroit Lions Monday night. But Toeaina's sprained knee is expected to sideline him for a couple of weeks. Peppers, meanwhile, has what head coach Lovie Smith called a "minor" knee sprain.

"We're monitoring it," Smith said of Peppers' injury. "Knee is still sore today. Don't know exactly when he'll be able to go, but hopefully by Friday he'll be able to do some things and he'll be able to go this weekend."

Peppers hurt his knee on the final play of the first quarter, when he tackled running back Jahvid Best for a one-yard gain.

Peppers tested the knee on the first play of the second quarter, he hobbled off the field and headed for the locker room.

On the second play of the quarter, on third and eight, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed a 73-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson. On the play, Stafford wasn't pressured. Nick Reed was in the lineup in place of Peppers.

Peppers played through the injury in the second half but also wasn't on the field for the 88-yard touchdown run by Best in the third quarter.

With Peppers and Toeaina hurt, the Bears are going to count on young linemen to step up. Corey Wootton should be ready to contribute while second-round pick Stephen Paea could be active for the first time this season.

In other injury news, Gabe Carimi is not expected to be ready to play Sunday. And since Frank Omiyale has been benched the last two games, the Bears may look at Lance Louis to start there.

The Bears lamented the injury and absence of Earl Bennett, but he's also not expected to be ready to play against the Vikings.

Just before the regular season, the Bears best offer to running back Matt Forte was believed to be worth about $6 million per year, with $13 to $14 million guaranteed.

On Monday, before kickoff of the Lions-Bears, general manager Jerry Angelo made clear that Forte was the team's top priority.

"We anticipated Matt having a great season like he's having. It isn't new. That's why we did what we did," Angelo said. "I don't want that message to get lost, that we were trying to do something before we felt Matt was going to be good."

But there's a difference between good and great.

That's the fundamental issue between the two sides. It's unclear how much Forte wanted, but Angelo noted in several instances during the preseason that Forte was not an unrestricted free agent.

In the NFL, a deal that averages about $6 million a season gets a running back closer to good than great. Consider that Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams get an average of $8.6 million on their latest deals, while Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson average over $13 and $14 million, respectively.

So is Peterson worth more than twice what Forte is?

But here's another way to look at why Forte balked at the Bears offer, even though he's making $600,000 this season. San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore got a deal that averaged $7 million a year -- back in March 2007.

Gore is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but he's played all 16 games just once in his six previous NFL seasons and has not been as statistically productive as Forte, which has been documented. Before the start of this regular season, Gore signed another three-year extension that averages $7 million and includes $13.5 million in guarantees.

Even Forte's backup, Marion Barber, landed a contract that averaged $6.5 from the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, when the club projected he'd be a featured back. Barber, though, six

Bears lead league with 17 false starts

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The Bears offense is struggling. But, the unit is complicating matters with offside and false start penalties.

According to STATS, the Bears lead the league with 17 offsides/ false starts on offense and special teams. The league average is six, and the Seattle Seahawks are second worst with 12.

On Monday night, in Detroit, the Bears offensive players were flagged for eight false starts - more than 25 NFL teams had committed for the season, through Sunday's games.

The Green Bay Packers have the third-most false starts, with 10. But the Packers and Seahawks have both played three of five games on the road.

The Bears, meanwhile, have hosted three of five games at Soldier Field. Yes, the Bears played at the Superdome, which is notoriously loud. But, the Houston Texans were flagged for just one false start in a 40-33 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

At Ford Field, in a blowout loss, the Kansas City Chiefs committed one false start. But the Bears offense was flagged for eight of them Monday.

Overall, J'Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale lead the way with five false starts each, while tight end Kellen Davis has two. For perspective, Omiyale and Webb have more false starts apiece than a dozen teams.

I definitely have to look at myself and where I'm at right now," Omiyale said. "I have to dig deep and get better.'"

Chris Williams, Matt Forte and Devin Hester have one apiece. Chris Conte and Pat Mannelly have them on special teams.

Angelo on Cutler deal: 'I would do it all over again'

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In retrospect, two first-round draft picks seems like a high price to pay for Jay Cutler (though the Bears did mitigate that cost by getting Johnny Knox with the fifth-round pick that was part of the deal). The Houston Texans only spent two second-round picks on Matt Schaub -- and he's been in the top 10 in passer rating the past three seasons.

But Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was steadfast in his belief that even though Cutler is mired in the middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks since joining the Bears, he's still the quarterback he traded for in 2008.

''I would do it all over again,'' Angelo said in a meeting with Bears reporters prior to Monday night's 24-13 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. ''You can't play in this league without one. You don't take a guy that was tried-and-tested, 25 years old, [coming off] a Pro Bowl, tough market to play in, he understood the NFL, I would do it all over again.

What else could Frank Omiyale say?

''He just beat me off the snap. Once he got in there, I couldn't take him over. He did get me,'' the affable veteran right tackle said when asked about the fourth-and-one play that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blew up almost single-handedly in the Bears' 24-13 loss to the Lions on Monday night at Ford Field.

It was that kind of night for the Bears. The biggest mistakes were so obvious, it was awkward to ask for answers because you know they were pretty simple: They just got beat.

Where was Johnny Knox?

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Johnny Knox started ahead of Roy Williams on Monday night, against the Detroit Lions.

And while I haven't had a chance to count up total plays, or even make an estimate, it appeared Knox's snap count wasn't very high. Sam Hurd, it seemed, got considerably more snaps than usual.

That may have been due to the Bears hope of running the ball more.

Ultimately, though, Knox caught the two passes targeted for him for 17 yards.

Rookie Dane Sanzenbacher was the most targeted player, catching six of the 10 passes for 64 yards. But, his longest play was just 15 yards, and he had at least one drop.

Devin Hester caught five of seven for 32 yards, including the 26-yarder.

Matt Forte caught four of seven for 35 yards.

Kellen Davis caught all three passes targeted for him for 25 yards, including a touchdown.

And Roy Williams, Matt Spaeth, Marion Barber and Tyler Klutts caught one ball apiece.

Hurd, meanwhile, caught four of five passes intended for him for 50 yards.

Asked if there was any indication that he might play a lot Monday, Hurd said, "It just happened.

"Things they did on defense, made us get into a lot of four wide receivers. I guess we just matched up well in certain situations."

Brian Urlacher: "Defensively, we stink"

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It isn't a surprise that the Bears offensive line is struggling.

With only modest changes, and first-round pick Gabe Carimi sidelined since the first half of the game in New Orleans, the Bears offensive line has been dogged once again.

But the dismal play of the Bears defense has been a surprise.

A unit that finished 9th last season and expected to challenge to be the league's best posted another forgettable game.

"Defensively, we stink. We can't stop the run, we can't stop the pass," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

He then described the 88-yard touchdown run by Jahvid Best.

"The quarterback took a snap, he handed it to the guy, and he ran 88 yards without being touched," Urlacher said. "That's what I saw. I don't know why it happened, but that's what I saw."

Undisciplined. Not physical enough. Those were among the concerns in the Bears locker room.

"We're not disciplined," outside linebacker Lance Briggs said. "We're not disciplined."

Asked what's most disappointing, he said, "Big plays.


Bears to start Omiyale at RT, Louis at RG vs. Lions

Frank Omiyale kept his starting job at right tackle for Monday night's game against the Lions at Ford Field.

Omiyale, who was replaced by Lance Louis in the second of last week's game against the Carolina Panthers, will start at right tackle, with Louis replacing the injured Chris Spencer (broken right hand) at right guard.

Spencer still is active for the game. Wide receiver Earl Bennett (chest bruise) is inactive and will miss his third consecutive game. The Bears' other inactive players are right tackle Gabe Carimi, running back Kahlil Bell, defensive ends Corey Wootton and Mario Addison, defensive tackle Stephen Paea and quarterback Nate Enderle.

The Lions inactives are safety Amari Spievey, wide receiver Rashied Davis, quarterback Drew Stanton, safety Erik Coleman, running back Jerome Harrison, tackle Jason Fox and linebacker Justin Durant. Bobby Carpenter, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the Lion's comeback victory over the Cowboys last week, will start for Durant. John Wendling will start for Spievey at strong safety.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo made clear that running back Matt Forte was the team's No. 1 priority before this season.

But, after not being able to work out a new deal, Angelo didn't sound like a man ready to initiate another round of talks anytime soon.

"There really is nothing new," Angelo said before Monday's kickoff against the Detroit Lions. "I think we did our very best.

"Right now, our focus is on the season."

Angelo made clear that the Bears wanted to sign Forte to an extension, because of his talent, so his strong start doesn't surprise him.

Last week, Forte's agent Adisa Bakari told me that the longer this process drags on, the more difficult a new deal becomes.

"We've stated from the very beginning that the longer we wait, the more difficult and complicated it becomes," Bakari told me. "Matt, to date, is performing at an ultra-elite level, and that's an indisputable reality."

Here's a link to my column from last week.

Motor City Madness

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DETROIT -- I'm at my hotel in downtown Detroit, and I've walked and driven around town.

I'm quite familiar with the D because my wife is from here, and I've visited at least once a year for 14 years.

With all that said, I can say with confidence that people here are amped up. The Detroit Free Press perfectly captured the excitement with its headline.

The two other times I've covered the Bears-Lions at Ford Field, it was almost like an alternate home game for the Bears. But I suspect that won't be the case tonight, since tickets sold out quickly here.

I got a chance to gauge the pulse of the excitement at ESPN's Chalk Talk luncheon, which was heled at an atrium at Ford Field.

How big was it?

Big enough that Lions legend Barry Sanders was on hand.

Given this franchise's long-documented struggles -- most notably an 0-16 season -- Sanders has more invested than most in the Lions.

"For a lot of us Lions fans, this is the type of beginning we've been hoping for, for a long time," Sanders said. "It's good to see the impact players that you put a lot of hope and expectation in, make big plays and coming through for the team.

"This city deserves it. We've been very patient, and hopefully we can just keep it up."

Bears vs. unbeaten Lions: The Great Unknown

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DETROIT -- Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, making a leaping catch in the end zone to beat the Dallas Cowboys last week.

What it doesn't show is Johnson using both hands to secure the ball as he he fell hard on his back with the Cowboys' Terrance Newman defending him to complete the ''process of the catch'' and all but clinch the come-from-behind victory.

The Lions have learned from their mistakes since Jim Schwartz took over as their head coach in 2009. And a lot of those hard lessons have fueled their sudden turnaround from perennial NFL patsy to NFC contender.

''We're excited about playing this week and we realize the magnitude of this game,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''I didn't have to give them a George Halas speech to get them going [this week]. I think all that's in pretty good shape.''

The challenge for the Bears (2-2) against the Lions (4-0) at Ford Field tonight is raising their game to the appropriate level. Sometimes you prepare to take down an upstart on an early season roll, only to find you're up against a team of destiny.

Where things stand in the NFC North

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For a while last night, it looked like the Atlanta Falcons were going to do the Bears a huge favor.

The Bears beat the Falcons in the season opener, and the Falcons jumped out to a 14-0 lead against the Green Bay Packers.

But the Packers scored the next 25 points to rally for a victory and move to 5-0.

The win, though, was a costly one for the Packers. They lost offensive tackle Chad Clifton to a ghastly looking right hamstring injury.

Simply put, the Bears can't afford to lose tonight at Ford Field. With a win, the Lions would move to 5-0, and the Bears would fall three games behind two teams in the division. That would also put them in dismal shape in the wildcard race.

Yes, it's very early. But the Bears need to start playing better on defense and especially offense as they enter a crucial stretch. After the Lions, the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.

The Vikings snapped a four-game losing streak with a 34-10 beating of the Arizona Cardinals at the Metrodome.

Beyond wins and losses, these next two games for the Bears are both in primetime: tonight on ESPN's Monday Night Football and then NBC's Sunday Night Football.

If the Bears can win, then they would also be right back in the Wildcard mix. Based on current records -- if they can get to 3-2 -- they'd be tied with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final Wildcard spot.

Defense determined to make marked improvements

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Although he's missed the last three games, Bears safety Chris Harris expressed his frustration with a defense that's ranked second to last in the NFL.

"Being the 31st ranked defense after four [weeks] is disgusting," Harris wrote on his Twitter account. "It makes [you] stop, step back and look in the mirror. We will get that fixed."

The Bears have looked pretty awful, particularly for most of the last three games. They played solid in the first half against the New Orleans Saints and in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers. But they've been gashed on the ground and through the air.

"It hasn't been typical of the type of defense that we play, or we're supposed to play to be successful. Or to be one of the top defenses in the NFL," Lance Briggs said. "The only warning signs are when you turn on the tape, and you see the mistakes. And the fact that guys aren't in their gaps. Guys aren't playing as violent as we need them to play. There are things we need to do defensively that starts right here."

After practice Thursday, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz reminisced about one of his greatest proteges, quarterback Kurt Warner.

During the offseason, Martz was interviewed for the NFL Network special, "Kurt Warner: A Football Life," which debuts tonight at 9 p.m. CST.

"The one thing I know about Kurt is, he will always surprise you," Martz said in the special.

I've talked to Warner on a number of occasions, often about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. He's talked about how demanding Martz is but how rewarding his football knowledge is.

Martz is a lightning rod figure here in Chicago, given the struggles of the Bears offense.

But each of his key former players I've talked to vouch for his "genius" reputation.

For instance, receiver Torry Holt said Martz's offense works -- but at a price, usually to the quarterback.

"I've seen quarterbacks get beat up," Holt told me. "I've played in this system.

"That's a concern in itself," Holt said, referring to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. "Can it be fixed? Yes. Who will fix it? Hopefully them -- and soon."

Could this be Matt Forte's last season as a Bear?

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In a column I wrote in Thursday's paper, I quoted Matt Forte's agent on the status of contract negotiations with the Bears, and I explained why this could be headed toward an ugly offseason.

(You can view the column by clicking here)

It could end up like the Greg Olsen situation, with the club unable -- or unwilling -- to give the player a new contract and electing to trade him, so they don't walk away empty-handed.

Here, though, are some of Forte's comments today.

"I'm not out here playing just for the heck of it," Forte said. "I play because I love the sport and also because I want my teammates to respect me and the work ethic that I put into the game.

"I just hope to turn some heads around here. Obviously, the guys upstairs think of me in a certain way. Hopefully, I turn their heads around about that."

Asked if his situation could turn out better because of the season he's having, Forte said, "Yeah, I think so, if I just continue to do that.

"If the Bears don't value me, hopefully another team will."

So what's the difference between he and the club?

"Basically, what I was saying was I figured with the contract situation that you look at guys' productivity and you look at the guys that he's matched to," Forte said. "And if you like at mine and the elite status of other backs that are around the same amount of production, what I'm saying is, they must not think that I'm elite because they don't want to pay me on that same level as some of the other guys."

Bears cornerback Zack Bowman works out with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, because the two were college teammates at Nebraska.

But Bowman said Suh has gotten progressively more aggressive over the years and added that the Bears need to "keep an eye out" on him.

"I wish I was out there. I would get into Suh's face for Jay [Cutler]," Bowman said. "We got to keep an eye out on him [Suh] because he will do something nasty - not like disgusting - but cheap shot, cheap hit, because he is kind of known for that."

Asked if Suh is a dirty player, Bowman said, "That's his attitude, that's his mentality.

"Obviously, that's the type of player he wants to be in this league. He has a reputation for it, and it fits him well. And if it ain't broke, why fix it. And some teams do fear him."

Bowman said Suh started to develop that reputation in his junior and senior seasons at Nebraska.

"You could start to see it," Bowman said, "and now it's out of control."

But Bowman said Suh isn't always the same person.

"Off the field, he's nice. He does a lot of charity work," Bowman said. "But on the field, he turns into the Hulk.

"It's like two different people."

Williams lauds Forte as top-5 NFL running back

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Bears wide receiver Roy Williams gave Matt Forte the ultimate endorsement Thursday.

''He's on my fantasy team. I'm starting him every week,'' Williams said.

With the pressure mounting for the Bears to sign Forte to a new contract, Williams called Forte one of the top five running backs in the NFL and ''one of those backs you gotta have.''

Frank Omiyale may start third straight game

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The Bears benched veteran Frank Omiyale for the second half of last Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers.

And while Lance Louis played well at right tackle, the early indications are that Omiyale will return to the starting lineup for Monday's game in Detroit.

One of the keys will be the status of Chris Spencer, who has started the last three games at right guard. Even after Louis recovered from an ankle injury suffered in the season opener, Spencer remained the starting right guard.

But Spencer fractured his right hand, and he was going to practice today with a cast on. The concern, however, is how much that injury would limit him against one of the league's best defensive lines, especially one featuring Ndamukong Suh.

Who practices for how long and how effectively Thursday and Friday will likely determine the lineup for Monday's game.

Omiyale has struggled in his starts filling in for Gabe Carimi. The rookie is inching closer to returning to the lineup but may not be ready in time to play the Lions.

Angelo: Titans nearly drafted Hester before Bears

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Devin Hester nearly was a Tennessee Titan.

In an exclusive interview with senior writer Larry Mayer, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo revealed that the Bears almost didn't get the chance to select record-setting kick returner Devin Hester in the second round of the 2006 draft.

"The Titans, who were picking [12 spots] ahead of us, had him on the phone and were making flight arrangements,'' Angelo told Mayer, "and then they changed their mind literally at the last minute."

Time for Martz, Bears' offense to pick a lane

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In Week 4 of the 1999 season, when it still seemed like it was just a matter of time before the Bears mastered the nuances of Gary Crowton's "razzle-dazzle" offense and took the NFL by storm, the Bears and Shane Matthews were getting shut out by Mike Ditka's Saints at Soldier Field late in the fourth quarter.

Suddenly, everything clicked. With 4:35 left and the Bears down 10-0, Matthews led a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, hitting Curtis Conway for a 22-yard score to make it 10-7 with 1:48 left.

The Bears got the ball back with 1:08 to go and Matthews engineered an even more stunning drive, going 67 yards on six plays for the game-winning touchdown -- a six-yard pass from Matthews to Conway with seven seconds left.

The Bears won 14-10, but it was a red flag for the Crowton offense more than a celebration of it. Out of desperation, Matthews took control of the offense and called all the plays in "two-minute drill" fashion. How is it that Matthews could call plays in Crowton's offense under duress better than Crowton could during the course of the game?

Bears taking a look at LB Pisa Tinoisamoa

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In need of depth at linebacker, the Bears are bringing former Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to Halas Hall for a workout, league sources have told the Sun-Times.

Tinoisamoa, 30, is an eight-year NFL veteran who started 12 games for the Bears in 2009-10, including 10 starts last season. He also played for Lovie Smith as a rookie with the Rams in 2003. Tinoisamoa has been an effective player when healthy, but has struggled with injuries in recent seasons.

Tinoisamoa started at strong side linebacker last season, but suffered a knee injury and was replaced by Nick Roach in the last four games. Roach has been the starter this season. But the Bears have little NFL experience behind their starters at linebacker. Their backup linebacker are Brian Iwuh, who has four career NFL starts and rookie Dom DeCicco.

Bears brace for Megatron, aka Calvin Johnson

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I can guarantee this: a Bears coach won't make the same mistake Rob Ryan did last week.

The bold and brash Cowboys defensive coordinator -- brother of New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan -- proclaimed that Calvin Johnson would be the third-best receiver in Dallas.

It's not a ludicrous assertion, since the Cowboys do have Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

But the quiet Johnson keyed the Lions remarkable comeback Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, in his fourth consecutive game, and catching eight passes for 96 yards.

One of the touchdowns was classic Johnson, as he leaped over two defenders and snatched the high pass out of the air, like an NBA center hauling in a rebound over two 6-footers.

Johnson didn't have much to say about Ryan's comments, but his head coach, Jim Schwartz, couldn't resist a chance to "indulge."

"I am just glad the third best receiver on their team was on our team," Schwartz said.

What will the Bears do to defend Johnson? Who knows, since the Cowboys once fielded 12 players, and Johnson still scored a touchdown.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he's aware of his team's defensive struggles this season, but is confident he'll be able to get it straightened out.

After allowing the Carolina Panthers 543 total yards in a 34-29 victory Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears are 31st in the NFL in total defense (426 yards per game). Even more discouraging is that their usual calling card - their run defense -- has failed them. The Panthers rushed for 169 yards on 26 carries 6.5 yards per carry), dropping the Bears to 24th in the NFL in rushing defense (124 yards per game) and 28th in yards per carry (5.1).

What's the problem?

''We're working on that,'' Smith said at his Monday press conference at Halas Hall. ''Can't give you a reason why. Believe me, if we knew that, we wouldn't let it happen. But when things aren't working exactly the way we like, we go back to the practice field, we identify it, which we have, and we'll work to get it better.''

I had a chance to chat with Bears receiver Roy Williams, who was supplanted in the starting lineup by Johnny Knox.

"Starting is just playing the first play. I mean, Johnny earns it," Williams told me. "We respect him on this football team. He's practicing better than anybody, and he's gotten better. You turn on the film from last year to this year, and he's not even the same guy.

"So he's growing and maturing, and that's all you can ask for, from a young guy."

Williams has five catches for 70 yards, while Knox leads all receivers with catches (12) and receiving yards (237).

Williams said his legs are feeling better.

"It's getting there. It's about 80 something percent," he said. "Stiffened up just a little bit [Sunday]. But it's getting better."

Devin Hester sets NFL record with 11th punt return TD

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Devin Hester is beyond ridiculous.

The Bears' peerless kick returner, already among the all-time greats as a special teams threat par excellence, reached yet another level as an NFL legend when he returned a Jason Baker punt 69 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's 34-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field to give him an NFL record 11 career punt return touchdowns.

''It feels great,'' Hester said. ''First of all, I need to give thanks to God. Second, [I want] to thank my teammates. I know without those guys I wouldn't have had all the success.''

The Bears broke a two-game losing streak by holding on to beat the Carolina Panthers 34-29.

But in my post-game video I break down the keys and concerns.

You can hear a fuller explanation by checking out the video. But, here's the CliffNotes version.

My keys: the domination of the Bears special teams and the ability of the Bears to -- finally -- establish the run.

My concerns: the defense getting ripped for 543 net yards, both on the ground and through the air, and inability of the offense to get receivers involved. The longest pass play of the game was a 22-yarder to Johnny Knox, who "led" his team with 48 receiving yards.

I also look ahead to the Monday night game against Detroit... against the 4-0 Lions.

The Bears found an impressive winning formula in Sunday's 34-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers -- rushing 31 times for 224 yards and scoring on offense, defense and special teams. But even if your glass is half-full, it remains to be seen if it will work on better teams than the Carolina Panthers.

And even against Carolina, it was a struggle. The Bears allowed 543 total yards and weren't in the clear until Matt Forte's 40-yard run to the Panthers' 3-yard line set up Marion Barber's three-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 34-23 lead with 1:23 to play.

''You know you could play better and you know you should do better. That's pretty much what it is,'' said cornerback D.J. Moore, whose 19-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Bears a 10-3 lead in the first quarter. ''Even though we won, we kind of didn't play up to our standards. But we won.''

The Bears announced that safety Chris Harris will be inactive, which means Major Wright and Brandon Meriweather will start today against the Carolina Panthers.

Officially, Wright will be the strong safety and Meriweather will be the strong safety.

There are also some interesting lineup changes. Despite practicing all week, after being sidelined with an ankle injury, Lance Louis lost his starting right guard spot to veteran Chris Spencer.

Also, receiver Roy Williams has been bumped from the starting lineup by Johnny Knox.

The Bears other inactives: RT Gabe Carimi, WR Earl Bennett, TE Matt Spaeth, DT Stephen Paea and DE Mario Addison.

Veteran Frank Omiyale will start again at right tackle, in place of Carimi. Omiyale told me last Sunday that he aimed to get the false starts under control.

With Spaeth sidelined, rookie Kyle Adams will get a chance to make an impression.

The most notable Panthers inactive is CB Chris Gamble. Third-year player Darius Butler will start in Gamble's spot at left cornerback.

Who wins: Bears or Panthers?

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Time to get your score on record.

The Bears are 1-2, and I've heard plenty of people picking the Carolina Panthers. Frankly, if the Bears lose today, then I would definitely sound the alarms. I just don't see it happening, and I picked the Bears to win comfortably, 27-13.

What's your score?

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