NFC North: Tennessee Titans


NASHVILLE -- Chicago Bears fans took over the streets of downtown Nashville on Saturday night.

Then the team took control of LP Field the next day, destroying the Tennessee Titans 51-20 in a road outing that seemed more like a game at Soldier Field. Throughout the beatdown in a stadium filled more with fans from the visiting team than the home squad, chants of “Let’s go Bears” reverberated all day.

The Bears scored touchdowns in every phase in the first half -- on special teams with Corey Wootton’s blocked punt return; on offense with Matt Forte’s 8-yard run; and on defense, thanks to Brian Urlacher running back an interception 46 yards for a TD.

Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense jumped into the mix too, with the quarterback slinging three touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall in unquestionably the team’s most dominating performance of the season.

What it means: The Bears maintained their NFC North lead with a dominating performance on the road.

More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday’s game ranked No. 2 in the league with 23 takeaways, but racked up four more in the first half alone against the Titans. Charles Tillman accounted for three of the team’s four forced fumbles, with Urlacher forcing another in addition to returning a Matt Hasselbeck interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Kelvin Hayden boosted the team’s takeaway total to 28 with his fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.

Another defensive TD: Urlacher’s first-quarter INT return for a TD gave the defense its seventh INT return score of the season, which ties for the third most in a season in NFL history. The 1961 Chargers (9) and 1998 Seahawks (8) are the only two teams to score more defensive TDs.

With Urlacher’s score, the Bears became the first team in NFL history to return seven INTs for TDs in the first eight games of a season. The Bears are also the first team with INT returns for TDs in five games during a six-game span since the ’61 Chargers.

Obviously, it’s no secret the Bears win when they score defensive touchdowns. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 32 defensive touchdowns, including 25 on INT returns, and are 23-5 when they score a defensive touchdown. Since 2005 the Bears hold a 20-2 record when they score on defense.

AFC South champions: The Bears obviously own the AFC South, based on what they’ve done in three matchups against teams in that division this season. The Bears scored 41 points or more in all three of their wins against AFC South foes, starting with the Colts in the opener, followed by the Jaguars and the Titans.

In the three wins, the Bears outscored AFC South opponents 133-44.

What’s next: The Bears will receive the customary “victory Monday” when they return home to Halas Hall, before beginning preparation Wednesday to host the 7-1 Houston Texans in a prime-time clash next Sunday night at Soldier Field.
Randy Moss has announced his retirement. An all-time great and a sure Hall of Famer, Moss’ greatness cannot be denied.

He is one of the best big-play offensive players of all time and the elite threat of our generation. Moss’ physical abilities were off the charts.

But this seems like a good time for him to retire. Last season, when Moss played for three different teams, was an embarrassing showing for Moss. For all of Moss’ greatness, the majority of his brilliance was based off those off-the-charts physical abilities that he was born with. And some of those talents have eroded -- as they do to all players with age.

Again, if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I would vote Moss in as soon as he was eligible. But the majority of his extreme effectiveness was based on his ability to really get deep. Some technician wide receivers like Derrick Mason and Hines Ward can age more gracefully. Moss horrified opposing defenses because of his great speed, explosion, coordination, height and ridiculous ball skills.

He was never a precise route runner or a guy who made his living between the numbers. So, when his speed and explosion deteriorated, Moss’ effectiveness did as well. Now, I believe Moss could still go up and get the football in the end zone -- he has simply been an elite touchdown producer over his career and thrived in the red zone. But without the ability to simply run by most corners, Moss just isn’t the same.

I was asked repeatedly over the lockout, “What does Moss have left?” My answer was always, “I don’t really know since 2010 was such a strange season for him. It all comes down to if he can still really run. If he can’t, he isn’t Randy Moss. If he can, he still has a major role on a downfield passing team.”

Apparently, Moss realized he wasn’t quite the same in this capacity and wisely decided to get out instead of suffering through a season like he did in 2010.

All of that being said, I will very much miss watching what Moss could do on the football field. There really has not been another player quite like him.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Hopefully some of you caught Cris Carter's appearance during ESPN's weekend coverage of Steve McNair's death. Carter made a nuanced point about McNair's role in the progress of black quarterbacks, one I think bears repeating in this forum.

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  The Houston Oilers selected Steve McNair No. 3 overall in 1995.

Certainly, the NFL had witnessed successful black quarterbacks long before Houston drafted McNair in 1995. Hall of Famer Warren Moon, for one, left the Canadian Football League in 1984 and actually preceded McNair in Houston. Randall Cunningham spent parts of 10 seasons as Philadelphia's quarterback, and there are a number of other examples. (Tampa Bay drafted Doug Williams No. 17 overall in 1978, but the Buccaneers' refusal to pay him a competitive salary eventually prompted him to leave for the USFL.)

But, Carter said, McNair was the best early example of a black quarterback whose small(er)-college passing success was accepted at face value by an NFL team. Although McNair was also a productive scrambler at Division I-AA Alcorn State, the then-Oilers believed he could develop into an NFL-caliber passer and staked the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on it. (Remember, he was known as "Air McNair" in college.)

McNair played on some run-oriented teams in Houston, Tennessee and Baltimore and thus never threw for more than 3,387 yards in a season. But despite his mobility, McNair was always known as a passing quarterback who could run. And when his failing body began limiting his mobility after the age of 30, McNair extended his career by developing into one of the league's best clutch passers.

McNair's success paved the way for players like Daunte Culpepper, who put up stellar passing numbers at then-I-AA Central Florida in the late 1990s. Like McNair, Culpepper was a big and physical specimen who nonetheless was a passer before anything else. (Culpepper, in fact, set a single-season NCAA record by completing 73.6 percent of his passes in 1998.)

Despite Central Florida's second-tier status at the time, Minnesota jumped on Culpepper with the No. 11 overall pick of the 1999 draft. There was a time, Carter said, when NFL teams were hesitant to invest a high draft pick in a player of Culpepper's background. McNair made that hesitation a non-issue. Viewed through the eyes of Carter, McNair peeled away another layer of quarterback bias: That a black quarterback's college passing success was the result of skill that translated to the NFL rather than simple athleticism.

Weekend mailbag

May, 30, 2009
5/30/09
12:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Been a pretty busy week for the end of May, don't ya think?

We've had Chicago signing more than three-fourths of its draft class along with linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Detroit has continued to root around the personnel world, most notably by agreeing to terms with offensive lineman Jon Jansen.

Green Bay dealt with two reported contract disagreements, safety Nick Collins and receiver Donald Driver, as well as a suddenly silent linebacker in Aaron Kampman. Minnesota opened its mandatory minicamp without cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is missing practice because of a funeral but also happens to be at a stalemate in his own negotiations for a contract extension.

We also had a surprising outburst from former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who is angry at the possibility of Brett Favre signing with his former team. We'll consider that a cross-divisional story.

All of which gives us plenty of fodder for the weekend mailbag. Let's start with a question from our brand-new, white-hot Facebook page.

Lewis writes: Hey Kevin, big fan. I check the blog almost every day. What are the chances [Greg] Jennings and Collins get their contract extensions before training camp starts? Is there any chance the Packers extend Kampman, especially if he starts to get vocal about his hesitancy of switching positions in a contract year?

Kevin Seifert: I'd be surprised if the Packers don't get Jennings' deal done sometime this summer. The sides have been in discussions for some time, and the fact that Jennings is attending organized training activities suggests there are no major roadblocks. It seems to be a high priority for both sides, which makes a deal likely.

There has been very little progress with Collins to date. His contract will expire after the 2009 season, but the Packers don't seem to be in a rush with him. He almost doubled his career total last season with seven interceptions, and it's possible the Packers want to see if he can repeat his performance before committing long-term.

It's also possible that Green Bay is waiting to see how negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement play out. If there is no new deal, the league will go to an uncapped year in 2010. One of the new rules would be that players will need six accrued seasons to become an unrestricted free agent. Collins, therefore, would be a restricted free agent and thus have limited ability to seek employment elsewhere.

As for Kampman, I truly doubt his silence is a money grab. I don't think he's hoping to get an extension by portraying himself to be upset at his position change. That would be a surprising turn of events based on what I know about his character.


Sam of Athens, Ga., writes: I know everyone is high on the Bears this year after the Jay Cutler trade, but I don't see how using the Vanderbilt Commodores as their football equivalent to AAA baseball does this team any good. I'm still not sold on this team no matter how hard the media tries to push 'em on me.

Kevin Seifert: Easy on the Vandy shots, Sam -- although I do think you bring up a good point in one sense. I think the Bears' Vanderbilt connection might be a bit overvalued in some circles. Cutler might have good chemistry with receiver Earl Bennett, but that's not going to help Bennett get open any easier or run past NFL defensive backs any quicker. Bennett is still going to have to pull his weight in order to become a legitimate NFL receiver.

The same goes for right tackle Chris Williams and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. It's nice that Cutler knows them, but I'm not sure how applicable their relationships will be on the field.

I think it's fair to consider the Bears the top team in the NFC North at this point in the offseason, as ESPN.com did in last week's power rankings. Chicago was only a couple games behind division-winning Minnesota last season, and the Cutler trade represents the most significant personnel improvement in the division this spring. It's reasonable to believe Cutler could mean two additional victories for the Bears.


Brett of Peoria, Ariz., writes: Hey Kevin, After reading your article about Randy Moss, I have a question for you. Who has been your favorite receiver (skill and to watch) of all time? I know Jerry Rice is the best in terms of skill, but after that who would be your favorite receiver? Thanks!

Kevin Seifert: In terms of watching the guy play, Cris Carter was amazing. If the ball got anywhere near his hands, he caught it. His catches were always so smooth because he never trapped the ball against his chest and rarely bobbled it. He just looked the ball into his mitts and absorbed its force. There were so many times when you would see the ball disappear into the air and realize he had just reached up and snatched it.

Cris was so good at making a catch in traffic. By the time I started covering him in 1999, he was like a veteran basketball player who knew all the tricks to help get his shot off. If you watched in slow-motion, Carter had all kinds of tricks to keep his body between the defender and the ball.

I know there were some people who didn't like Cris' attitude at times. But if I had to pick one receiver to make one catch to win one game, it would be him. He'd find a way. (Now I just need him to put in a good word for me at ESPN. Oh, wait....)


Sirron writes: You previously mentioned that the Lions still need some CB help. Any chance Pacman will be a choice?

Kevin Seifert: I would be absolutely stunned if Jim Schwartz decided to take on Pacman Jones in his first year with the Lions, especially given everything he must know about Jones from their time together in Tennessee.

There's little doubt Jones is a talented player. But it's hard to bring in someone with his risk factor as you start a program. Schwartz's past relationship with Jones would mak
e him Jones' unofficial sponsor. If something went wrong, the blame would go to Schwartz because he should know Jones as well as anyone.

I really doubt Schwartz, or any other rookie coach, would want to take that risk.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After reading the Black and Blue post below, make sure you check out the AFC West blog of our colleague Bill Williamson. (Thanks to Alex of Minneapolis for the suggestion for top-to-bottom readers.)

According to Williamson, the four most serious teams in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes are Washington, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and -- yes -- the Black and Blue's own Chicago Bears. The Redskins are getting most of the public attention right now because they could include quarterback Jason Campbell and possibly cornerback Carlos Rogers in the deal, but the Bears do have a better complement of draft picks to offer if it comes to that.

Also, as we discussed Wednesday, the Bears could send Kyle Orton to the Broncos as at least a short-term solution. Campbell has probably performed better than Orton during their short careers, but not by a dramatic margin. (Campbell's career passer rating is 80.1. Orton's is 71.1.)

So I think it's fair to say the Bears are seriously considering this opportunity. Will they ultimately pull off the deal? If they do, they'll have to overcome the most aggressive owner in the NFL. Washington's Dan Snyder doesn't usually get outbid when he wants to make a deal.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It will be interesting to see how Green Bay's decision to retain defensive back Jarrett Bush will impact its situation with cornerback Tramon Williams.

Bush now has a three-year contract worth $4.5 million, including a $1 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary in 2009, after the Packers matched the offer sheet he signed with Tennessee as a restricted free agent. Williams is an exclusive-rights free agent, meaning he doesn't yet have the right to seek offers from other teams. But he was ahead of Bush on the Packers' depth chart last season and could be a rising star at the cornerback position.

Williams has been offered an exclusive-rights tender worth $460,000, but there have been reports indicating he will look for a longer, more lucrative contract. Will he be more likely to seek that deal and/or hold out after seeing Bush -- who has been primarily a special teams player in his career -- cash in?

It will be an interesting dynamic to follow as the Packers' offseason strength and conditioning program gets underway.

Continuing around the NFC North on a Tuesday morning:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

  Bush

Just making sure everyone saw and understands the news Friday night that Green Bay defensive back Jarrett Bush signed an offer sheet with Tennessee.

Because Bush is a restricted free agent, the Packers have seven days to match the Titans' offer or allow him to leave. Because they assigned Bush the lowest tender possible last month, the Packers will get no compensation in that latter scenario.

But before you start questioning whether the team should have given Bush a higher tender, keep in mind that move would have eliminated any real possibility that he would have received an offer elsewhere. Few teams, after all, would have been willing to give up a second-round pick -- the value of the next-level tender -- to sign Bush, a career dime/nickelback and special-teams contributor. In the end, the Packers would have been left paying him almost $1.6 million in 2009.

We don't yet know the value of the Titans' offer sheet, but you would be hard-pressed to believe the Packers will match a multiyear offer if they envision him in a similar role in future seasons. Such a decision could also complicate their situation with nickelback Tramon Williams, who as an exclusive-rights free agent doesn't have the right to negotiate with other teams. But Williams has yet to sign his tender offer with the Packers, suggesting he will hold out for a longer-term deal.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Let's catch up on some NFC North-related moves as the first week of free agency concludes:

  • Green Bay finally netted itself a safety by agreeing to terms with free agent Anthony Smith, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Smith played for new Packers safeties coach Darren Perry when both were in Pittsburgh. We delved into why the Packers were so intent on signing a safety earlier Friday.
  • Running back Kevin Jones re-signed with Chicago for reasons that remain unclear to me. Jones was inactive for five the Bears' last seven games in 2008, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner has spoken this offseason about giving Garrett Wolfe a long look as the No. 2 back behind starter Matt Forte. But Turner might have been overruled internally; the Bears gave Jones a $1 million signing bonus and will pay him a total of $2 million this season. That's not third-string money.
  • Minnesota re-signed linebacker/special teams ace Heath Farwell to a three-year contract worth about $8 million. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune reports $3.25 million in is guaranteed. That's a nice contract for a player who has never started an NFL game and missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But Farwell was one of the league's top special teams cover men before the injury and was on track to be the Vikings' top backup linebacker in 2008.
  • Detroit signed free agent offensive lineman Daniel Loper to a one-year contract. Loper is the second former Tennessee player to sign on to play for new Lions coach Jim Schwartz, the Titans' former defensive coordinator. Cornerback Eric King is the other. Loper will provide depth and could compete with Damion Cook for the left guard position.
  • Green Bay defensive back Jarrett Bush, a restricted free agent, visited Tennessee on Friday. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports.
  • Minnesota has no visits scheduled for this weekend, vice president Rick Spielman said Friday. But it's possible that cornerback Karl Paymah could visit next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 Simms

It's nice that Tennessee officials have told quarterback Chris Simms they want him back in 2009. But it would be surprising if he re-signs with the Titans without first testing the free-agent market, where the Chicago Bears and other teams might be waiting with interest.

It's possible Simms knows something about the Titans' personnel plans that we don't. But as it stands now -- Tennessee is trying to re-sign starter Kerry Collins and has no plans to move backup Vince Young -- Simms would be no better than the No. 3 quarterback in Nashville. That might be his ultimate lot for 2009, but he doesn't need to be in a rush to be anyone's No. 3 quarterback.

No one knows for sure if the Bears would pursue Simms if he was available. But he fits the profile general manager Jerry Angelo is looking for as a backup/possible challenger to Kyle Orton: A veteran player with starting experience.

You would thinks Simms would at least test the market next month before deciding to return to Tennessee.

Schwartz adds an assistant

January, 26, 2009
1/26/09
5:35
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

My AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky reports that a former Tennessee assistant has officially joined new Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Detroit.

Matt Burke, the Titans' defensive quality control coach for the past three seasons, will be the Lions' linebackers coach. During that time, Burke has joined Schwartz in taking an quantitative approach to football strategy through statistical analysis. Here is Burke's biography from the Titans' web site.

Burke and new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are the first two appointments of Schwartz's defensive staff. There have been reports that former Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik will coach the Lions' defensive backs, but Schwartz has yet to confirm it.

Rapid Reaction: Titans 47, Lions 10

November, 27, 2008
11/27/08
3:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

At least Jason Hanson worked his way into the history books. Otherwise, Thursday was one of Detroit's most forgettable days in a horrific season.

Hanson tied the NFL record for most career field goals of 50 or more yards, hitting on a 53-yard kick in the first quarter of the Lions' matchup against Tennessee. That kick made it 7-3, after which the Lions were outscored 40-7 the rest of the way in an emotionless blowout at Ford Field.

Unlike their five most recent games, the Lions never held a lead in this game and never once looked like they came to play. They fumbled on the second play of the game, gave up a touchdown on the fourth play and were down 14-3 midway through the first quarter.

The Lions hardly slowed down the Titans' rushing attack, giving up 293 yards on the ground alone. Sadly, it wasn't even an opponent's highest run total this season. That mark belongs to Atlanta, who rushed for 318 yards against the Lions in Week 1.

Unfortunately for the Lions, there are four more weeks to work on it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NEW ORLEANS -- It's a beautiful, sunny morning here in Louisiana, an appropriate outlook for Saints fans who watched their team put a historic drubbing on Green Bay.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints' 51 points were the third-highest total by one team in the history of "Monday Night Football." (The record is 55, set by Indianapolis in 1988.) Meanwhile, the teams' combined 80 points rank as the fifth-highest total in MNF history.

The Packers were scheduled to return to Green Bay at about 5 a.m. ET and don't have much time to prepare for 8-3 Carolina. And a week after watching Green Bay slam Chicago 37-3, longtime Packers observers don't know what to make of this team.

The Packers are too inconsistent to pass positive judgment on, writes Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal:

"[A]s we have found out repeatedly with the Packers, there is no reason to think they can do something until they actually go out and do it. Every game, it seems, one or two areas of the team fail them."

Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette was downright alarmed:

"They were embarrassed badly by the Saints, 51-29, and a performance like that invites serious questions about their status as a contender. ... It's hard to imagine the Packers, with their defense playing so poorly in such a crucial game, going anywhere but home for the post-season."

I'll play the contrarian on this one. Sitting here Tuesday morning, I think I probably overreacted in suggesting Monday night that the Packers might be out of the NFC North race. Five games is plenty of time to overcome a one-game deficit, especially when both divisional competitors remain flawed. Jon of Toronto wrote the mailbag note that settled me down:

"Kevin, don't react week to week or game to game. Clearly the Packers are a young Jekyll & Hyde team that could go in any direction the rest of the season, but to suggest it could now be a 2-horse race because they're half a game back (they still own the 3-way tie breaker) is ridiculous. Minnesota could lose the Williams' for a few weeks, and the Pack get to play the Bears again, so while this was a brutal game and a key loss, this race is far from over."

Fair enough. Now, on to the rest of the NFC North:

  • Chicago's Adrian Peterson has once again emerged as the Bears' No. 2 running back, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. No one is quite sure what's happened to backup Kevin Jones, who hardly sees the field these days.
  • After Tommie Harris' two-sack performance Sunday at St. Louis, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes: "Getting Harris to maintain that level has been one of the most maddening aspects of the season. But after seeing Sunday's effort, there's no doubt the biggest key to the defense over the final five games fits into Harris' ignition."
  • Bah humbug. Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune questions the long-term viability of the Vikings, considering their 37-year-old quarterback and their annual forays into the free-agent market: "Clearly, [owner Zygi] Wilf deserves applause for this, but can anyone look at what the Vikings have put together in November 2008 and say this team has a foundation built for long-term success?"
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes that Sunday night's game between Chicago and Minnesota will be for sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
  • Submitted without comment: Detroit coach Rod Marinelli was asked Monday if playing on a national stage on Thanksgiving would be a negative for his team. Marinelli's response, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press: "I guess if you're from Hostess Twinkies it would be."
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press on the Lions: "Next up: a visit from the Tennessee Titans. The Lions and Titans have a lot in common. They both benched their starting quarterbacks, and they both attempted to run the table, except the Titans foolishly tried to do it by winning all their games, while the Lions realized it is much easier to lose all of them. What a colossal miscalculation by Tennessee. The talk-radio lines must be burning up down there."

Rapid Reaction: Titans 21, Bears 14

November, 9, 2008
11/09/08
7:57
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

You'd have to like the chances of any team that holds Tennessee to 20 yards rushing on the road. But the price was steep for Chicago. Oh, was it steep.

In order to shut down the Titans' duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson, the Bears left themselves exposed by a passing game that produced that produced almost 100 yards more than its previous season high. The Bears got picked apart by -- yes -- Tennessee's Kerry Collins, who threw for 289 yards and two scores.

With a conservative gameplan in place for quarterback Rex Grossman, the Bears didn't have much wiggle room on defense. They focused on the right area of Tennessee's offense, and they probably never imagined Collins would respond so productively.

If you weren't worried about Bears' defense before, you should be now. Consider that in the past two weeks, Collins and Detroit's Dan Orlovsky have combined to complete 58 of 88 passes (65.9 percent) for 581 yards and two touchdowns.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

One more thought on the Jared Allen-Matt Schaub storyline that ultimately led to some hard feelings and a $50,000 fine for Allen.

Intent is not a part of most NFL rules. So it makes no difference that Allen steadfastly maintained he wasn't trying to hurt Schaub by hitting him below the knees last Sunday. (And given the state of the Texans' quarterback situation, the Vikings might have been better off with Schaub in the game rather than backup Sage Rosenfels, anyway.)

But Allen's intent doesn't matter. The reason the league put that rule into place is that a quarterback's eyes are never supposed to be on the pass rush. He's not always going to see a defensive lineman lurking near his feet, and certainly not if the lineman comes from behind. A shot below the knee is the easiest way to get the quarterback to the ground, but it puts him in a high-risk injury situation -- especially if his feet are planted to throw -- that the league isn't willing to perpetuate.

Allen seemed pretty upset earlier this week when he thought Houston coach Gary Kubiak accused him of intentionally trying to hurt Schaub. Kubiak clarified those comments Friday and said: "By no means do we think this young man was trying to hurt anybody."

We'll leave conspiracy theories for another day. But even if you give Allen the benefit of the doubt, and that he was merely playing out his instinct to bring down the quarterback, it should now be clear the NFL isn't interested in explanations.

Continuing around the NFC North on a wintry Saturday morning in the Upper Midwest:

Chicago's Brown tells it like it is

November, 6, 2008
11/06/08
6:25
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago safety Mike Brown (calf) returned to practice Thursday and delivered a pretty blunt assessment of the Bears' defense to local reporters.

Brown termed it "very mediocre" and referred to the defense as the Bears' "weak link."

"It's time for the defense to step up, man," Brown said, according to the team's Web site. "We're tired of being the weak link. We're used to being the strong link, and right now we're definitely the weak link on this team. For us to be successful as far as getting to the playoffs and being successful in the playoffs, it's up to the defense. So we're hoping and preparing to play great defense."

The Bears enter Sunday's game against Tennessee ranked 18th in the NFL, giving up 329.5 yards per game. That ranking puts them just below the league's midpoint, but most Bears fans would agree there have been stretches of totally unacceptable play. (Giving up 41 points to Minnesota on Oct. 19 and 23 points -- in the second quarter -- last week against Detroit come to mind.)

Brown spoke nothing but the truth in the quotes I saw. But it's not every day that you see NFL players -- even established, well-respected and well-spoken starters like Brown -- use such edgy words. Here's one more quote for good measure:

"We've been inconsistent," Brown said. "We've played well at times and haven't at other times. No one can put their finger on it. Trust us, if we knew what the problem was, we would have fixed it a long time ago. All I can tell you is no one on that side of the ball is satisfied. We're very mediocre and that's something that we're not satisfied with."

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