NFC North: Dennis Green

Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
This is the play voters and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling picked as the most memorable in the team's history, beating out Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met."

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Well, voters, we agreed on this one. For a team that has played in four Super Bowls and has been in five NFC title games since its most recent Super Bowl appearance, there were plenty of memorable moments. But this play, which kept the most prolific offense (and possibly the most dominant team) in Vikings history from securing a fifth Super Bowl bid, was tough to top.

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Which is the most memorable play in Vikings' history?

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The most striking thing about Gary Anderson's 38-yard miss with 2:18 left in the 1999 NFC Championship Game was how swiftly it pulled the bottom out from under a team that had an air of inevitability about it to that point. Yes, the Vikings had some injuries going into the NFC title game, but their offense had been so explosive (607 points in 17 previous games), and they'd been so dominant at home (winning all nine of their games by an average of 23.22 points) that it didn't seem like an upstart Falcons team had any chance of coming into the Metrodome and halting the Vikings' march to the Super Bowl. It certainly didn't seem that way when Anderson -- who hadn't missed a kick of any kind all season -- lined up for an easy field goal attempt that would have put Minnesota up by 10.

But Anderson's miss gave the Falcons life, and the Vikings seemed too stunned to recover after that point, with coach Dennis Green calling for Randall Cunningham to take a knee after the Falcons' game-tying touchdown and the team punting twice in overtime before Morten Andersen's game winner. As a kid growing up in Minnesota at the time, it was stunning to watch that Vikings team -- so brash and aggressive to that point, so certain of its superiority, particularly in the raucous Metrodome -- on its heels. The Vikings probably never would have reached that point had Anderson's kick sailed through the uprights. Instead, they lost the game, they've endured two more NFC Championship Game defeats since, and their Super Bowl drought is at 37 years and counting.

The fact is it all could have been so different, if not for a miss from a heretofore perfect kicker. That's what made Anderson's miss the most memorable play in Vikings history.
Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
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This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in Vikings history, following Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met." Please vote for your choice as the Vikings' most memorable play.

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999 Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

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Which is the most memorable play in Vikings' history?

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Description: Behind rejuvenated quarterback Randall Cunningham and rookie receiver Randy Moss, the Minnesota Vikings had rolled through the league in 1998, scoring 556 points on the way to a 15-1 record. They had beaten the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC divisional playoffs the week before, and were 11-point favorites to beat the Falcons and advance to Super Bowl XXXIII. For weeks, a local radio station had been playing a parody of Will Smith's "Miami," with lyrics suggesting a trip to South Florida for the Super Bowl was inevitable.

The Vikings had a 13-point lead in the first half and a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and after they stopped the Falcons on fourth down from the Minnesota 24, the Vikings had a seven-point lead and the ball with 6:07 left. They drove to Atlanta's 21 with 2:18 to play, and put kicker Gary Anderson on the field, needing only a 38-yard field goal to go up 10. But Anderson -- who had not missed a field goal or an extra point all season and had become the first kicker ever to have a perfect regular season -- yanked the field goal left, and the Falcons drove 71 yards in eight plays, tying the game on a Chris Chandler touchdown to Terance Mathis (Vikings fans will point out that safety Robert Griffith dropped what would have been a game-ending interception in the end zone four plays before the touchdown).

Minnesota had the ball on its own 27 with 37 seconds left in regulation when coach Dennis Green ordered Cunningham to take a knee, grounding the most prolific offense in the game, and Anderson never got a chance to atone for his miss; two Vikings drives sputtered in overtime, and Falcons kicker Morten Andersen sent Atlanta to its first Super Bowl with a field goal from 38 yards: the same distance from which Anderson had missed.

The Vikings have lost five NFC title games since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1977, but it's tough to suggest any one hurts more than their 1999 loss. The Vikings had the most dominant offense in the league, and all they needed to effectively lock up a Super Bowl trip was for Anderson to make one more kick. Instead, that kick drifted left.
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W2W4: Eagles at Vikings

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've got a few items to pass along at the end of the week, as we get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Here we go:

Cole will be tested: Audie Cole has played well in his first three games at middle linebacker, but Sunday will likely bring the biggest challenge he's faced so far. He'll have to coordinate the Vikings' defense against the Eagles' fast-paced offense. He'll have to cover tight end Brent Celek, and like the rest of the Minnesota defense, he'll have his hands full with running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in both rushing and all-purpose yards. Cole gave up two catches on the Baltimore Ravens' game-winning touchdown drive last week, including Marlon Brown's touchdown with four seconds left. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams said this week that Cole only needed to make a small adjustment to be in position to make a play. "[On] two plays Audie was close, but not close enough," Williams said. "I think that comes from experience knowing that, hey, if they catch it in front of you, no big deal, don’t give up one over the top.”

Gerhart has Kelly's respect: If Adrian Peterson is out on Sunday with a sprained right foot and Toby Gerhart can return from a strained right hamstring to be the Vikings' main running back against the Eagles, he'll face an old foe in Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, who saw plenty of the former Stanford running back when he was the coach at Oregon. "He played against us when I was at Oregon and he had a 39carry game for, I think, 2,085 yards it seemed like to me," Kelly said this week. "I think Toby is one of the really, really good backs in this league. He just isn't on the field that much because of who Adrian Peterson is. I don't think it changes that much [about the Vikings' scheme], to be honest with you."

Secondary injuries come at a bad time: The Vikings almost certainly will have a handful of players in unfamiliar positions in the secondary on Sunday, and against a spread offense like Philadelphia's, they'll have to hope they can survive without at least two -- and possibly three -- of their top three corners. They had been playing more man coverage, with some success, in recent weeks, but they might have to get away from that plan on Sunday with Xavier Rhodes doubtful because of a sprained ankle. Chris Cook is questionable because of a knee injury, and if the oft-injured cornerback can play, he'll likely draw the unenviable matchup of shadowing the explosive DeSean Jackson, who has 65 catches for 1,080 yards.

Much expected of Cassel: With Peterson's status in doubt at the beginning of the week, it seemed like a strong possibility the Vikings would go back to Matt Cassel at quarterback, partially because they haven't been as willing to lean on the passing game as much with Christian Ponder as they have with Cassel. He has connected on 10 of his 19 throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, whereas Ponder has hit just 12 of 31 throws that went at least 20 yards in the air. Cassel also is the only Vikings quarterback to throw for at least 240 yards in a game this season, and he's attempted at least 30 passes in three of the four games where he's started or played extensively. Those are fairly modest benchmarks for most teams, but in a game where the Vikings might need to keep up with the Eagles, and might not have Peterson, starting Cassel made sense.

Vikings honoring All-MOA Field team: At halftime on Sunday, the Vikings will recognize the 28-man All-Mall of America Field team, as voted on by fans throughout the season. The team is heavy on players from coach Dennis Green's teams in the 1990s -- Green is the coach of the team, and 16 of the 27 players on the team played at least one season for him. The Vikings said 20 of the 28 members of the team are expected to be at the game on Sunday. We're particularly interested to see if Randy Moss shows up (which we doubt), or if the Vikings invited back Antoine Winfield after they cut the cornerback in the spring, leading to a bit of a rift between the three-time Pro Bowler and the team. And if Green is there? That's always got the potential to be interesting.

Tears of joy for Cris Carter

February, 2, 2013
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I should have bet the house Saturday night that Cris Carter would emerge from behind a curtain, sit down and bawl his way through a question-and-answer session about his inclusion in the 2013 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 14 years of covering the NFL, I don't think I ever saw a football player cry more than him.

Carter cried at highly appropriate times, including the 2001 death of teammate Korey Stringer. He cried at times that seemed reasonable, such as when he was named the 1999 NFL Man of the Year. And he cried at times that most people would not, like when he spoke at a standard team meeting.

Over the years, some have associated his quick tears with a larger attention-grabbing front they thought Carter put up, a self-promotional tool to portray him as a deeply religious do-gooder who had turned his life around and deserved accolades for it. That interpretation continued Saturday when Carter's raw reaction -- "This is the happiest day of my life" -- drew scorn from some of you via Twitter.

"Sure that makes his wife and kids feel great," tweeted @moefasa11.

[+] EnlargeCris Carter
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertCris Carter couldn't hold back the tears after being elected to the Hall of Fame.
On this day and all others, I think it's irrelevant to consider the motives behind Carter's persona and emotions. The inarguable and objective fact is that he has an incredible life story, one that has and will continue to benefit countless people whose lives started and progressed the way his did.

As you probably know, Carter grew up in a single-parent household as one of six children in Middletown, Ohio. Early mistakes nearly ended his career before it started, from losing his final season at Ohio State because he signed with an agent to getting released by the Philadelphia Eagles for what he later acknowledged was heavy drug abuse.

But from the moment the Vikings claimed him off waivers in September 1990, Carter fashioned one of the best careers for a receiver in NFL history.

Even after the NFL's passing game explosion over the past decade, Carter ranks fourth all-time in receptions (1,101) and fourth (130) in touchdowns. His hands were immaculate and his techniques for getting open were as precise as anyone who has played. He waited out a five-year process in which voters dealt with a backlog of players at a position they traditionally haven't valued as much as others, but to me there was never a doubt Carter would eventually be elected.

Even so, voters spent more than 30 minutes debating his candidacy, the third-most of the 17 finalists, according to one of the voters, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.

"The history with wide receivers," Carter said, "I follow it pretty close. I look at Art Monk, I look at Lynn Swann, I look at Michael Irvin, and it's becoming very, very difficult to judge the skill of a wide receiver in today's game. But what else can you judge it on but the numbers? The numbers, they do tell a story.

"I'm glad they recognized my career for what it was. … It doesn't matter [that it took so long] … I've been in this process for five years and they have not selected one bad player. Not one bad player have I seen elected to the Hall of Fame."

That was one genuinely humble moment for Carter during his interview session in New Orleans. Another was when he credited former Vikings coach Dennis Green for helping "take me to another level I never ever thought I would be."

Carter and Green were close during most of their tenure together in Minnesota, but they had a personal falling out and were barely speaking to each other toward the end. I'm glad Carter bypassed that short-term friction and recognized the role Green played in his success.

"He told me things, even compared me to the guys who I played with," Carter said. "And he told me things that I could go on the field with and have the greatest confidence. He would show me the game plan and show me how they were going to utilize me and what they needed me to do. They used to have a section in the game plan that had my name on it. I used to memorize it, He said, 'Man, it's like playing basketball on turf.'"

You might not like the way Carter carries or portrays himself, but his style is built on an awful lot of genuine substance. I hope that's what we focus on in the days and months ahead of his August 2013 enshrinement. As a player, he has deserved to be in the Hall of Fame since the moment he retired. As a person, there is plenty to admire as well.

Randy Moss: An all-time mystery

August, 1, 2011
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Randy MossBrian Bahr/Getty ImagesRandy Moss' legacy is that he forced opposing defenses to devise new coverages and lineups.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe it's appropriate that I was sitting at Lambeau Field when Randy Moss announced his retirement. No, not because Moss famously pretended to moon the crowd during a playoff game. It's because the Green Bay Packers were the first team to recognize that Moss had fundamentally changed the game.

As a rookie in 1998, Moss caught 13 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings in two games against the Packers.

In 1999, the Packers responded with the most transparent draft strategy imaginable: They selected a cornerback with each of their first three picks. Two of them, Antuan Edwards and Mike McKenzie, were over 6 feet tall. They landed in Green Bay with the specific hope of matching up against Moss, who at 6-foot-4 had dominated smaller cornerbacks throughout his rookie season.

As his career went on, opponents devised new coverages and exotic lineups in an attempt to slow down a unique physical specimen who referred to himself as "The Freak." Vikings offensive coaches often considered it a waste of time to scout their opponents' previous games because they never used traditional schemes against the Vikings when Moss was in the lineup.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
AP Photo/Morry GashRandy Moss famously pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field.
These days, it's common to hear football people refer to having a safety "over the top" to cover the deep part of the field in case a receiver runs past the cornerback. It can also be known as a "bracket." These coverages were popularized because of Moss, whose combination of height and 4.35 speed made him uncoverable by one defender.

Rare is the player who can force draft decisions or schematic innovations, and to me that will be Moss’ greatest legacy. I know there are many of you who think Moss will return to the game in the coming months, but I won’t begin to try to guess what’s going on inside his head. He is, however, fully capably of storming away from the game, never to be heard from again.

If Moss’ career is in fact finished, he should go down as one of the best receivers ever to play the game.

As it stands, Moss is tied for second on the NFL's all-time list for touchdown receptions (153). He has the fifth-most receiving yards (14,858) and eight-most receptions (954).

History, of course, will intertwine Moss' football success with his personal failings. He wasn't an enigma, which most people associate with "unique." Moss was a flat-out mystery, and anyone who tried to figure him out was wasting brain cells.

On the 10th anniversary of Korey Stringer's death, I'm reminded of Moss sobbing hysterically at a nationally televised news conference. At the same time, I'm reminded that he once lost his temper in downtown Minneapolis traffic and felt compelled to nudge a traffic officer with his car.

I recall him tossing NFL awards in the locker room trash can. I can't avoid the conclusion that he undermined every coach he played for in Minnesota, including Dennis Green -- the man who put his own reputation on the line by drafting him in 1998. Moss' verbal harangue at a group of corporate sponsors on the Vikings' team bus enraged then-owner Red McCombs and played a role in Green's ultimate departure from the organization in 2001.

I will remember some hilarious interview moments, including the time Moss detailed how he taunted then-coach Mike Tice with words from a boyhood bully who once, in Moss' words, "broke Tice's face." In truth, Moss had no respect for authority and resented its existence.

His respect for the game was circumspect as well. Pro Football Hall of Fame voters shouldn't consider his off-field issues when discussing his candidacy, but they absolutely should note how often Moss loafed on plays that weren't designed for him and how, early in his career, he walked off the field before the game's conclusion in several instances.

Moss won't, and shouldn't, be elected to sainthood. There is no way to sweep away his stunning lack of personal decorum. In all ways -- on the field and off -- Moss was one of a kind.

I think he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. But even that day will be wrapped in mystery. I used to joke with colleagues that Moss would probably skip his enshrinement ceremony into the Hall of Fame. I don't actually think he will. But if there is anyone who would ...

What we originally discussed last month is now official: Former Minnesota and Detroit quarterback Daunte Culpepper has become the highest-profile player in the two-year existence of the United Football League. By signing with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, Culpepper is reunited with two of his former coaches: Dennis Green, who serves as the Mountain Lions' coach/general manager, and Mike Kruczek, the offensive coordinator who once coached Culpepper at Central Florida.

Culpepper
Culpepper
Here's the full press release if you don't believe me.

The UFL will give Culpepper a chance to extend a career that never recovered from a catastrophic knee injury in 2005. What will be more interesting, however, is whether it affords an opportunity to get back into the NFL.

The UFL's regular season ends in mid-November. Players are then eligible to sign with NFL teams who might need injury replacements for the final two months of the season. Could a team short on quarterback depth bring in Culpepper at a time when he otherwise might not be available? Or is this the final hurrah of a quarterback who once seemed destined for greatness?
I think it's fair to say that Daunte Culpepper has found the starting job he has spent years searching for. As ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, Culpepper will jump to the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League to play for his first NFL coach and former college coach.

Formerly known as the California Redwoods, the Mountain Lions are coached by ex-Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green. Their offensive coordinator is Mike Kruczek, Culpepper's coach at Central Florida.

In theory, Culpepper will be in shape and ready to help a needy NFL team around midseason. In reality, this decision illustrates the NFL's tepid interest in a quarterback who is now six years removed from his last effective season. Given a choice between waiting for his phone to ring and getting back on the field, at any level, Culpepper admirably chose the latter.

I'm not going to go overboard about a 33-year-old quarterback signing with what amounts to a minor league. But if nothing else, Culpepper has put himself in a comfortable environment. He's given himself a chance to have a chance.

Tough task for Sherm Lewis

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

You never like to see people put in an impossible position to succeed, but that’s my overwhelming feeling after seeing longtime NFC North/Central friend Sherman Lewis named Washington’s new playcaller.

Lewis has been the offensive coordinator in Green Bay (1992-99), Minnesota (2000-01) and Detroit (2003-04). For all the good things he did during his career, especially in Green Bay, many people would agree that play-calling wasn’t one of them.

Packers coach Mike Holmgren called plays during most of Lewis’ tenure there. Lewis’ brief role as a playcaller under Ray Rhodes in 1999 did not go well, as Jason Reid of the Washington Post points out. And a few of you might remember that in 2001, then-Vikings coach Dennis Green once stripped Lewis of play-calling duties in the middle of a game at Chicago.

And as crazy as it sounds, those situations were much more conducive to success than what Lewis is stepping into now. Taking over an offense after two weeks as a consultant -- and as a result of a front office ultimatum to head coach Jim Zorn -- is a recipe for disaster. I just hope Lewis doesn’t catch the brunt of the blame in Washington if (and when) this experience turns sour.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


And on Wednesday, they rested -- at least from their media obligations. Minnesota players had Wednesday off, and their counterparts in Green Bay are going through a half-day of meetings in preparation for the Oct. 5 showdown at the Metrodome.

The breather gives us a chance to consider some of the bigger issues and larger implications of Favre-Packers I. ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha, for example, looked at what happens when longtime stars relocate to new cities. David Fleming of ESPN the Magazine broke down all 43 of Brett Favre’s fourth-quarter comebacks, finding a few holes in the statistical compilation.

As a grunt blogger, I started making a chart that I’ll invite you to complete. The major allure of this game is seeing Favre play against his former team. So before that takes place, let’s take a moment to remember Favre’s top performances against his current one. I’ll list three Favre versus the Vikings' games that come to mind, and you’re welcome to add your thoughts to the comments below. I’ll complete the chart, with your help, by the end of the week.

Let’s get to it.

1. The Antonio Freeman play
Date:
Nov. 6, 2000
What happened: Favre tossed a 43-yard touchdown to Freeman in overtime during a driving rain at Lambeau Field. The ball bounced off Vikings cornerback Cris Dishman and into the hands of Freeman, who had slipped and was lying on his stomach when the ball arrived. Freeman jumped up, dashed into the end zone for a 26-20 victory. This play is more about Freeman than Favre, but it’s the first play that popped in my head when I thought about Favre and the Vikings.

2. The Christmas (Eve) Miracle
Date:
Dec. 24, 2004
What happened:
In a Week 16 matchup to decide the NFC North, Favre brought the Packers back from a seven-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter. Included in that span was a fourth-down touchdown pass to receiver Donald Driver and a 2-minute drill that concluded with Ryan Longwell’s 29-yard field goal on the last play of a 34-31 victory. Favre completed 30 of 43 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

3. ”Yesterday’s news”
Date:
Sept. 26, 1999
What happened:
With 12 seconds remaining, Favre threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Corey Bradford to lift the Packers to a 23-20 victory. The play came on fourth down. After the game, then-Vikings coach Dennis Green ordered his players to move on quickly from the disappointment. Then, in a news conference minutes later, Green famously refused to discuss the play because he considered it “yesterday’s news.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

For those of you who are interested, here is the full list of the inaugural draft for the United Football League, which starts play in the fall and hopes to serve as something of a incubation league for players who wouldn't have made an NFL team but could provide midseason depth if needed.

A few NFC North-related highlights:

Former Minnesota coach Dennis Green, who now coaches the UFL's San Francisco franchise, selected Marshall receiver Marcus Fitzgerald, who had a tryout earlier this year with the Vikings. Fitzgerald is the younger brother of Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whom Green drafted when he was the coach of the Cardinals in 2004. Both Fitzgeralds grew up in the Twin Cities.

Green also drafted running back "Femi" Ayanbadejo, whom he once coached in Minnesota, as well as Harvard quarterback Liam O'Hagan -- a Twin Cities native who is the son of longtime coaching agent Gary O'Hagan.

Orlando drafted former Wisconsin and Minnesota quarterback Brooks Bollinger. It also selected safety Mike Doss, who spent 2007 with the Vikings, and former Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins. Former Green Bay defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe was also on Orlando's list.

Las Vegas grabbed safety Adam Archuleta, who played for Chicago in 2007, and former Lions receiver David Kircus.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman on his chances for being 100 percent by training camp after offseason shoulder surgery: ''I think so. I hope so. I keep my fingers crossed.'' Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
  • Officials from Lewis University in Romeoville are pitching the Bears about moving training camp to their campus, according to Joseph Ruzich of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has an endorsement deal with Axe hair products, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Missed this personnel development earlier this week: Green Bay linebacker Spencer Havner was practicing as a two-way player during organized team activities last week. Havner was doubling as a tight end, writes Tom Fanning of Packers.com.
  • Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards continued his assault on the idea of a personal locker room for retired quarterback Brett Favre during multiple appearances Thursday on ESPN platforms. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune traces Edwards' progress. Edwards also reiterated his support for incumbent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Admit it. You were virtually joining me Monday night by flipping between "Dancing with the Stars" (We call it DWTS on Disney-owned ABC!), "2001: A Space Odyssey" on the Encore Mystery Channel and that 1985 matchup between Chicago and Green Bay on the NFL Network.

I must say that the Packers' Jim Zorn era had totally passed from my consciousness. Took me multiple squints -- thank you, video degradation -- to realize that the left-handed quarterback wearing No. 18 was Zorn. I thought it was cool seeing Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier playing cornerback for the Bears in what was his last NFL season, but one part of the game stood out most prominently for me.

As you recall, William "The Refrigerator" Perry caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jim McMahon just before halftime, his first scoring reception. I vaguely remembered that play. What came next, however, I did not. Perry returned to the sidelines, joined the special teams huddle -- led by unofficial Bears assistant coach Jeff Fisher, who was on injured reserve at the time -- and trotted back onto the field to cover the kickoff.

That's something you don't see in today's game: A starting defensive tackle covering kickoffs, let alone one who participated in the previous offensive play. The Fridge got down the field, too, and was near the tackle. Just one example of how the game has changed over the years.

Oh, the Bears went on to defeat the Packers 16-10.

End fantastical digression. On with our morning march around the NFC North:

  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the numbers on free-agent offensive lineman Frank Omiyale's contract. Omiyale will receive $6.3 million this season, almost half of the total value of the deal. That's a strong sign that the Bears consider him a starter at some position this season.
  • Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush visited Tennessee on Monday and will meet with Baltimore officials on Wednesday, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Packers gave Bush the low tender as a restricted free agent, meaning they would get no compensation if he signs elsewhere.
  • The Packers have yet to host linebacker Kevin Burnett on a visit, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Even "The Simpsons" have taken a shot at Detroit's 0-16 season. Check out the video on the Detroit Free Press' Web site.
  • The much-discussed visit of free-agent cornerback Karl Paymah to Minnesota is, alas, on hold, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The city of Walnut, Calif., is preparing a legal challenge to plans for building an NFL stadium in nearby Industry, according to the Pasadena Star-News. The Vikings are among a handful of teams that have been approached to play in the proposed facility.
  • Former Vikings coach Dennis Green and former Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell are among the men expected to be head coaches in the new United Football League, according to Howard Balzer of The Sports XChange.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If you're a Lions fan, there are a number of reasons to be enthused about Scott Linehan's arrival as your offensive coordinator. A few might surprise you.

Most everyone knows Linehan experienced significant success as Minnesota's offensive coordinator from 2002-04. Yes, he had a talented group that included receiver Randy Moss and quarterback Daunte Culpepper. But few people remember that Linehan walked into an established offensive system and tweaked his own approach to fit it.

Linehan arrived in Minnesota after a career spent running college offenses, most recently at Louisville. But he quickly learned the Vikings' "three-digit" passing scheme, one passed down from Dennis Green to Mike Tice, and implemented it in a way that impressed players with its creativity while also adhering to some specific requests.

In 2002, for example, Tice asked Linehan to ensure that Moss saw 40 percent of the Vikings' passes. As a result, Moss increased his reception total from 82 in 2001 to 106 in 2002.

Linehan is now an experienced NFL coach, but this inherent malleability makes him a good match for Detroit; new coach Jim Schwartz has some strong ideas about his offense and isn't looking to have his coordinator implement an independent scheme. Linehan leans toward the passing game, but he is just as comfortable running a power offense. In fact, the Vikings had the NFL's No. 1 running game in 2002.

Another overlooked part of Linehan's resume: Culpepper's rise to near-MVP status coincided almost directly with Linehan taking over as his quarterbacks coach.

Tice unofficially assigned Linehan that duty midway through the 2002 season; Culpepper had a 70.1 passer rating and was close to being benched. Over the final six games of the season, Culpepper compiled an 80.2 rating. Linehan officially doubled as quarterbacks coach in 2003 and 2004, arguably the best two seasons of Culpepper's career.

Linehan grew close to Culpepper and had a thorough understanding of what he could do well. Culpepper was at his best when he could move in the pocket and find an open receiver, so Linehan maximized those opportunities. Culpepper was devastated when Linehan departed after the 2004 season and he looked lost on the field in 2005 before suffering a major knee injury.

We're not yet certain if its merely a coincidence that Culpepper is on the Lions' roster. He is owed a $2.5 million bonus in March, so the team must decide soon whether it considers him a likely starter in 2009. I'll say this: Linehan can get the most out of Culpepper, whatever it is that he has left.

The Lions have a long way to go, but bringing in Linehan and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham this week has given them a much-needed shot of credibility. Players are the most important piece to this puzzle, but it seems clear they'll get every chance to succeed.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Mike Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach who is also a four-time defensive coordinator, is the "clear front-runner" to be Green Bay's new defensive coordinator, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy served as Nolan's offensive coordinator with the 49ers in 2005 and the two have maintained a close relationship. Nolan would replace Bob Sanders, who was fired over the weekend.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Nolan's candidacy is that he has, at times, run a 3-4 defense. He began his tenure in San Francisco using a 4-3 but gradually made the transition to a 3-4. Although his personal relationship with McCarthy is important, you have to assume there would be some level of 3-4 discussion in Green Bay if Nolan is in fact the next coordinator.

Meanwhile, Tom Silverstein and Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that former defensive quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr. is likely to become the Packers' next secondary coach.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Packers president Mark Murphy speaks to the Journal Sentinel about the Packers' coaching overhaul: "The way I viewed it, it's a pretty strong message that we want to win here. That's the priority."
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have not yet made a formal offer to former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli.
  • Former Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry is actively campaigning to join the Bears' coaching staff, possibly as the replacement for fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee. "If I had an opportunity to work for Lovie Smith, I would cherish it," Barry told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Although it was originally reported that Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took his name out of the running for Detroit's head coaching job, the Lions have in fact interviewed him. Adam Schefter of NFL.com reports.
  • Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles is scheduled to interview Wednesday with Lions officials, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Minnesota backup quarterback Gus Frerotte wants some clarity before agreeing to return to the Vikings next season, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The unwillingness of Minnesota coach Brad Childress to admit mistakes is reminiscent of former coach Dennis Green, writes Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After Carolina's 20-17 victory over the Bears, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. The Bears won't lose faith in tight end Greg Olsen after he fumbled following both receptions Sunday. The way their offense is shaping up around tailback Matt Forte, Olsen will be in position for so many play-action passes -- as long as offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterback Kyle Orton continue feeding him the ball. Olsen ultimately will be the best pass-catcher on this team, especially if Devin Hester is sidelined because of a rib injury.

An aside: Watching Olsen's struggles Sunday reminded me of an October day in 1999, when Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser fumbled twice -- against the Bears, ironically -- in a 24-22 Vikings loss. Then-coach Dennis Green moved him to fullback the following week, and the Vikings have never considered Kleinsasser much of a receiving threat since. There's no chance the Bears will go to those lengths with Olsen, but for some reason it jogged my memory. Anyway ...

2. Yes, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart gobbled up 76 rushing yards in the second half. But I choose to attribute that performance to heat and conditioning rather than a leaky run defense. This was textbook maneuvering by the Panthers: Bring in young, fresh legs against a veteran group that has been baking in dark jerseys all afternoon. Stewart sliced through the Bears on a number of occasions, but before the heat got to them, Chicago held starter DeAngelo Williams to 31 yards on 11 carries. That's more reminiscent of the quality of the Bears' run defense.

3. It's interesting how quickly it became public knowledge that Orton was responsible for changing the call on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. Orton switched from a run to a pass that fell incomplete and was nearly intercepted. On fourth down, the Panthers stopped fullback Jason McKie for no gain. The Bears want Orton to be more than a "game manager," but it's clear they also have some unwritten limits for him. Afterwards, Turner second-guessed himself for giving Orton an option.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

How badly is Hester injured? He did not return Sunday after bruising his ribs, and the Bears aren't the same team without him. The mere threat of him as a returner changes the way teams play, and the Bears are far from knowing how good he can be as a receiver. The team should be holding its collective breath while awaiting Hester's prognosis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, WIS. -- Few people remember that former Green Bay defensive tackle Gilbert Brown, who was inducted Saturday into the Packers Hall of Fame, was drafted by the division rival Minnesota Vikings in 1993.

In his acceptance speech, Brown recalled how he quickly knew the Vikings weren't the right place for him. He showed up at training camp to find two hoops on the ground. Vikings coaches wanted to work on speed, which was not a strong suit for the 350-pound Brown. Nevertheless, they instructed Brown to chase ultra-quick Vikings lineman Johnny Randle in a circle until he caught him.

"Well, he caught me," Brown said, chuckling.

Coaches asked Brown to try one more time. Again, Randle caught him.

Later, Brown recalled, Vikings receiver Cris Carter teased him unmercifully.

"So I knew I didn't like him," Brown said.

Finally, Vikings coach Dennis Green called Brown to his office and said the team wasn't happy with his progress. It planned to waive him and then put him on to the practice squad.

When he arrived at the team hotel, however, Brown got a call from the Packers. They had claimed him on waivers and wanted him to report to Green Bay the next day.

"I said, 'Tomorrow?'" Brown said. "I told them I would pack my truck and be there tonight."

The rest was history.

"After that," Brown said, "I just wore [the Vikings] out."

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