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When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox

The Chicago Bears' brass spewed plenty of tough talk after Lovie Smith’s firing about plans to close the gap on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

But while Chicago was talking grand plans, the rest of the division was actually executing them, which is how we’ve come into Sunday’s matchup at Soldier Field with the last-place Bears hosting the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions.

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup:

Wright: Looking at all the playoff scenarios, it’s clear all the Lions need to worry about is winning Sunday against the Bears. That has to be a refreshing feeling considering all this franchise has been through. What is the mood in the locker room, how confident is this team headed into such a crucial stretch, and do you feel the Lions are catching fire at just the right time?

Rothstein: That's all the Lions have been talking about, Michael. You ask a playoff question, you’re pretty much getting an answer about focusing on Chicago or beating Chicago. Personally, I was hoping there would be a Lions player this week who would answer every question with just the word "Chicago." That could have been entertaining. It all starts with coach Jim Caldwell, though. He won’t talk about the playoffs with anybody, not even his family. Considering how much the Lions have really bought into all of his motivational messages this season, it isn’t surprising they have continued doing that. As far as catching fire, Detroit’s defense has been consistent all season. The offense seems to vary depending on the opponent. Facing the Bears could be a good thing for the Lions since Chicago’s defense is one of the worst in the league.

The last time Detroit faced Chicago, the Bears seemed to be in a bit of a downward spiral. How has it gotten worse over the past four weeks?

Wright: Oh, Mike, let me count the ways. Instead of this being a "downward spiral," it’s now just a cliff with essentially everyone -- from team president Ted Phillips to the equipment staff -- trying desperately to prevent the inevitable tumble off the edge. Two nationally televised embarrassments in a row at Soldier Field in losses to Dallas and New Orleans. Do you realize nearly 11,000 fans didn’t show up for the club’s dismal showing against the Saints? Mike, you know it’s bad when you have a nationally televised game on tap, yet all the coverage throughout the week focuses on offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s tearful admission that he was the anonymous source for a report by the NFL Network, and the ensuing fallout from that. Right now, do you think the media in Chicago is talking about Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson or Ndamukong Suh? Nope. All the questions and speculation going into this game concern the futures of general manager Phil Emery, the coaching staff and whether ownership can stomach enough of this futility to resist cleaning house before the conclusion of the regular season. Mike, it’s bad. Very bad. It’s worse than anything I’ve ever covered, and the feeling I get is this team has thrown in the towel and is simply anticipating what appears to be the inevitable. I don't think news this week of the team naming quarterback Jimmy Clausen the starter over Jay Cutler eases the drama.

When the Lions first hired Caldwell, there was skepticism about his abilities as a head coach. There is no doubting Caldwell now, in my opinion. How different is the players' belief in Caldwell as this team’s leader compared to how they felt with Jim Schwartz?

Rothstein: I will readily admit I was one of Caldwell's biggest doubters, even at his opening news conference when I asked him about having a losing record in college and being out in Indy after three seasons. But he has really been the perfect coach for this team. His calmness has been the biggest factor in why Detroit has been able to continually come from behind this season and why Detroit is 10-4 with two games to go. The players, as mentioned, really buy into everything he’s saying and also appreciate his coaching style and that of his defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin. Austin often implements in-game adjustments from his players based on what they are seeing on the field, and it’s worked. Last week is a good example, as Minnesota scored 14 points early and didn’t score again the rest of the game. That has been huge for the Lions.

The Bears essentially abandoned the run against Detroit on Thanksgiving, and there are other games this season where they have done that, too. Does Chicago try to run on Detroit a second time, or do you expect more of the same Sunday?

Wright: The last time these teams met, Chicago knew running the ball against the Lions would prove to be an exercise in futility. So the Bears tried to attack Detroit the same way the Patriots did with the short passing attack. They figured short passes to Matt Forte would be an extension of the rushing attack. The game plan seemed to work at first, before Detroit turned a 14-3 deficit into a 24-14 lead at intermission on the strength of a trio of touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Forte finished with five attempts -- which tied a career low -- for 6 yards. If the Bears attack similarly in this contest, you can count on the Detroit Lions engineering a blowout. As good as Detroit’s run defense is, the Bears would render play-action totally ineffective if they abandon the run. So Chicago likely will start off the game trying to run the ball. But as you predicted, the Bears will abandon the rushing attack at some point. It’s just a matter of time in this game.

Mike, you cover a team with so many interesting storylines. What is the latest with the right tackle situation? Can you give me the lowdown on undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas, since he might be the next man up at that position with LaAdrian Waddle suffering a knee injury against Minnesota?

Rothstein: I don’t quite have the storylines you have, Michael. Caldwell essentially ruled Waddle out of Sunday’s game against Chicago, and Lucas is going to be the guy. He has had some struggles this season, but Lucas considers his best game of the season the only other one he started -- against the Bears on Thanksgiving. He was responsible for no quarterback sacks and no quarterback hurries in that game. Lucas might have been an undrafted free agent, but his size and foot speed make him a player with a lot of potential in the future. There is a reason Detroit coveted him in the UDFA market. It will be interesting to see him go up against Willie Young on Sunday, because Young is having his own breakout season and could really take advantage of Lucas if he isn’t careful. It could be one of the most hidden matchups to watch if Chicago has a chance at an upset.

Typically, it’s been the Lions in the role of spoiler throughout the recent history of this rivalry. Yet that is what the Bears are playing for this week. Is that a big motivation for them, or are the other issues taking over?

Wright: Self-preservation takes precedence over playing the spoiler role in this outing, my man. By and large, a good portion of the coaching staff believes it is on the way out. In fact, multiple coaches on that staff have told me as much. But they have also said it’s important for them to go out and conduct themselves as professionals, because when it’s all said and done, most if not all will be seeking employment elsewhere once ownership finally makes the decision to clean house. The Bears started the season losing three in a row at Soldier Field, and it appears this team is destined to end the season the same way. So I’m sure the Bears want to finish out with a victory in their last game of the season at Soldier Field. But honestly, I think spoiling Detroit’s season is the furthest thing from this team’s thinking at this point.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – No offense to Eric Dickerson, but Eddie Lacy would rather not wear goggles on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Green Bay Packers running back has an irritated left eye that he said was from his contact lens. He's had to go with just one contact this week but hopes to be able to wear both for Sunday's game. He said Thursday that there's no way he's wearing goggles.

"I refuse," Lacy said before backtracking slightly. "I don't want to say I refuse because I might, because I think it will be better than wearing contacts, but that's kind of old school."

And when Lacy thinks of goggles …

"That's what I get, Eric Dickerson," he said.

Lacy needs something to help his vision. As he leaned against a table in the middle of the Packers' locker room, he closed his right eye and tried to make out quarterback Scott Tolzien's nameplate across the way.

"Let's just say I'm very blind," Lacy said. "I can't see Scott's name over there."

Lacy needs just 60 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. He's coming off a 15-carry, 97-yard game in Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills, a game in which he touched the ball only five times in the second half.

When asked whether he thought coach Mike McCarthy should have stuck with the running game more, Lacy said: "That ain't none of my business, bro. I do what's called."

Here's the full injury report from Thursday:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Randall Cobb talked more about his contract situation at his locker on Thursday than he has with the Green Bay Packers, apparently.

Cobb
Three months away from hitting free agency, the fourth-year receiver said he's no closer to getting a long-term deal done with the Packers than he was back in July, when he said he had not done enough to warrant an extension -- or at least not the kind of extension he wanted.

Here he is now, just four days after he surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in a season, and little has changed for Cobb.

"There's no contract talks that have been going on right now, so I guess not," Cobb said during a lengthy session with reporters on Thursday. "I guess there's still more to do. So, just continue to put my nose down every day and focus on getting the team into the playoffs and doing everything I can to bring back the Super Bowl."

The Packers are expected to keep the Cobb-Jordy Nelson duo together, so perhaps general manager Ted Thompson is following a similar approach to the negotiations last season with cornerback Sam Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours after the negotiating window opened for free agents. Nelson, meanwhile, signed a similar contract extension in July.

Cobb admitted early in the season that the contract weighed on his mind as he got off to a slow start. Since Week 7, when Cobb caught six passes for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers, he ranks eighth in the NFL in receiving yards and 13th in catches among all receivers. For the season, his 10 touchdowns ranks tied for eighth overall.

Yet he still thinks about his contract.

"I can't say I don't,” Cobb said.

But it doesn't bother him like it did early in the year.

"No, I'm still going to play football," he said.

Cobb has a strong support in his quarterback. On his ESPN Milwaukee radio show this week, Aaron Rodgers lobbied for Cobb's return.

"There's a lot of guys that embody what it means to be a Packer," Rodgers said on the show. "Over the years, there's been a number of guys who really just kind of bought into the Packer way of making it about the team and being a great locker room guy, being a guy you can count on every day to be a great teammate and a great practice player, and great in the community and take ownership of the responsibility to conduct yourself the right way. It's been fun to see a lot of those guys get paid and get second contracts and stick around, and Randall is one of those guys who's exactly what I was just talking about."

It's a sentiment that Cobb said he appreciated.

"You definitely hear from your teammate and friend, your quarterback," Cobb said. "It's a great feeling to hear that. He has that trust in me, and I'm just continuing to work for him and do the best I can for him."

And for himself and his contract.

"I am my biggest critic, I've always been my biggest critic [and] I'll always be my biggest critic," Cobb said. "So I still don't think I've earned what I'm trying to be. I've still got a lot of work to do. So I'm just taking it day by day and doing the best that I can to be the best that I can be for this team."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Norv Turner arrived in Minnesota this year with a well-earned reputation as a downfield passing savant, a quarterback guru and, more recently, a media analyst.

As you might remember, Turner took note of a training camp report last summer -- when he was the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator -- that suggested receiver Josh Gordon was loafing during practice. When Gordon developed into a dominant force, Turner belatedly but triumphantly discredited the report.

Bridgewater
Earlier this season, Turner joined Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in disputing the grading methods of website Pro Football Focus, particularly as it related to left tackle Matt Kalil's play. And Thursday, Turner opened his weekly media availability with a 550-word statement about quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's play.

As we discussed Sunday, Bridgewater had three game-changing misfires but otherwise played well in a pass-first game plan against one of the NFL's top defenses in a 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions. Turner used the opportunity to react obliquely to analysis presumably produced earlier this season on Bridgewater's rookie performance.

"We've started eight different offensive linemen," Turner said. "We've obviously started three different tight ends. We've started three different running backs, played five different running backs. Over the last five weeks, our leading wide receiver is a guy we signed in late September/early October off the Cleveland Browns practice squad and you throw a rookie quarterback into that. I've seen a bunch of guys really, really have a tough time with that and a bunch of guys that are good players.

"It's pretty incredible to me what he's done, how he's handled it, the things he's gotten done and what he's really done is made everyone around him better, and that's a quality that you're looking for."

The Vikings are asking Bridgewater to "carry this group," Turner said, in stark contrast to the paths taken by other successful young quarterbacks he has coached. In Dallas, Troy Aikman had Emmitt Smith. Frank Gore was Alex Smith's running back with San Francisco. Philip Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

In Minnesota, Turner said, "We've kind of had an interesting group, and the people we've played on offense has been wide-ranging, and to do the things he's done, it just tells you something about the type of person he is, the type of player he is. ... He does it with people around him, he does it with people hitting him, he does it when he has to slide in the pocket. He knows how to play football, and that's the starting point of the quarterback position. He's got the intangibles you need and he's going to continue to get better and better."

I appreciate Turner's attempt to steer the conversation, but my feeling is that Bridgewater has already done that. It's no secret he has been the NFL's best rookie quarterback this season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Golden Tate heard the news about one of his closest friends, he immediately sent him a message.

In it, he told new Chicago Bears starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen to be safe.

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Tate
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"I sent him a text saying I’m happy for you, but I’m also nervous for you," Tate said. "Our defense ain’t nothing to mess around with, so for that to be your first start with your new team, it can be nerve-racking.

"But I hope he does well. I hope he stays safe out there. I hope he puts some good stuff on film, but I hope we still beat him pretty bad."

Tate knows Clausen better than anyone else on the Lions. The two have been close friends since their time at Notre Dame together, when Clausen threw passes to Tate during Tate's Biletnikoff Award-winning season in 2009.

Tate said he has wanted to see Clausen get another chance after he was thrown into the Panthers’ lineup as a rookie. Clausen went 1-9 in his rookie year in 2010, completing 157 of 299 passes for 1,558 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was sacked 33 times and posted a QBR of 11.0.

"I think it was unfair when he was in Carolina," Tate said. "He wasn’t on a great team, being a rookie. The next year they draft Cam Newton. He sits as a No. 3 [QB] because (Derek Anderson) was No. 2. They wouldn’t let him go, so he couldn’t even get an opportunity to go somewhere else to prove himself.

"Meanwhile, you’ve got tons of other, in my mind, terrible quarterbacks getting drafted in the first round. I’m sure you guys would agree with that, that have proven to be terrible, I’m not going to mention any names.

"That could have been his chance to shine, and then he tore his labrum last year and had to sit out the whole year and then he had to wait for someone to call. Wait for a chance. Gets to Chicago, gets a chance and beats out the No. 2 guy and is the backup quarterback. I believe in him and hope he makes the best of his opportunity for these last two games."

Well, he hopes he does well -- just not too well.

"In a perfect world he would play well and throw no touchdowns," Tate said. "And we would win."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Caldwell was asked Thursday morning to compare benched Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to the guy the Detroit Lions will face Sunday -- Jimmy Clausen.

Caldwell called Cutler incredible. He said Clausen was capable. Read into that what you will.

“You know, Cutler is a little different guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s a pretty incredible quarterback just in terms of athleticism, ability and those things. Clausen’s very capable, though.”

This could be a long, long Sunday for Clausen. Even if the Bears do what Caldwell anticipates, which is use Matt Forte way more than they did in his five-carry performance on Thanksgiving, it might not matter.

As long as Detroit’s run defense continues its consistency on early downs and forces Chicago into third-and-long situations, this could be a big day for the Lions defense and a rough day for Clausen.

Consider these things: There’s a reason why Clausen slipped to the second round of the NFL draft. And there’s a reason Carolina gave up on him after a season for Cam Newton. And there’s a reason he hasn’t started an NFL game since his rookie year.

In his only extended playing time, as a rookie with Carolina, he only completed 52.5 percent of his passes. He had six games where his QBR was in single digits. He was sacked an average of 2.5 times per game in his rookie year.

He’s not particularly good under pressure, either. In his rookie year, he was pressured 90 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He completed 18 of 57 passes for 215 yards. He was sacked 33 times, threw no touchdowns or interceptions and had a gaudy quarterback rating of 0.3 when pressured.

Then think about the Lions. They made the Chicago offensive line into a turnstile on Thanksgiving, pressuring Cutler, 16 times according to Pro Football Focus. Detroit’s defense sacks quarterbacks on 7.4 percent of their attempts -- 10th in the NFL. Meanwhile, Cutler was sacked 36 times this season, including seven times by New Orleans on Monday night.

Clausen had one good season -- his last one in college, where he completed 68 percent of his passes, threw 28 touchdowns and had only four interceptions. That was with an offense that had seven guys catch passes who would eventually play at least one NFL game (Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, Theo Riddick and Jonas Gray).

And here’s what Caldwell thought about Clausen then.

“Capable, you know. You got what you’re looking for,” Caldwell said. “Accurate guy coming out of college. Good leader and can certainly do exactly what he’s doing now.”

Up until Wednesday, that was sitting behind Cutler on the bench.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The question came up on our MVP roundtable debate, which can be found here: Will the timing of Aaron Rodgers' bad game -- one he called a "stinker" -- last Sunday in the road loss against the Buffalo Bills hurt his MVP chances?

Rodgers
Apparently not much, at least according to one oddsmaker.

The online sportsbook Bovada.LV still has Rodgers as the favorite. Two weeks ago, the same sportsbook listed Rodgers as a 1-to-2 favorite to win the MVP. This week, Rodgers was listed at 1-to-3. Tom Brady (5/1) was listed second with J.J Watt (7/1) third.

Here are the full odds for MVP this week (with the odds two weeks ago in parenthesis)

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida TV: Fox

For five straight weeks, the Green Bay Packers looked like they might have been the best team in football.

They seemed to be in cruise control for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Then the Packers went to Buffalo, and a strange thing happened. Playing what might have been their worst game of the season, the Packers lost to the Bills.

Consider that proof that anything is possible in the NFL. Consider that proof that it’s not out of the question that the 2-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance against the Packers on Sunday. That may seem like a long shot, but last week showed nothing is guaranteed.

ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down Sunday's game:

Yasinskas: Rob, what the heck happened to the Packers in Buffalo? I didn't see that one coming.

Demovsky: I don't think anyone did, Pat. But in hindsight, the Bills have just the kind of defense that could give -- and has given -- Aaron Rodgers and Co. trouble. They have a great front four that allows them to drop the maximum number of defenders into coverage. It's the same reason the Seahawks and Lions had been successful against the Packers. But if Rodgers and his receivers had even played an average game, that wouldn't have happened. Sometimes the stats lie, but in this case, they didn't. It was indeed one of the worst games I've ever seen Rodgers play, and I've seen all of them. He was out of sync from the get-go. He would read a play one way and his receivers would read it another. That's a bad recipe for an offense that relies on timing and reading the defense.

With that in mind, Pat, Lovie Smith's defenses gave Rodgers some trouble back in Chicago. Is there any reason to think the Buccaneers can come close to replicating what the Bills did?

Yasinskas: Probably not, especially with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy now out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. But if Tampa Bay does have a bright spot, it's the defense, which has been respectable since the bye week. The pass rush has been decent and the linebackers have played well. The secondary hasn't been great, but it has been better than it was in the first half of the season. This defense is improving steadily, but it still isn't as good as what Smith had in Chicago. The Bucs would have to play a perfect game to stop the Packers, and this defense is far from perfect. I don't think the Bucs have what it takes to pull off what Buffalo did.

Did that one bad game cost Rodgers the MVP award?

Demovsky: It shouldn't, but he probably needs to bounce back with one more of those three-plus-touchdown/no-interception games. It's human nature for the voters to remember what they've seen most recently, and of all the MVP candidates, Rodgers is probably the one whose bad game has come the latest in the season. Nevertheless, his efficiency this season has been off the charts. If 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions isn't an MVP pace, I don't know what is.

I know the Bucs have tried Josh McCown and Mike Glennon at various times this season at quarterback. Have they seen enough to know whether they can count on or rule out either one or both as their starter next season?

Yasinskas: I think the only thing that has been settled is that Glennon is not viewed as the long-term answer by the coaching staff. Although he was referred to as the quarterback of the future, he has been benched in favor of McCown twice -- once upon McCown's arrival and again when McCown returned from a thumb injury. That tells me Glennon has no future here. And McCown is no long-term answer. He's 35 and he hasn't played like the savvy veteran the Bucs expected. He has turned the ball over too much and been inconsistent. Whether it's through the draft or free agency, the Bucs need to make a move at quarterback this offseason.

I read where Packers coach Mike McCarthy was quoted as saying there would be some change on special teams this week. What's that all about?

Demovsky: When you've had six kicks blocked (two punts, two field goals and two extra points), you know you have a problem. And then the Bills returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. McCarthy said this week that "the personnel is not right." Fifteen weeks into the season, it was shocking to hear, but it's a sure sign that there will be some new players or old players in different roles on those units this week.

I'm sure plenty of Packers fans are already chalking this one up in the win column, but what's the most likely way the Bucs could pull off an upset Sunday?

Yasinskas: It's a long shot any way you look at it. But the best chance for Tampa Bay would be if the defense plays a great game. That's going to be tough without McCoy, but there still is enough individual talent on this defense to have a good outing. To win, though, the defense has to be more than good. It has to be outstanding, and it would have to produce points, because Tampa Bay's offense isn't explosive enough to stay with the Packers. Like I said, it's a long shot, but you never know what you're going to get with the Bucs.

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ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter dropped a stunner Wednesday night when he reported the Chicago Bears' plan to bench $126.7 million quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen on Sunday when the club hosts the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

The situation brings to mind one that transpired in 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida, when former head coach Jack Del Rio made the decision to bench and eventually cut former No. 7 overall pick Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard.

When Del Rio informed people inside the organization of the decision he’d long been wrestling with, the team’s assistants agreed -- at least publicly -- while folks on the personnel side, including former front-office boss James “Shack” Harris, vehemently disagreed. The situation became so heated it forced a meeting with then team owner Wayne Weaver involving Del Rio and those on the personnel side against the move.

Del Rio swayed Weaver to give him final say in that decision by making the argument that, ultimately, ownership holds the coach accountable whether the team is successful or not. So if Del Rio was going down, he wanted to do it with the man he preferred under center.

That’s not to say that’s exactly what’s going on behind closed doors at Halas Hall. But with questions concerning Marc Trestman’s job security, if he is going to go down in flames, he'd likely prefer to do so with a quarterback he knows will execute the system the way he asks. As opposed to someone doing his own thing, which is what Cutler has done for the better part of the season -- based on observations from NFL experts such as Trent Dilfer -- leading to serious struggles and the quarterback leading the league in turnovers (24).

Former Bears backup Josh McCown played within the confines of Trestman’s scheme last season, filling in for an injured Cutler and finishing with 13 touchdown passes and one interception while setting the single-season franchise record for passer rating (109.0). While it would be foolish to expect similar success from Clausen against the Lions on Sunday, what Trestman is likely counting on from the backup is for him to simply execute the offense the way he’s asked to, as opposed to freestyling and making the types of game-changing mistakes seen from Cutler.

It may be far-fetched to believe at this point that Trestman can save his job, but if he can find a way to defeat Detroit and the Lions’ vaunted defense with Clausen at the controls, the coach might be able to prove to ownership that he’s not the issue pulling down the team; that it was actually Cutler.

A quarterback whisperer if you will, Trestman made an admission Wednesday regarding Cutler that was telling.

Asked if he’d been able to coax the best from Cutler, Trestman admitted, “I think that’s evident I haven’t up to this point. Am I working on it? Yes. We’ve seen moments, but we haven’t done it on a consistent basis. I can’t hide from that.”

During a nationally televised loss Monday night to the New Orleans Saints, Cutler tossed three interceptions and generated a season-low passer rating of 55.8. He also produced a total QBR of 6.8 against the Saints, which registered as his second-worst performance of the season in that category (6.0 QBR in Week 10).

The highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season, Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps, which ranks as third worst among all qualified players in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Trestman doesn’t need Clausen to flash Cutler’s immense physical skills: that rifle arm, that sneaky mobility. The coach just needs Clausen to execute within the system the way McCown did in 2013, and the way the team believed Cutler would when the club signed him last January to a seven-year contract extension.

It’s unlikely starting Clausen will save Trestman’s job. But at the very least, it allows him to go down his way as opposed to being forced to play a quarterback who has demonstrated time and time again a maddening inability to lead the team and consistently execute the scheme.
On the same day the Detroit Lions sent starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle to injured reserve, the team went a different direction to fill his roster spot.

The Lions claimed cornerback Josh Thomas off waivers after he was released by the New York Jets, filling Waddle's roster spot.

The 25-year-old Thomas was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft by Dallas. He never played a game for the Cowboys and spent three seasons in Carolina before splitting this season between Seattle and the Jets.

The 5-foot-11 Thomas has played in 42 NFL games with 54 tackles and one interception. He also has 12 career special-teams tackles.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – There were plenty of names – including some big-name players – on the Green Bay Packers injury report, but the concern level remained low about a majority of the eight players on Wednesday's list.

Even right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who remains in the concussion protocol after he dropped out of Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills, appears to have a good chance to play this Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Although Bulaga did not practice Wednesday, he was able to work out and attend meetings, which is a sign he has passed through the early stages of the concussion program.

"Looks great," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday of Bulaga. "Saw him in the weight room, in the meetings this morning. Making progress."

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was added to the injury report with a biceps injury and running back Eddie Lacy, who last week had a hip injury, was listed this week with an eye issue.

"Eddie's just a situation he has going on with his eye that's not game-related," McCarthy said. "I think we'll be fine there. I don't think Clay's is of serious nature. I think we'll be OK there."

Both Lacy and Matthews finished Sunday's game against the Bills. Lacy rushed for 97 yards and Matthews had one of his best games of the season with two sacks.

Here's the full injury report:
  • T Bryan Bulaga (concussion, did not practice)
  • CB Davon House (shoulder, did not practice)
  • RB Eddie Lacy (eye, limited participant)
  • G T.J. Lang (ankle, limited participant)
  • LB Clay Matthews (biceps, limited participant)
  • OLB Mike Neal (abdomen, limited participant)
  • OLB Nick Perry (shoulder, limited participant)
  • G Josh Sitton (toe, did not practice)
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- One major component swaying the Chicago Bears' decision to hire Marc Trestman was his ability to coax the best from quarterbacks, but the coach admitted Wednesday he hasn’t been able to accomplish that endeavor with Jay Cutler.

“I think that’s evident I haven’t up to this point,” Trestman said. “Am I working at it? Yes. We’ve seen moments, but we haven’t done it on a consistent basis. I can’t hide from that.”

Cutler won’t let him.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
AP Photo/David Goldman"I haven't been able [to coax the best from Jay Cutler] and we haven't been able to do the things that we want to get done," Marc Trestman said.
During a nationally televised loss Monday night to the New Orleans Saints, Cutler tossed three interceptions and produced a season-low passer rating of 55.8. Cutler also generated a total QBR of 6.8 against the Saints, which registered as his second-worst performance of the season in that category (6.0 QBR in Week 10).

The highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season, Cutler currently leads the league in turnovers (24). On a per-play basis, Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps this season, which ranks as third-worst among all qualified players in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What’s more is Cutler’s turnover rate is nearly twice as high as the average qualified NFL quarterback this season (the average is a turnover every 65.3 snaps).

“I haven’t been able [to coax the best from Cutler] and we haven’t been able to do the things that we want to get done,” Trestman said. “We’re working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I’m trying to give you the most truthful answer and that is, we’ve seen moments of it, but it’s not where we need to go. It’s not where we need to be. But it’s not all about Jay. It’s about our entire offense, working together to get it done.”

ESPN’s Jon Gruden hired Trestman back in 2001 to serve as a senior assistant with the Oakland Raiders, and during the broadcast said the Bears coach should consider benching Cutler and taking a look at backup Jimmy Clausen. Trestman indicated Wednesday he’s not quite ready to sit Cutler.

“Jon certainly has a right to his opinion, and each and every week we go through our evaluations all the way around,” Trestman said. “As I said, Jon’s got a right to his opinion.”

For the better part of the season, Trestman has talked extensively about the team’s great weeks of preparation, and admitted after a Nov. 10 blowout loss at Green Bay, to being “confounded” by the team’s inability to transfer the groundwork laid in practice to the games.

Against the Saints, the Bears converted just 2 of 12 third downs, which led to the club’s defense being on the field for 33 minutes and 31 seconds as Drew Brees ripped Chicago for 375 yards passing and three touchdowns.

Asked whether he was still confounded by Chicago’s preparation not transferring to games, Trestman acknowledged the club still hasn’t found answers, which for the organization, should be troubling considering just two outings remain in the 2014 season. At this point, it’s unclear whether a thorough offseason examination would adequately reveal all that ails Chicago’s offense.

“We haven’t been able to answer that question. We have to be honest with that,” Trestman said. “I’m being honest with you, we haven’t seen that. We haven’t been able to unlock that, and that’s the reason we’re 5-9.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It was halftime in London and the Detroit Lions had done little right in the first half against Atlanta. They practiced in England for a week and spent the first 30 minutes of Week 8 appearing jet-lagged.

Detroit’s first-year coach, Jim Caldwell, could have screamed or yelled in frustration or to motivate. Many coaches would. In years past, this would have happened. Not Caldwell. Not even close.

“You don’t understand, man,” offensive lineman Rodney Austin said. “I’ve never seen a coach down 21 at halftime that calm. He came in and was like, ‘Look, we didn’t play well and we know we didn’t play well. But what we have to do now is go out there and play well. So let’s go do it.’

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJim Caldwell's calm demeanor won over the Detroit Lions locker room. The Lions are 10-4 and would clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago on Sunday.
“That was his message. I was just standing there in shock, like he didn’t raise his voice. I don’t think as he spoke, his blood pressure didn’t go up. I don’t even think he started sweating hard.”

Lions players knew Caldwell wasn’t a screamer, one of the multitude of reasons Detroit hired him to replace the fiery Jim Schwartz. The monotone calmness Caldwell provided that day – and pretty much every day – was noticed. It had already been a theme during Caldwell’s first season. The Lions continually looked to the sidelines during come-from-behind wins to see the same level of emotion every time.

The Lions are 10-4 and headed toward a playoff berth. Caldwell might be the biggest reason why. This has been the antithesis of a typical Lions season. Instead of folding late in a season, they are thriving. Detroit is 3-3 in games in which it trailed by 14 or more points, including against Atlanta on Oct. 26 in London. The rest of the NFL is 11-128 in that situation.

“He’s our flight attendant,” receiver Jeremy Ross said. “When there’s a lot of turbulence on the plane, you look to the flight attendant to see whether you should panic or not. If the flight attendants are calm and they are not worrying when the plane is going all over the place, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ve been here before. They know it’s going to be OK.’

“If they are freaking out, then you’re freaking out, like, ‘Dang, is there something I don’t know?’ So him, when you look at him, he’s calm. He’s reserved. At halftime if we’re down, he’s not like, ‘Ahh, we gotta go.’ He’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s get better and let’s make plays and it’s simple.’"

Caldwell’s influence shows most in those moments, including four game-winning fourth-quarter drives. Detroit’s players look to their inspirational quotation encyclopedia of a head coach to give them on-field stability.

It’s been that way since his hiring.

“He’s got everybody’s ear in the room, you know,” guard Rob Sims said. “That takes a special person to get everybody in the room and maybe lose a couple guys opposed to having a couple guys and losing the whole room, if you know what I mean.

“That’s pretty much what it is. He’s able to grab your attention by his content and how authentic he is.”

Rashean Mathis, 34, is one of the oldest players on the Lions. He’s been through several head coaches between Jacksonville and Detroit. He often says he’s been in the league long enough that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. Then he met with Caldwell for 30 minutes in Caldwell’s office on Mathis’ first day in Detroit after re-signing.

The conversation veered from football to family. By the end, it felt like a father-son conversation instead of a boss-employee one. The pivotal moment came when Mathis said Caldwell told him the game was about the players and he was here to help him succeed. A head coach never told Mathis that before.

“That’s like your boss coming to you and saying, ‘You’re what drives my business,’" Mathis said. “Not too many bosses or people in authority are going to come tell their employees that, that you are what makes my business work, even if it’s known. So that was a comment that sold me.

“I’ve heard some assistants say it: 'We wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you.' But coming from a head coach and he’s conveyed it to the team, he’s conveyed it in front of the coaches, it means a lot. It means a lot. Those little things matter.”

This season, Caldwell’s little things have meant a whole lot in turning a perennial loser into a possible playoff team.
Every now and then, rivals back one another, and that’s precisely what took place Tuesday when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ripped Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer for criticizing Jay Cutler as an anonymous source in an NFL Network report.

Rodgers told the NFL Network he was “baffled” by the situation, and criticized Kromer’s behavior while expressing empathy for what Cutler endured in the week leading up to Chicago’s loss to the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football."

“I would have a major problem if somebody said something like that,” Rodgers said. “I think anybody that plays the position, you can’t help but empathize with Jay for that situation. You talk all the time about being connected, being a unit, believing in each other. But if you have unnamed sources, people out there cutting you down, and then you find out it’s the person calling the plays… that would be really hard to deal with, to look at him the same way.”

[+] EnlargeCutler
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsBears quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked seven times against New Orleans and threw three interceptions.
Kromer admitted to the team during a meeting he’d been the anonymous source in an NFL Network report in which he criticized Cutler’s game-management skills, specifically his refusal to check out of bad run plays.

During that meeting, Kromer apologized to Cutler, who said he “wasn’t angry” with the offensive coordinator.

But the entire situation resonated profoundly throughout the organization, with Bears general manager Phil Emery chiming in Monday night during the WBBM pregame show to vent his feelings.

"I’ve had to step back this week and let the emotions of those events quell down a little bit so that I was in position to listen and work through the processes and the structure we have to arrive at a conclusion that was in the best interest of the team,” Emery said. “I was very angry, to be honest with you, with what happened. Disappointed, upset, like many of our fans and like many of our players, which was obvious because that’s how the information got out, in terms of Aaron’s apology to the team.”

Rodgers told the NFL Network he “felt for Jay that he was having to deal with that.” Cutler, meanwhile, told WBBM after Monday’s game the entire situation “didn’t affect me preparing for the game” in which he threw three interceptions, was sacked seven times and produced a season-low passer rating of 55.8.

“I was surprised that the coach came out and admitted that it was him. I think, in general, unnamed sources are pretty gutless,” Rodgers said. “But then he comes out and admits it was him. I don't think he deserves any credit for that, but it was interesting that he did."

Rodgers pointed out the differences in work environments in Green Bay and Chicago, and credited coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson for creating an atmosphere in which communication rules and minimizes the prospects for such situations as what took place with the Bears from occurring.

"I would have a major problem with that, if [Green Bay offensive coordinator] Tom Clements was saying stuff like that about me -- which he never would, because Tom and I are so close, and I think we have good communication," Rodgers said. "I think there's a way of doing things when you have issues, and it's keeping it in-house.”

Cutler felt the same way, saying he learned early on in his career that it was better to operate that way.

“When I first got in the NFL [with the Denver Broncos], Mike Shanahan made a huge emphasis that things get kept in house. Throughout my nine years I’ve tried to abide by that policy and keep things in-house,” Cutler said. “Some years I’m better than other years. When [Bears coach Marc Trestman] got here, he was of the same method: Let’s try to keep things in house. And I think we’ve done a heck of a job throughout almost two years, haven’t had a lot of leaks, haven’t had a lot of things happen inside the building that have gotten out. Obviously we had something this time get out. It’s not a bad thing. It’s going to happen, and we’re not the first team it’s going to happen to and we won’t be the last team.”

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