CHICAGO -- Jim Caldwell doesn't need to worry about his family or the media asking about the playoffs anymore. The Detroit Lions are in the postseason and didn't even need to win either one of the last two games of the season to do it.

The Lions clinched their first playoff berth since 2011 on Saturday night after Washington upset Philadelphia, 27-24. Due to tiebreakers the Lions hold over the Eagles, there is no way Detroit can miss the playoffs.

The last time Detroit made the playoffs, it clinched in Week 16 as well by knocking off San Diego on a Saturday.

This marks the Lions' second playoff berth since the turn of the century and second in four seasons. Jim Caldwell becomes the first Detroit coach to make the playoffs in his first season with the club since 1997, when Bobby Ross went 9-7 and lost in the wild-card round.

Caldwell and Ross are the only Detroit coaches in franchise history to make the playoffs in the first season with the team.

The Lions still have a lot to play for, too. Detroit can still win the NFC North by winning at Green Bay next week or by winning Sunday in Chicago and having the Packers lose to Tampa Bay. If the Lions do not win the division, they are likely the No. 6 seed due to not holding tiebreakers against Arizona or Seattle. Detroit holds tiebreakers over Dallas and Philadelphia.

Detroit has not won a divisional title since 1993, when the NFC North was the NFC Central, but that is still in play for the Lions.

Bryan Bulaga upgraded to probable

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
10:50
AM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was upgraded to probable on Saturday shortly before the Green Bay Packers left for Sunday's game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bulaga
Bulaga, who suffered a concussion in last Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills, was originally listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

That likely means Bulaga has cleared the final stage of the concussion protocol and will be available to start against the Bucs.

Bulaga said Friday he was close to being cleared.

"I think we're on a good track right now, so we'll see what comes about tomorrow and go from there," Bulaga said Friday. "I think I still need to go through a few more steps in testing and seeing the independent neurologist check what we have to do. I think I have a couple more steps."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Bryan Bulaga never said the hit that concussed him on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills was a dirty play.

He never said it wasn’t, either.

Bulaga
The Green Bay Packers right tackle, who was listed as questionable for this Sunday's game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, preferred to let the film tell the story.

What it showed was a block by Bills' linebacker Jerry Hughes that Bulaga never saw coming during a fourth-quarter interception return.

"I re-watched it a couple of times and from what I saw, it could've gone either way," Bulaga said Friday. "It's just one of those things where you either take the shot or you don't take the shot, and he did. And well, that's the way it goes. It's hard for me to comment on something, especially if the league doesn't [fine him]."

And the NFL did not.

"Well, the league has spoken then," Bulaga said.

The play was similar to one in a Packers game at Tampa Bay in 2002, when Warren Sapp drilled then-Packers tackle Chad Clifton on an interception return. Clifton missed the rest of that season because of the pelvis injury he sustained on that play.

"Normally on an interception, I'm always keeping my head on a swivel," Bulaga said. "I always do, and I felt like I took a couple of steps and looked left [before the hit]."

After the game, Packers guard T.J. Lang, who said he did not see what happened, asked reporters about the play.

"Was it dirty?" Lang asked at the time.

No penalty was called on Hughes.

"As an offensive lineman, we have chances to take those type of shots at every play, and we don't," Bulaga said. "That’s just kind of the way I look at it. As an offensive player, you get those type of angles on pretty much every play."

Bulaga has not practiced all week but appears to be in the final stages of the concussion protocol. He would not have been allowed to talk to reporters if he weren't close to being cleared.

"I think we're on a good track right now, so we'll see what comes about tomorrow and go from there," Bulaga said. "I think I still need to go through a few more steps in testing and seeing the independent neurologist check that we have to do. I think I have a couple more steps."

While Hughes was not fined, Packers linebacker Sam Barrington docked $16,537 for a horsecollar tackle on Bills running back Boobie Dixon. Barrington, however, was not fined for his other personal foul, a hit on Bills running back Fred Jackson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Last month, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin essentially said he would not be interested in the coaching job at the University of Michigan.

He didn’t, though, say he would be opposed to any head coaching job at all.

The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that Austin is one of nine potential head coaching candidates the Fritz Pollard Alliance would present to NFL teams searching for new head coaches once the offseason hits in a few weeks.

“It’s flattering,” Austin said. “But that’s all it is right now.

Austin is an attractive candidate. In his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, he has led the NFL’s No. 1 run defense and No. 2 overall defense. He’s also done a good job adjusting to injuries, as his defenses have remained high-caliber despite losing middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch for the whole season and defensive tackle Nick Fairley for the second half of it.

The 49-year-old Austin said he hasn’t thought about how he would handle interviews, but that he would go on them if a team expressed interest in talking to him. He wouldn’t be concerned with how seriously a team might be considering him from the get-go because of what happened with Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh when he was hired.

Austin said he hasn’t spoken with Tomlin or his current boss, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, about potential interviews or for any advice they might impart if he were asked to chat about a vacancy.

But Caldwell has offered advice to others before.

University of Nevada head coach Brian Polian is close with Caldwell. The two spoke often when Caldwell was in Indianapolis about what it would be like to interview for jobs. Polian picked Caldwell’s brain because his goal has been to be a college head coach.

One piece of advice stood out and to this day, he’ll speak of how much Caldwell influenced him. Polian and Caldwell had a similar influential person to look to in Tony Dungy. Caldwell had also worked with Joe Paterno at Penn State when Caldwell was a younger coach.

Polian’s group of influencers includes Jim Harbaugh, Kevin Sumlin, Charlie Weis, Tony Dungy, Marv Levy, Dom Capers and Caldwell.

“When I began to interview for head coaching positions, [Caldwell] said it’s good to take a lesson from everybody that you’ve worked for and with saying hey I would do it this way or I would do it this way,” Polian told ESPN.com. “But ultimately, you’ve got to be yourself. If you try to be somebody else, it’s not going to work. So be Brian, don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“Because this is a fickle business we’re in, and you don’t want to fail because you tried to be something that you’re not. Just be who you are. I had a couple people tell me that, but Jim was one of the first guys to tell me that, and I always appreciated it.”

If Austin asks, it’s likely similar advice he would give him as well.
The Minnesota Vikings won't have guard Charlie Johnson nor linebacker Anthony Barr for Sunday's game at the Miami Dolphins.

Barr won't play in the Week 17 season finale, either. The team decided to shut him down so that he could undergo what coach Mike Zimmer told reporters was a "very minor" procedure on his knee.

Barr, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, originally suffered the injury in Week 11 and hasn't played since Week 14. Prior to the injury, Barr showed promise as a playmaker -- recording four sacks, forcing two fumbles and returning one for a game-winning touchdown -- and also was among the Vikings' leading tacklers with 70 in the first 12 games.

Meanwhile, tight end Kyle Rudolph returned to practice Friday to test his injured knee and ankle but is listed as doubtful to play on the final injury report of the week. Safety Robert Blanton (ankle), who also returned to practice, is listed as questionable.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jimmy Clausen spent extra time after Friday’s practice working through plays with the receiving corps and running back Matt Forte in preparation for Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions, but coach Marc Trestman said the new starter at quarterback will enter the contest with a scaled-back game plan.

Clausen
While Clausen and rookie David Fales took in the extra work at Halas Hall, recently benched quarterback Jay Cutler was conspicuously absent despite saying Thursday he planned to help the new starter as much as possible.

“With the limited practice day, we’ve gotten a lot extra work done with these guys,” Trestman said. “They’ve put in some extra time to make sure everybody’s in the right spot and knows where to go. [The Bears will utilize] probably not the quantity of plays [usually called with Cutler under center] because we haven’t had an opportunity to rep them with [Clausen] throughout the year.”

A former second-round pick, Clausen receives his first NFL start on Sunday since 2010, when the quarterback finished with a 1-9 record as a Carolina Panther while generating the lowest season-ending QBR (11.0) for a qualified quarterback in any season for which the statistic has been tracked.

In Clausen’s 10 starts in 2010, the quarterback threw for three touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“This is a very businesslike team,” Trestman said when asked how the team is handling the change at quarterback. “They go back to work, and they’ve done the things they’ve done each and every day after wins and after losses. Quite frankly, that’s how they responded: in a very consistent manner. I can’t speak for anybody else. We’ve made a change. Jimmy is going to play. I know he’ll give his best effort. I know each and every guy is playing to win the game. That’s how we look at it.”

Interestingly, Cutler didn’t stay after practice Friday to work with Clausen, while Fales did. Trestman said Cutler will serve as the No. 2 quarterback, while also divulging Fales won’t be active for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears announced safety Chris Conte (back) and kicker Robbie Gould (right quadriceps) are out for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

The club also listed cornerback Tim Jennings (ankle), left guard Kyle Long (hip), and defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) and Will Sutton (illness) as questionable. Long and Ratliff were limited participants Friday during practice at Halas Hall.

“Kyle, his hip is a little bit sore today,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He did some limited work. We just monitored his work today.”

Trestman called Gould “week to week,” and said the kicker “tried very hard to go last week.”

The team will hold out Gould for the third consecutive week, while Conte will miss his second straight outing after suffering the back injury in the third quarter of a Dec. 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Prior to that, Conte left a Thanksgiving loss to the Lions due to an eye injury, and he's missed time with sprains on both shoulders.

It’s expected that Brock Vereen will start in Conte’s place.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're the plays you've become accustomed to seeing from Jordy Nelson this season. The 80-yarder for a touchdown against the New York Jets. The 73-yarder for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears. The 66-yarder for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. The 64-yarder, even though he came up short of the end zone, against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Except you have only seen them in one place: Lambeau Field.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerAll nine of Jordy Nelson's receptions of 30 or more yards this season have come at Lambeau Field.
It may not completely explain the difference between the Green Bay Packers at home, where they are undefeated in seven games this season, and on the road, where they need a win Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just to finish 4-4. But an inability to connect on – or even attempt – many big plays with their top receiver on the road has to be considered at least a contributing factor in the Packers' differing results by locale.

Nelson, however, had no explanation for the Packers' struggles on the road this season.

"I think if we knew the simple answer, we wouldn't have any issues," Nelson said earlier this week after the Packers lost at the Buffalo Bills last Sunday.

"But I think it's tough to go on the road and win in this league. Across the league you've seen it. There's not much difference between the top and middle of this league. Teams play better at home. We've just got to, I don't know what it is, but just amp it up I guess a little bit more, or whatever it is. We've just got to make sure we execute at a higher level."

Nelson ranks eighth in the NFL in receptions (83), fifth in receiving yards (1,320) and tied for second in touchdown catches. When he signed his four-year, $39 million contract extension in July, it looked like it could be a bargain. And it has been. He looks like a lock to make his first Pro Bowl, which will be announced next week.

He leads the league in catches of 60 yards or more with five (no one else has more than three), and he leads the league with touchdown catches of 50-plus yards with five (no one else has more than three).

And, of course, all have come at Lambeau Field.

"Anything on offense is easier at home," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "You know, the crowd is not loud, you're not really dealing with cadence and crowd noise issues and things like that."

But does that fully explain the difference in Nelson's numbers (see accompanying chart) at home and on the road this season?

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett says no.

"I don't think so," Bennett said. "You factor in what we're doing, who we are and what the opponent is giving us. All of that factors into it probably more than the location."

Still, it's at the very least unusual that Nelson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have not been able to hook up on deep balls away from home.

Nelson has more receptions on the road this season, but he has no plays over 23 yards away from home, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Nelson's 11 longest receptions this season all have come at home.

Fellow Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who has a 70-yard touchdown catch on the road this season at New Orleans, doesn't believe it's anything other than coincidence that none of Nelson's biggest plays have happened on the road.

"I don't think there’s any certain reason," Cobb said.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman detailed Thursday what sounded like a meticulous approach in making the decision to bench quarterback Jay Cutler, but most of the players found out about the move through social media instead of from the man in charge.

“We’d like for everything to come from in-house first, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work out like that,” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who added the team held a meeting Thursday “to cover up what got out yesterday.”

Cutler
Clausen
Trestman described a process in which he met with Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen “to tell them my intentions and walk them through the process of how this was gonna be handled,” before sitting down later in the day with general manager Phil Emery to “talk to him about my decision, and finalize it on our staff meeting” Wednesday night. Before Trestman informed the team, however, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter posted a tweet breaking news of the coach’s decision to bench Cutler in favor of Clausen.

Trestman was asked Thursday whether he was concerned about news of the decision to bench Cutler leaking through social media before he actually informed the team.

“The normal course of events is I wanted to make sure the quarterbacks knew my intent. The biggest part of this, I wanted the team to know, hear from me first,” Trestman said. “And we all know that in this day and age it's very difficult to keep some of those things [quiet]. I mean, it was assumed that eventually it could get out during the course of the day, but my thoughts were to respect my team. I wanted them to hear it from me first. I wanted them to know I spoke with the quarterbacks. They knew about it. And ultimately I wanted them to know they knew about it before it got out, which was critically important.”

Obviously, that’s not what took place.

“I found out on Twitter; not ideal,” left guard Kyle Long said.

Cornerback Charles Tillman on “Mike & Mike” on ESPN radio said he found out about the news on Twitter, too.

“Didn’t really matter to me,” said tight end Martellus Bennett when asked if he would rather have heard about Cutler’s benching from Trestman. “Half the s--- I read, I don’t believe anyway. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Bears tight ends coach Andy Bischoff sent a text message to Bennett informing him of the news.

“It was surprising at first to hear the news, obviously,” Long said. “But we have the utmost confidence in the people upstairs. You get torn between a decision involving one of your good friends and your quarterback. But you have to put emotions and opinions to the side when you’re doing something like this because the bottom line is, I know [Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong] Suh's still going to be lined up in the three-technique on Sunday, and that won’t change. Not much changes in terms of what we have to do.”
video
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.
video
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.

Clausen
Tate
Tate
"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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD