NFC North: George McCaskey

Five things we learned vs. Cowboys

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
2:39
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CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys:

1. Trestman recovered: There was legitimate concern about whether the Bears would be capable of rebounding after their demoralizing Week 13 loss to the Vikings in the Metrodome. Coach Marc Trestman and his team answered that question on the Bears’ first offensive drive of the game, when they marched 78 yards on 12 plays and ate up 7:27 on the clock to tie the game at 7-7. The Bears never looked back on offense, partly because of the creative and efficient manner in which Trestman called plays. Trestman was in the zone Monday night. Almost everything he called was executed to perfection. He deserves credit for hanging in there after a tough week during which he was put under the microscope. The head coach overcame the adversity and now has the Bears right back in the NFC North race at 7-6.

2. McCown refuses to have a bad game: Jay Cutler may be medically cleared to start next week against the Cleveland Browns, but Josh McCown has the city buzzing after his latest performance. He went 27-of-36 for 348 passing yards, threw four touchdowns, ran for another, and registered a passer rating of 141.9. In seven appearances this year (five starts), McCown is 147-of-220 for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.8 quarterback rating. Of course, McCown had the benefit of playing against a hapless Dallas defense on Monday night. He also was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked off. But when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. And McCown is in the zone. Nobody can dispute that.

3. Cutler hysteria expected to peak: The natural reaction is to question why the Bears, with the playoffs still a real possibility, would risk benching McCown in favor of Cutler on Sunday in Cleveland. It’s fair to wonder, but keep in mind the Bears have been consistent all year when it comes to Cutler. When healthy, he is the team’s starting quarterback. If the Bears make the switch now, there is no going back. Are you ready for that? Why not see how Cutler responds to the pressure of starting the final three games? Worst-case scenario: If he Cutler struggles, McCown will certainly be ready to enter a game at a moment’s notice. And it Cutler bombs down the stretch, the Bears will have a better idea of whether he is the guy moving forward. But Cutler also could succeed and guide the Bears to the postseason. The Bears already know what McCown can do in the offense at this stage of the season. But Cutler remains kind of a mystery. The only way to know for certain is to let him play.

4. Defense kept the Bears in it: All the Bears can ask for from the defense at this stage of the season is to keep them in ballgames. Mission accomplished Monday night. Dallas still ran all over the Bears for 198 yards on 28 carries, but the Cowboys converted just 50 percent of their third-down chances (5-of-10) and went 1-of-2 on fourth down. Those aren’t great numbers for any defense, but for the Bears, it’s an improvement. In contrast, the Bears were 8-of-11 on third downs (73 percent).The Bears also sacked Tony Romo twice and limited Dallas to 144 total passing yards.

5. Ditka ceremony a success: The tribute at halftime to retire Mike Ditka's No. 89 went off without a hitch. From the red carpet that stretched from the Bears’ sideline to the middle of the field -- where a small stage was assembled that contained the 1963 NFL championship trophy, the Super Bowl XX Vince Lombardi trophy and Ditka’s bronze Hall of Fame bust -- to the classy and well-produced video montages that rolled on the JumboTron featuring Ditka’s former teammates and players, the organization should be proud of the way it celebrated one of the game’s all-time greats. Ditka delivered a heartfelt and articulate speech that culminated with a loud, “Go Bears,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Team chairman George McCaskey, who enthusiastically introduced Ditka, should be applauded for the manner in which he has reconnected with the team’s alumni base since assuming his current position two years ago.

Mike Ditka's final season as a player for the Chicago Bears was in 1966. His last season as their coach was 1992. So why did it take 47 years after his departure as a player, and 21 years after his final season as the coach, to retire the number of one of the most recognizable figures in team history?

A small part of the explanation could be the sheer size and breadth of the Bears' history. Before retiring Ditka's No. 89, a move the team announced Friday, the Bears already had the most retired numbers in the NFL (Ditka's is the team's 14th). I chuckled Friday morning when punter Adam Podlesh tweeted: "BREAKING: The NFL finally gives Bears the nod to use fractions and decimal points on jerseys after the last whole number is retired #iwantpi"

If you retired every deserving number in Bears history, there wouldn't be many left over for the current team.

But I think we all know that more than numbers were in play here. Ditka alluded to it during a morning appearance on ESPN Radio, noting the efforts of Bears chairman George McCaskey to reach out after succeeding his brother, Michael, in 2011. Michael McCaskey, of course, was running the Bears when Ditka was fired as coach.

"I never left" the Bears organization, Ditka said, but added: "I think what happened is they made a decision based on what they wanted to do. They had a right to make that decision. It hurts. It always hurts when there is a separation or divorce.

"But when George took over running the Bears and he called me, him and [team president] Ted Phillips and I met with him. I think [the meeting] was so cordial. George is a special guy. He probably had a little bit more vision than somebody else. But that didn't matter. That's not important to me. Whatever it is, it is. … I am very, very honored. That's the bottom line."

The ceremony will take place Dec. 9 at Soldier Field, when the Bears will host a "Monday Night Football" game (on ESPN!) against the Dallas Cowboys. It should be a great night.

Note: The video of Ditka's radio appearance is at the top of this post. Here is the link to the audio version if you prefer that.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

No player has worn No. 50 for the Chicago Bears since Mike Singletary's last game 21 years ago, but it was not retired and apparently will not be anytime soon. The team issued it to new linebacker James Anderson, after a discussion between Singletary and chairman George McCaskey about the need to put it back in circulation.

McCaskey told Larry Mayer of the team's website: "I talked to Mike Singletary and told him that we hadn't assigned 50 to anybody since he retired and that we needed to put it back in circulation. He said he wasn't aware that it hadn't been assigned, that he's got no problem with it, and he's perfectly fine with it. In fact, he would prefer that it be assigned to somebody. He said, 'I'd rather somebody wear it than see it hanging it up in a window somewhere."

The NFL requires linebackers to wear numbers in either the 50s or the 90s. Two 50s have already been retired, No. 51 for Dick Butkus and No. 56 for Bill Hewitt. Singletary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Bears are hosting California center/guard Brian Schwenke on a visit Wednesday, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Bears also signed a center, free agent Taylor Boggs, and two defensive linemen -- Andre Fluellen and Kyle Moore -- on Tuesday, notes ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Bears are "embracing change," said receiver Brandon Marshall via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com on the career of retired Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson: "There was nothing common about Hanson's 21-year career."
  • Lions general manager Martin Mayhew on new place-kicker David Akers, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Another solid veteran, a guy with a lot of experience and playoff experience. He's been kicking outdoors his whole career. We think he'll get a boost from kicking inside, so I think he'll be a good player for us."
  • Retired Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "I was extremely fortunate to play the number of years that I did. You start taking into account your age, the way your body feels -- it was an easy decision for me. I have three little kids. I want to run around the yard and play with them, have fun with them, coach them up and move on to that phase of my life. I've been extremely fortunate to play in Detroit for 12 years, to play for one team. The Ford Family has been great to me. The fans have been loyal. At the end of the day, it was just time for me to call it a career."
  • Tim Twentyman of the Lions' website spoke with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who visited the team's facility Tuesday.
  • Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers starter Aaron Rodgers.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Loyce Means would love to become the next Tramon Williams."
  • The Minnesota Vikings remain in contact with cornerback Antoine Winfield, but it's unclear if he wants to return, according to Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings officials spent some time at Nike headquarters in Oregon viewing their new uniforms, which will be revealed April 25, according to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Good morning from the ESPN mother ship, where I've made a quick trip to hold highly secretive talks with very important people about the future of the (blogging) universe. I won't be in position to post for most of Wednesday and part of Thursday, but I'll check in this evening and resume normal operations Thursday afternoon.

Don't fret, however. I've got an award-winning set of Draft Minute videos set to publish throughout the day. There could be some other goodies as well, depending on news.

For now, let's round up local coverage in the NFC North:
  • The Minnesota Vikings began their annual "Top 30" event Monday at their Winter Park practice facility, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Among the draft-eligible players who attended were LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu, Cal receiver Keenan Allen and Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
  • Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "A legislative panel set up to oversee sports facilities met for the first time Tuesday, April 2, but delayed grappling with the major stadium-related concern of the moment: state funding."
  • Good stuff from the Vikings' website as tailback Adrian Peterson watches a photographer/reporter take a concrete dive.
  • The Green Bay Packers signed street free agent Loyce Means, notes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Means last played in the CFL.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I think we're going to be a very formidable offense again and on defense if we can get healthy and get some of the guys back and going, we're going to be tough to beat."
  • Rodgers also said that having Evan Dietrich-Smith at center starting the year out "is going to be a big improvement for us," according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Detroit Lions will host free agent defensive tackle C.J. Mosley on a visit this week, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com notes that Mosley was the player who put a big hit on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in his rookie season while playing for the Cleveland Browns, injuring Stafford's shoulder one play before a last-second touchdown throw.
  • Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times has a Q&A with Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey, who said he is "heartbroken" that linebacker Brian Urlacher won't return in 2013.
  • Bears offensive lineman J'Marcus Webb on his offseason arrest, via ESPNChicago.com: "It has been all cleared up. I'm young, you make some mistakes sometimes. I'm pretty sure [the media] have made some mistakes here and there, so you don't necessarily look down on it, you move forward and look at things in a positive manner. I'm definitely ready to be back here in Chicago and ready to get back to work."
  • Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton on the team's first day of offseason work without Urlacher, via Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: "It’s just strange because he was always a guy who treated you with respect. When I first got into the league, he found out what my name was and called me by my name instead of referring to me as a rookie."
  • Both sides are to blame for the failure to make a deal with Urlacher, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
PHOENIX -- Four days at the NFL owners meeting has helped clear up a portion of Brian Urlacher's continuing contract standoff with the Chicago Bears.

Urlacher
We know that chairman George McCaskey wants Urlacher back with the team but won't influence the final decision of general manager Phil Emery.

It's now overtly clear that the Bears' coaching staff wants Urlacher back as well, a topic we've discussed generally but was confirmed Wednesday by coach Marc Trestman. In discussing the issue at the NFL owners meeting, Trestman said: "We all understand I think that he can help us on the field. I've said that, and I've said that to Brian."

Given the current state of the Bears' roster, I understand why the coaching staff would want Urlacher back. Neither of the players who have started at the position over the past three years -- Urlacher and Nick Roach -- are under contract. (Roach signed last week with the Oakland Raiders.) There really isn't a viable starter on the roster, and it's never ideal to enter a draft with a desperate need for a starter at any position.

But in addition to providing continuity at middle linebacker, I also wonder if Urlacher could provide Trestman an essential service during his rookie season as coach. Assuming Urlacher bought in to Trestman's program and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's scheme, he could serve as a locker room salesman and messenger to help smooth the transition from the previous regime.

At a time of uncertainty, many Bears players would be looking to Urlacher -- who has long been the face of the franchise -- to set a tone and take the lead. If Urlacher enthusiastically embraces Trestman and Tucker, chances are better that the rest of the locker room would follow suit.

If Trestman wants Urlacher back, my guess is he thinks there is a good chance of buy-in. And Urlacher's interest in returning suggests he feels the same way. Here's what Trestman said when I asked him about Urlacher serving in the conduit role:

"There is no doubt that the No. 1 thing is he can help our football team on the field. Everything else certainly brings great value to our team. No doubt about it. I'm just hopeful it will be resolved. And it will be resolved. As a coaching staff, we've just got to trust the process."

That process, to be clear, is financial. The Bears have removed emotion from the equation and have acknowledged the on-field aspect. So now we wait.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

PHOENIX -- It's rare when an NFL player re-signs with a team that cut him for financial reasons. Those business issues, as well as hurt feelings, don't usually dissipate quickly enough to foster a re-connection.

That's why most of us aren't expecting the Minnesota Vikings to re-sign cornerback Antoine Winfield, whom the team released last week rather than pay him a $7.25 million base salary. But as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com points out, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is hoping Winfield proves the exception to that unwritten rule.

In town for the NFL owners meeting, Frazier told Pelissero that he has spoken to Winfield abut the situation and added: "I'm hoping that we can figure out a way to get him back here. So, I'm hoping that it's not goodbye yet."

The market has fallen for free agent cornerbacks in recent days and many are settling for one-year contracts. Winfield reportedly has received several calls of interest but he will be 36 when the season begins. We'll see where it goes.

Continuing around the NFC North as the meeting officially opens:
PHOENIX -- We've passed through the first week of NFL free agency, and league news probably will come at a slower pace over the next few days here at the plush Biltmore Resort. But one of the biggest news stories of the offseason still hangs over us: The future of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

The sides are in enough of a contract stalemate that word leaked last week that Urlacher had discussed his status with the Minnesota Vikings, whose 2012 middle linebacker -- Jasper Brinkley -- has departed via free agency. While I don't expect Urlacher to join receiver Greg Jennings as NFC North defectors, I do think it's far from settled that he will return to the Bears.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireBrian Urlacher is at a contract impasse with the Chicago Bears.
The issue is important enough that I figured it was worth speaking to Bears chairman George McCaskey about it. As he walked the Biltmore halls, McCaskey said he personally hopes Urlacher returns but made clear the decision lies with general manager Phil Emery.

"As a fan," McCaskey said, "of course you want him back. He's been the face of the franchise. He's been an outstanding player, a Hall of Fame career. But I've tried to assure Bears fans since I became chairman that I don't involve myself in player personnel decisions unless there is a question of character. Of course, there is no question about Brian's character. So you have to leave that to the pros, the guys that make the evaluations, and hope for the best."

Urlacher's future isn't just a "player personnel decision." It's a franchise decision, and one that needs careful handling from all angles -- perhaps even a rare involvement from ownership. But I understand why McCaskey isn't inserting himself. If he makes an exception and orders Emery to re-sign him, he would leave Emery and the rest of the front office wondering when the next exception is coming. To maintain the wall he has advertised to fans, McCaskey has no other choice.

If I had to guess, I would assume the Bears have attached a value to Urlacher's return and are sticking to it. That financial figure is almost assuredly much lower than the $7.5 million he earned last season, and that's why the sides are where they are. This one is too murky to call. Stay tuned.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
10:10
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After the Chicago Bears' 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    All eyes are on general manager Phil Emery, and by extension team president Ted Phillips and chairman George McCaskey. The Bears finished with a playoff-worthy record at 10-6, even if it was after a 7-1 start, but ultimately they missed the postseason for the fifth time in six years under coach Lovie Smith. That sounds like a fair recipe for making a change, even for a coach with a career record of 81-63. But there is more gray area here than you might realize. The Bears have spent almost a decade building their defense around Smith's scheme. The chances of finding a new coach with the identical defensive approach are not high. So firing Smith is a move to overhaul the entire defense, long the lifeblood of this team. In other words, the Bears stand on the brink of a major rebuild if they fire Smith. Are they ready for that, with quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall in their prime? Emery has a chance to change the direction of the franchise, but it remains to be seen whether he thinks it is necessary.
  2. This has to be the most disappointing season in Devin Hester's career. The much-heralded "Hester Package" never materialized in the Bears' offense, and none of his 64 combined punt and kickoff returns went longer than 44 yards. Cutler targeted him on only 40 of the 208 routes he ran this season, including just one over the final three games, according to EPSN Stats & Information. Hester caught 23 of those passes for 242 yards and one touchdown. This was the first of Hester's seven seasons when he was productive neither as a receiver nor as a returner. He turned 30 last month and is entering the final year of his contract. Assuming he didn't hit any of his contract escalators this year, he is signed for a reasonable $1.857 million in 2013. But you wonder what his place would be in a revamped Bears program.
  3. On the other hand, I don't think the Bears could have taken better advantage of their acquisition of Marshall. His reunion with Cutler produced career highs in receptions (118), yards (1,508) and touchdowns (11). You would have to consider Marshall's performance one of the best for an offensive skill player in Bears history. One interesting offseason discussion will be the 194 passes Cutler targeted Marshall on. It tied for second in the NFL behind the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (205) and was nearly four times as many as the Bears' next-most targeted receiver. Was it too much? You wonder if the Bears' approach in 2013 will include a plan to target Marshall less, incorporate more players on a weekly basis and be more productive as a whole.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is a pending free agent, and it's at least worth discussing whether his career is over. He gutted through 12 games on a knee that never completely healed from a January 2012 injury, and most football people would tell you he was nowhere close to his usual sideline-to-sideline self. He is 34 and his contract status could give the Bears a relatively graceful way of moving on. Emery paved the way for that possibility by declining to extend his contract before the season. Urlacher's 2012 season made that decision seem wise. Emery can't bring Urlacher back for a competition or as a role player, however. That wouldn't be respectful to one of the best players in Bears history. It's all or nothing, and at this moment it's not clear which way he will go.
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Andy KingQuarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears were shaken up in a Week 14 road loss to the Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A step into the Chicago Bears' locker room Sunday afternoon was like opening a door into a blizzard. The people inside spoke in hushed tones, steeling themselves from elements that had been pounding them for hours. They looked wind-worn and resigned to additional accumulation.

Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was the Bears' fourth in five games, a slump that has dropped them from NFC North leaders into a fight for wild-card playoff position. (The Bears are now clinging to the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race after the Seattle Seahawks' 58-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.) They are now 0-6 in their past two Decembers, and watching them Sunday made you wonder if they are nearing the end of an era.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher was walking through the locker room in street clothes, sidelined by a hamstring injury that ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported could end his season and perhaps his career in Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler was nursing an injured neck that was so stiff he could not turn it during a postgame news conference, instead swiveling his upper body or just moving his eyes to face questioners. Even coach Lovie Smith, who always looks ready for battle, was notable for the gray stubble sprouting from his chin.

"The window of opportunity for us is a lot smaller," Smith said, "but we still control what happens to us."

Smith was referring to this season's playoffs, and yes, the Bears have a good chance of advancing if they win their final three regular-season games. They might well get in with a 2-1 finish. That schedule includes one home game, next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, and then road games at Arizona and the Detroit Lions to finish the season.

Do you see three wins in those games? Maybe. Do you see two? It's quite possible. But here's a more specific question: Do you see either scenario from the team the Bears trotted onto the Metrodome carpet Sunday? I'm not sure about that.

Cutler didn't mince words afterward, saying: "We have just a handful of games left, and we have to win them all." But what if they don't? What would a second consecutive December collapse mean for this franchise?

Smith has a 79-62 record in nine seasons with the Bears. He had them in the NFC Championship Game two years ago and seemed destined for a deep playoff run last season before Cutler's season-ending thumb injury. This year, Smith had the Bears at 7-1 before they hit this slump.

Instincts tell you that Smith's job isn't riding on the next three games. But the Bears haven't been predictable since George McCaskey ascended to the chairman's role two years ago. After Week 14 last year, I wouldn't have guessed general manager Jerry Angelo would be fired the day after the season. That event means that Smith's boss, new general manager Phil Emery, isn't the man who hired him.

Even if Smith keeps his job, you would think the Bears' 2012 finish will jump-start the rebuilding of a defense that has been slowed by age and injuries in the second half of the season. Sunday, the entire team seemed literally to be falling apart in front of our eyes.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould strained a calf muscle in pregame warm-ups. Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play of the first game Urlacher has missed in three seasons. Receiver Alshon Jeffery slipped on a cut, resulting in an interception that set up a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.

Receiver Devin Hester dropped a certain touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and teammate Brandon Marshall allowed a potential fourth-down conversion to skip off his hands. Even Cutler interrupted one of his better NFL seasons with some sloppy throws, including one in the third quarter that sailed over Marshall and was returned 56 yards by Vikings safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown. That score proved to be the deciding points in the game.

"We have to come out with a higher sense of urgency," said defensive lineman Israel Idonije. Said linebacker Nick Roach: "We kind of came out a little flat, maybe."

How the Bears came out flat in a December game with playoff implications is a story with no acceptable explanation. This performance should be a wake-up call to anyone who believes in the Bears' status quo.

Cutler was one of the few players who appeared to be scrapping from the start, most notably on an 11-yard run on third-and-10 to extend the Bears' second possession. But Cutler paid a price for his hard-driving play. He said his neck was "stiffening up more and more" as the game progressed, and Smith pulled him late in the fourth quarter after he absorbed one final head shot from Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Marshall said "we just have to win out" three times in a span of four questions. And if they don't? Well, anything -- and everything -- seems possible.

 video
The Chicago Bears played a game Sunday night at Soldier Field in what coach Lovie Smith called "Chicago Bears weather." They lost, managing only six points against a southern dome team, and at least one Bears player is pretty ticked off about it.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould slammed the stadium grounds crew Monday during an appearance on ESPN 1000, as my ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson notes. Criticizing the Soldier Field grass is an annual tradition among Bears players, but it reinforces that nothing much has changed after chairman George McCaskey promised the team would get more involved in field management after conditions forced the 2011 Family Night practice to be canceled.

Gould
Gould
The Chicago Park District owns the stadium and is in charge of all maintenance, including the field.

Gould, who missed a 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have made it a one-score game, said he wants to know "who decided to keep the field so soft that it's been tore up the entire year." Gould asked why the field wasn't covered to protect against heavy rain in the hours leading up to Sunday night's game, and said the field has been uneven and treacherous all season.

"I don't know what's happening," Gould said. "This year our field has been real bad. It's been tore up. There have actually been some places on the field where some portions of it have actually sunk to a new low level, and the other spots are high."

Here's how Gould described the conditions for his game-winning field goal over the Carolina Panthers in Week 8:

"On the left hash, three quarters of the hash is really high and then it's like a cliff. It just falls off for like four or five inches. So when we made the kick, if you go and watch that kick on film we are outside the portion of the hash which makes it a lot tougher [in regards] to the timing and the rhythm of the snap for Pat Mannelly. He is the best long-snapper in the NFL, so for him he makes it look it easy.

"But it's been really interesting to watch this year how bad our field has really been. I know we have talked about this every single year. ... Can we please get somebody in there that watches a news report?"

It's only fair to note that Gould has missed three field goals this season at Soldier Field. And I've always been dubious about complaints, legitimate or otherwise, on field conditions there. The Bears' management understands the situation and has the authority to mandate changes, including a switch to artificial turf.

I've always assumed that nothing has changed because the Bears' decision-makers like it the way it is. It's safe to say they consider the current state of affairs to be a home-field advantage. In most cases it is. In fact, the Bears probably like public discussion of the field conditions, if for no other reason than to play mind games with future opponents.

Sunday night, however, that philosophy might have backfired. Gould's comments remind us that sometimes you can get snared in your own fishnet. Or something like that.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

On Tuesday, we downplayed the individual impact of three incidents Detroit Lions players have had with marijuana in the past three months. They are mostly misdemeanors and aren't likely to have lasting consequences from a legal perspective. If anything, they seem more significant when bunched together as a reflection of the organization.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press takes a different tack, writing the Lions should release defensive tackle Nick Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure. They don't need "another ticking time bomb," Sharp writes. He adds: "Just because marijuana usage is perceived as more casual than other drugs doesn't mean the punitive measures should be equally nonchalant."

The timing of these incidents, which also include offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath, suggests the Lions will have to create a more effective internal deterrent. But parting ways with these players would be an awfully harsh, and probably unrealistic, punishment. I think Sharp was trying to snap people out of downplaying the significance of NFL players using marijuana, and the message was heard.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin briefly put a scare into the team's fan base Monday night by tweeting -- one day after April Fool's -- that he needed shoulder surgery. Harvin quickly followed up by saying he should be healed in time for spring practices, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Harvin needs only an arthroscopic cleanup and will have a quick recovery time.

The Vikings are already dealing with the surgery rehabilitation of tailback Adrian Peterson, who tore two ligaments in his knee in December. Barring a surprise move in the draft or later in the trade market, Harvin projects as the Vikings' No. 1 receiver in 2012.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out that Harvin pushed through a number of nagging injuries last season, but none were related to a shoulder injury.
  • The Vikings' stadium bill was approved by a state legislative committee Monday night but has a long way to go toward final approval, according to the Star Tribune.
  • The Vikings signed free-agent receiver Bryan Walters, who caught three passes last season for the San Diego Chargers. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has more.
  • New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson on new Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, via Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I'm going to tell you something. If you don't like Anthony Hargrove, you have to check out of the human race. If you don't like this guy, you don't like anybody."
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "If Nick Collins received word about his future in football on Monday, no one from his camp was saying."
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has details about the scheduled arraignment of Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure.
  • Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "For a young man who was born in a prison and spent most of his young life trying to outrun the former lifestyle of his parents, the Lions' Mikel Leshoure has hit another bump in the road."
  • Leshoure did not show up Monday for his arraignment, according to Julie Mack of Mlive.com, but is expected to do so Wednesday or face arrest.
  • Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey feels better about the NFL's new kickoff rules, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
We're Black and Blue All Over

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If it were an emotional decision, it's clear where Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy would stand on the return of safety Nick Collins, who is awaiting word from doctors on the long-term prognosis of his neck.

"If Nick was my son," McCarthy told Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com and Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "I would not let him play."

In the end, of course, the decision will be made by medical personnel. Early tests have been encouraging, but Collins is awaiting a final evaluation that could take place as early as this week. McCarthy said there will be no gray area from a medical standpoint: Collins won't return unless he is completely healed.

"We're not going to put him in harm's way," McCarthy said. If he's on the field, he’ll be cleared, he'll be 100 percent and everybody will be comfortable with it."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • As we noted, the NFL is not expecting to announce the matchup for its Sept. 5 season opener this week.
  • Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel liked the Packers' move to sign center Jeff Saturday so much that he wants to see them do it again with a defensive player.
  • The Packers felt they had to sign Saturday in order to maintain their style on offense, according to Demovsky.
  • It had been a while since the Packers had wined and dined a free agent, McCarthy told Wilde.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears chairman George McCaskey at the NFL owners meetings. His response when asked if coach Lovie Smith is in a "prove-it" year under new general manager Phil Emery: "Lovie will be the first to tell you that everybody in the NFL is there on a prove-it basis. From what I've seen, he and Phil are working very well together. We hope that shows in results on the field."
  • Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times offers a long profile of Smith.
  • Smith spoke with Bears running back Matt Forte after Forte reacted angrily to the singing of backup Michael Bush, according to ESPN's Rachel Nichols.
  • Bears receiver Johnny Knox (back) isn't expected to be ready to start the 2012 season, according to Vaughn McClure of the Tribune.
  • Thomas Lee of the Star Tribune examines how lucrative naming rights could be for the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium.
  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press reviews the Vikings' reputation of questionable hits when Tony Dungy was their defensive coordinator.
  • The Vikings are committed to a slow rebuild of their defensive secondary, we noted Sunday.
  • Free agency is going "exactly as planned," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch explains why he thinks the Lions' defense will improve this season. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press has more.
  • A contract extension for Lions coach Jim Schwartz is one of the last remaining tasks of the team's offseason, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.

BBAO: Saturday morning update

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
9:05
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

INDIANAPOLIS — Good morning on what will be a less intense third day at the NFL combine. All four NFC North coaches and three general managers have conducted their media availability, and we'll hash through those interviews in the coming days while also focusing on the on-field workouts that will begin in earnest.

Until that gets started, let's catch up on local coverage around the division:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

On Thursday, we outlined the options the Detroit Lions have in for retaining free agent defensive end Cliff Avril, who is heading toward a payday after a career-high 11 sacks in 2011. One possibility we didn't discuss was Avril taking a discount to remain with the team that fostered his success, and there was a good reason for that: Players rarely agree to one.

Avril confirmed just that in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, saying in essence that he wants to return to the Lions but that business is business. Avril, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "There's no such thing as a hometown discount in the NFL. Once you can't play anymore, they're going to let you go, so you definitely have to strike gold when you can. That said, if they and another team present the same thing, I'd definitely stay with the Lions."

It's true that players sometimes turn down a slightly higher offer from a team they don't want to play for. But usually the difference is a small percentage of the total package. In a few years, when it comes time for the Lions or whatever team Avril signs with to end his career, that team won't think twice about cutting him. Business is business.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Receiver Randy Moss would not fit in with the Lions, writes Terry Foster of the Detroit News.
  • The Chicago-based Indoor Football League team that has offered Moss a contract is coached by former Bears defensive lineman Steve McMichael. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey on free agency, via Brad Biggs of the Tribune: "The bottom line, and Phil [Emery] knows this, if there is someone we want -- and it makes sense -- money is not going to be an issue."
  • I didn't think this was even a question, but it garnered headlines nonetheless: Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman acknowledged the team doesn't have an interest in bringing back Moss for a third tour of duty. More from the Associated Press.
  • The Vikings aren't expected to raise ticket prices this season, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Star Tribune: "A deal to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium next to the Metrodome neared completion Thursday, as stadium planners worked late to put the finishing touches on an agreement among the state, the team and Minneapolis."
  • The Vikings haven't changed their outlook on the future of cornerback Chris Cook, notes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Oakland Raiders have signed former Green Bay Packers defensive back Brandon Underwood, notes my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson.
  • Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports explains how renowned reporter Anthony Shadid came to be an obsessive Packers fan. Shadid died on assignment in Syria, apparently because of an asthma attack.

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