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Bears Hold Upper Hand in Rivalry

September 10, 2006|From the Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Maybe someday, Brett Favre will ride his tractor around the ranch in Mississippi and relish all those victories over the Chicago Bears.

For now, Favre can only focus on how the Green Bay Packers suddenly lost their pronounced advantage in one of the best rivalries in sports.

Favre has a 21-7 career record against Chicago, but lost both games last season to the Bears, who open the season at Lambeau Field today.

"Yeah, there have been some great games, but I think back to last year," Favre said. "They had the upper hand on us. They played great football last year. And it makes you appreciate those years when we were beating those guys. And so it's kind of like starting over, even though I'm an older player. I mean, I'd love to get back on top -- not only against these guys, but against everyone."

The Packers fell hard last season, and not just to the Bears. They lost several key players to injury and finished 4-12, their first losing season with Favre at quarterback.

Now they have a rookie head coach, Mike McCarthy, and expect to start four rookies as part of an extensive off-season roster makeover.

Chicago, meanwhile, returns all 22 starters from last year's NFC North champions, including quarterback Rex Grossman, who's finally healthy.

But the Bears' stingy defense struggled in a playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers in January, and Grossman didn't look particularly sharp in the preseason.

"It would be hard for us to be overconfident," Bears Coach Lovie Smith said. "Going into the first game of the season, I think teams get overconfident maybe if they've won a lot in a certain year, but that's not the case with us."

Injuries have limited Grossman to seven starts in three seasons, although two of those games were victories in Lambeau Field. If Grossman struggles, he might face pressure from experienced backup quarterback Brian Griese. But Smith expects Grossman to succeed.

"He's a winner," Smith said. "All those qualities you're looking for in your leader, as your quarterback, I think Rex has, except for right now he hasn't had a chance to play a lot of football. Hopefully that will change this year."

Grossman won't turn the Bears into a pass-first team. The Bears will try to run against the Packers and rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk, and are expected to start running back Thomas Jones. Cedric Benson, the No. 4 pick in last year's draft, injured his shoulder in training camp, but might play.

"We are a defensive-minded team and we run the ball well," Grossman said. "We'd like to add a passing game that's not ranked last in the league. We want to get our passing game very, very respectable, at the least. Once we do that, I think we'll have a complete team, and we're on the right track as far as that goes. We didn't play real well in the first couple preseason games, but I know it's coming and we're a confident bunch."

Grossman has his doubters. Then again, so does Favre after throwing a career-worst 29 interceptions last year.

Favre, 36, has praised the Packers' young talent and likes McCarthy's offensive theories. McCarthy wants Ahman Green, returning from a ruptured right quadriceps last season, to help carry the offense.

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