Bears Relish Chance for Revenge Over Rival Packers

(Reuters) – Two of the National Football League’s most storied clubs add another chapter to their bitter rivalry on Sunday when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears clash for the first time since last season’s NFC Championship game.

The Bears’ desire to beat their neighbors is more enhanced than usual after last season’s encounters where the Packers secured a playoff berth with a win at home on the final week of the regular season and then advanced to the with a victory in Chicago three weeks later.

That defeat still stings the Bears players, particularly starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who had to watch their old rival be crowned Super Bowl champions with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cutler was forced out of the NFC Championship game in the third quarter with a knee injury while his team trailed 14-0 and he famously watched his team’s defeat from the chill of the sidelines wearing an oversized winter coat.

The Bears quarterback came in for some sharp criticism, much of it unfair, that questioned his toughness – fighting talk in the macho world of the NFL.

The reality is that Cutler is never afraid to leave the pocket and run with the ball if he feels it is the right move and he takes more hits than most in his role.

In the Bears’ defeat to the New Orleans Saints last week, Cutler came up against a blitzing defense that sacked him six times and he expects more of the same from the Packers.

“It’s a big game, I know what it means to this organization and also to Green Bay. To get this season going and get back on track we need this game,” Cutler said this week.

Sunday’s game will mark the 183rd meeting of the two NFC North teams in what is league’s oldest rivalry that began in 1921 in the era of historic Bears player, coach and owner George Halas. The Bears have a 92-84-6 edge in the series.

HISTORY LESSONS

The history of the rivalry between the two teams, combined with the recent pain of defeats, means there is not much need for motivating speeches from Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

“We are playing the Super Bowl champions. This week I don’t have to start off with a lot of George Halas speeches about getting ready for this game. We know who we’re playing and the guys will be ready for this game,” said Smith.

The Packers have started the 2011 season with wins over the Saints and Carolina while the Bears’ defeat to New Orleans came after an impressive opening day victory over Atlanta.

The New York Giants will also get a shot at revenge this weekend when they face the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time since having their 2010 season shattered in memorable fashion in front of their home fans.

When the NFC East teams last met the Eagles scored 28 unanswered points in the final eight minutes, including a punt return for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game, to propel themselves into the playoffs.

The Eagles could be without starting quarterback Michael Vick, who suffered a concussion at Atlanta on Sunday.

Week 3 also has another NFC East divisional match-up that evokes great clashes from the past as the Washington Redskins visit the Dallas Cowboys on Monday.

The Redskins are off to a surprising 2-0 start to the season and are clearly relishing the game with starting quarterback Rex Grossman describing the two teams as having “the biggest rivalry in football.”

The Houston Texans have started well with wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins but they will get a tougher test at New Orleans.

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, both with 2-0 records in the AFC East, meet up with quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady in great form with seven touchdowns each from their opening two games.

It is a sign of the times that the clash between the Steelers and Colts is no longer a headline encounter – the Colts are 0-2 without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Martz: Bears Could Be Ready Quickly for Hall Game

Of course, that’s not realistic and he wouldn’t want to try. But if they absolutely, positively had to?

“If we report to camp and they say, ‘Tomorrow, you’re playing the game,’ that’ll be plenty,” Martz, Chicago’s offensive coordinator, said Wednesday.

The Bears are scheduled to open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., late next week and play St. Louis in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7. All that is in doubt at the moment because of the lockout.

Chicago star Devin Hester said he thinks players would need a week-and-a-half of practice to prepare for the Rams game. Martz wouldn’t say exactly how much time they would need, but he did say they could be ready rather quickly.

“You don’t do game plans for those games, anyway,” he said. “It’s not like a regular-season game at all. There’s not a whole lot of game preparation. You look at personnel, things of that nature, and clean things up execution-wise. The preparation for preseason games, particularly the first one, is not real hard.”

Coming off a wild season in which they made a big turnaround and advanced to the NFC championship game, the Bears might be in a better spot than most teams to withstand an offseason in which there were no organized team activities and no real opportunities to work with the coaches.

Most of their core players are under contract.

They’ve been running the same cover-2 defense for years under Lovie Smith and are entering their second season in Martz’s offense, so they won’t have to adapt to new systems. That could work in their favor.

There are, however, some question marks on the offensive line and at wide receiver, although Martz insists he’s happy with what he has.

He’s assuming veteran center Olin Kreutz will re-sign once he’s allowed, that first-round pick Gabe Carimi will adjust to the line quickly and a unit that was a mess early last season because of injuries and poor play will build on the progress it made over the second half, giving Jay Cutler the protection he needs and Matt Forte the holes he wants.

The pounding Cutler took last season was well-documented. The Bears gave up a league-leading 56 sacks, but got better using the same five players over the final nine weeks.

They ran the ball more often, too, giving up 2.8 sacks per game after allowing 4.4 over the first seven weeks. Forte wound up with 1,069 yards rushing, and Martz said the model they followed in the second half is one they will continue to use.

“The biggest issue was the offensive line,” he said. “When (Roberto) Garza came back (at right guard), it allowed us to run the ball. That whole side got established. The right tackle got his feet on the ground. We’ve got a great back. We want to mix this in there pretty good. We’ll be kind of judicious in the passing game. It’s a little bit different feel. Matt’s ability as a runner is substantial. The offensive line, the biggest improvement was made in the run blocking which allowed us to do all those things.”

He also expects bigger things from Hester as a receiver and doesn’t necessarily think the Bears need more height there.

“Size doesn’t make any difference,” Martz said. “It makes absolutely no difference. With Matt as a runner and our ability to run the ball, we get a lot of one-on-one coverage, and you have to have receivers that can beat corners one on one. And generally, the guys that can change direction and run fast — those are the kinds of guys that you’re looking for. If he’s a big guy that can do all that, that’s a rare find. A lot of times, those guys are more 5-10 guys.”

He said the Bears need to get Hester the ball more after he caught 40 passes for 475 yards, and he thinks they can do that without diminishing his contributions on special teams. Hester finally returned to his record-setting ways on returns after several down seasons, running back three punts for touchdowns and averaging 35.6 yards on 12 kickoff returns.

The Bears don’t want to lose that threat. The NFL is moving kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line, raising the likelihood of more touchbacks, but few can do what Hester can with the ball in his hands.

“We don’t want to do anything to diminish that,” Martz said.

Bears Take OT Gabe Carimi

They selected Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi with the 29th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night after failing in an attempt to trade up three picks with the in order to select the 2010 Outland Trophy winner.

“I had a great feeling I’d end up with the Bears,” said the 6-foot-7, 314-pound Carimi. “It’s a great organization. I can’t be happier than to play for them.”

Carimi started 49 games for Wisconsin at left tackle. Last season, Carimi faced ‘s Cameron Heyward, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan and held them to seven tackles, two for losses. All three of those Big Ten defenders were drafted in the first round.

“We loved Gabe from the start,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Picking as late as we did, we just didn’t know if we’d have an opportunity to get him.”

So they asked Baltimore about a trade. The deal never went down, and the negotiations took long enough that the Ravens’ time to pick at No. 26 expired, causing them to drop down one spot behind Kansas City.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo took blame for the situation, calling it a “glitch” and said he apologized to the Ravens. The Bears said Angelo did not confirm the trade with the league in time, a deal in which Chicago would have given up the 29th pick and a fourth-rounder for the 26th pick.

“We had a disconnect,” Angelo said. “There might be something said about it because of not communicating with the league in proper protocol. That was my fault. I called Baltimore and apologized to Baltimore and told them it was our fault.”

Angelo noted that the Bears got Carimi anyway.

“It turned out all right,” he said.

The Bears’ offensive line struggled throughout the 2010 season, allowing a league-high 56 sacks. Cutler suffered a knee sprain in the NFC championship game loss to Green Bay and a concussion in a Week 4 loss against the .

The Bears used Frank Omiyale, a former right tackle and left guard, as their starting left tackle in 2010.

Carimi has a reputation for being brash, and told reporters at February’s NFL scouting combine, “I’m physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That’s why I’m the No. 1 tackle out there.”

At the time, Carimi also called himself more “draft-ready” than any other tackle. Carimi was the fifth offensive tackle selected Thursday night.

Carimi explained Thursday that he is merely confident in his abilities.

“I just think he’s going to bring toughness to our offensive line,” Smith said.

The Bears felt they had a good handle on Carimi’s confidence because offensive line coach Mike Tice’s son, Nate, plays for Wisconsin.

“I cannot wait to play for Mike Tice,” Carimi said. “I think he’s a great coach and one of the best coaches in the and I’m just excited to play for him.”

Carimi and the rest of the Wisconsin line paved the way for a rushing attack that came up 4 yards short of producing three 1,000-yard rushers last season. Switching sides, so to speak, and playing for the Packers’ rival doesn’t bother Carimi, whose family is from Cottage Grove, Wis.

“It’s not enemy lines over here if you look at my house,” Carimi said. “I’d say we converted about 100 Packer fans to Bears fans — where they should be now.”

The Bears will go into Saturday’s second round still needing help at defensive tackle and possibly offensive guard, as well as wide receiver and cornerback.