American football: Bears aiming to send Green Bay packing in battle of perfect starts
Saturday 25 September 2010
Through a sloppy pre-season and an opening win that felt more like a loss, the Chicago Bears insisted they're NFL title contenders.
They pulled off an eye-opening 27-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last week, but they have a chance to make believers out of doubters when they host the Green Bay Packers on Monday.
Both teams are unbeaten and tied atop the NFC North division, adding a little extra sizzle to the 180th chapter of the NFL's oldest rivalry.
"It's always tough to play down in Chicago," said the Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers . "They're 2-0, we're 2-0, it's going to be a big game."
Never mind the pre-season or that ugly opener against Detroit, when a rules technicality wiped out what looked like a winning touchdown catch by the Lions' Calvin Johnson, the Bears signed Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor in the off-season, and brought in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz so they would not miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
"We know who we are in our house," said the Bears' defensive end Israel Idonije. "We quietly go about our business. We have a lot of talented players in all three phases."
That talent will be put to the test by Rodgers and the Packers, even though they have a short-handed secondary and are missing starting running back Ryan Grant, who suffered a season-ending right ankle injury in the opener against Philadelphia, a major blow.
The winner will take a stranglehold on the NFC North after the Minnesota Vikings' early struggles.
Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has looked his age in two defeats. His team-mates, other than running back Adrian Peterson, have looked old, too, so maybe it's time they rode Peterson against a weak Detroit defense and let 40-year-old Favre be a passenger.
Minnesota cannott afford to lose again and fall to 0-3 on Sunday. After their bye next week, the Vikings face the New York Jets, Dallas, Green Bay and New England Patriots in October.
The Lions have been not quite been good enough to win close games.
The Jets find themselves in another bad-blood match-up at the Miami Dolphins. First it was Baltimore, then New England. The boos are certain to rain down on Jets receiver Braylon Edwards, who was arrested for drink-driving this week, and Jets coach Rex Ryan, who flipped his middle finger at a fan at a mixed martial arts event in South Florida during Pro Bowl week in January. A more mixed reception is likely for Jason Taylor, who will be playing against the Dolphins for the first time after 12 seasons with Miami.
"I'm sure he's going to get cheered," Ryan said. "The rest of us are the ones who are going to get crushed by the fans."
The Dolphins expect such a raucous atmosphere they piped in crowd noise during practice this week, as if preparing to play on the road.
Transformed by a defensive makeover, the Dolphins have allowed only two touchdowns, one on a one-yard drive after a turnover. They're 2-0 for the first time since 2002, and they opened the season with two road wins – at Buffalo and Minnesota – for the first time since 1977.
The Buffalo Bills, after a winless start, have dumped quarterback Trent Edwards for the more mobile Ryan Fitzpatrick in hope of ending a 13-game losing run to New England.
This is an especially bad week to be meeting New England, who were manhandled by the Jets in the second half last Sunday. Plus, Buffalo's awful offense (a league-low 17 points) might not be equipped to victimise the Patriots' struggling defense.
Elsewhere on Sunday, it's Atlanta at New Orleans; Dallas at Houston; Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay; Indianapolis at Denver; Tennessee at the New York Giants; Philadelphia at Jacksonville; San Diego at Seattle; Oakland at Arizona; Cleveland at Baltimore; Cincinnati at Carolina; San Francisco at Kansas City; and Washington at St Louis.
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