Chicago (0-0) at Green Bay (0-0)

Fog Currently: Green Bay, WI
Temp: 61° F
  • Game info: 4:15 pm EDT Sun Sep 10, 2006
  • TV: FOX
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Brett Favre decided to come back for a 15th NFL season. It can’t go much worse than No. 14.

While some question how much the Green Bay Packers have improved, Favre begins his quest to get them back in the playoffs and kicks off what is expected to be his final NFL season on Sunday with a matchup against the Chicago Bears.

With Favre throwing a career-high 29 interceptions, Green Bay went 4-12 last season for its worst record since 1991 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2000.

Despite speculation he would retire, the 36-year-old Favre opted to return for 2006 with new coach Mike McCarthy leading the team.

“I’m more willing to bend and do it the way they want to, but they also know I play a certain way,” Favre said. “So we’ll see.”

He labored through 2005, setting career highs with 607 attempts and 372 completions while throwing only 20 touchdown passes—his lowest total since 2000.

“I want to play perfectly,” said Favre, who will extend his NFL record to 222 consecutive starts as a quarterback. “And there’s only one way I know how to play, and that is aggressive. At times it’s not pretty. Does it hurt the team at times? I don’t know, I’ll leave that up to you guys to decide. But I will go down swinging.”

Even more pressure landed on Favre last year with the team’s running game ravaged by injuries.

Undrafted rookie Samkon Gado ended up leading the team with 582 rushing yards and six touchdowns in eight games after being activated from the practice squad. Even Gado injured his knee in Week 16 after the only reason he saw such extensive playing time was because starter Ahman Green and backup Najeh Davenport were placed on injured reserve after playing five games.

While Davenport was released, the Packers are hoping Green is fully recovered from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Green averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry last season and finished with 255 rushing yards following five straight 1,000-yard seasons.

“I know I can help this team out,” Green said. “This team depends on me, too, if I’m healthy. That’s one of my main goals.”

Also among the 16 Packers on injured reserve last season was top wideout Javon Walker, and the team must find a way to fill his shoes again after a contract dispute resulted in him being traded to Denver for a second-round pick.

Donald Driver led the team with 86 receptions and 1,221 yards in 2005 and will start alongside rookie Greg Jennings, who beat out veteran Robert Ferguson for the other starting receiver spot.

Favre has a 21-7 career record against the Bears, but two of those losses came last season as Chicago won the season series for the first time since 1991 — the year before Green Bay acquired Favre from Atlanta.

Last season’s two meetings saw Favre throw for no touchdowns and six interceptions, and were the only two games in which Favre threw more than 44 passes. He attempted 51 in a 24-17 home loss on Christmas and had 58— second-most in his career—in a 19-7 road loss three weeks earlier.

Those two victories and a stout defense helped Chicago finish 11-5 and win the NFC North.

The Bears allowed a league-low 12.2 points per game last year, but lost 29-21 to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bears are trying for back-to-back division titles for the first time since a five-year run from 1984-88.

“No less than the Super Bowl is what we’re thinking. That’s our goal,” said Brian Urlacher, the league’s reigning defensive player of the year. “I think everyone will tell you the same thing on this team, that we think we can get to the Super Bowl and win it.”

It’s been an injury-plagued exhibition season for the Bears defense, though cornerback Nathan Vasher (back), safety Mike Brown (Achilles’) and defensive end Alex Brown (shoulder) should be available on Sunday. Vasher and Mike Brown have not played since the preseason opener on Aug. 11, while Alex Brown suffered his injury in an Aug. 25 contest.

For the first time since 2004, Rex Grossman enters the season healthy as the undisputed starting quarterback. However, he can’t afford to struggle as he did in the preseason, when some were calling for new backup Brian Griese to be the starter as Grossman often stumbled with the first-team offense.

The 26-year-old Grossman has only made seven starts in three seasons due to knee and ankle injuries.

“It’s an unbelievable time in my life really to have this opportunity to be a starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears and go up to Lambeau Field and play the Packers,” Grossman said. “It’s a special thing, a beautiful thing.”

What would be beautiful for Grossman is if Thomas Jones can perform as he did last season, now that he’s been named the starting running back over Cedric Benson.

Jones led the team with a career-best 1,335 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last year, benefitting from Benson’s contract holdout as a rookie and ensuing injury problems. A shoulder injury kept Benson out of the preseason this year and caused coach Lovie Smith to give the starting job back to Jones, who also missed two exhibition games with an injured hamstring.

“I accept it. I take it how it comes,” said Benson, who had 272 yards on 67 carries in nine games last year.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but it’ll all work out. I’m not mad about nothing or upset about anything, nothing like that. Just really happy that my shoulder feels a lot better and I can get back into playing.”

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