for this game

Flex scheduling puts Bears and Giants in prime time

Nov 8, 2006 - 2:04 AM Chicago (7-1) at NY Giants (6-2) Sunday 8:15 pm EST

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Flexible scheduling has put the Chicago Bears and New York Giants in the prime time spotlight.

NBC will have quality matchups in all the Sunday night time slots from Weeks 10-15 and in Week 17 due to flexible schedule. This game was the first to be switched, moving from its original 1 p.m. EST start time on Fox to the 8:15 slot.

But the seemingly invincible Bears are quite humbled and the Giants are dealing with numerous injuries in this battle of first-place teams.

Chicago had outscored its opponents, 221-69, in its 7-0 start. But last week the Bears committed six turnovers in an embarrassing 31-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.

Rex Grossman committed four of the turnovers - three interceptions and a fumble. He had a six-turnover performance in an October 16 game at Arizona, but the Bears rallied for a 24-23 win.

Chicago intercepted Joey Harrington twice, but also yielded 157 yards on the ground to Ronnie Brown in the loss to Miami.

Before the game, the Bears were being compared to the 1985 Super Bowl-winning team which started 12-0.

This loss may affect the team's psyche. And to make matters worse, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, suffered injuries.

Chicago's top deep threat, Berrian is expected to miss at least two weeks with bruised ribs suffered when he was tackled by cornerback Andre' Goodman after a 10-yard catch on the Bears' first play from scrimmage.

Berrian has 27 receptions for a team-highs 495 yards and four touchdowns. Without the deep threat of Berrian, Chicago's offense will have fewer vertical options in the passing game.

Justin Gage will likely start alongside Muhsin Muhammad at the receiver positions in Berrian's absence.

Urlacher left last week's game in the fourth quarter with a sprained left big toe, but expects to play against the Giants.

"If it's up to me, I'll play," Urlacher said. "They told me it all depends on how much pain I can take."

The last time Urlacher missed time due to an injury in 2004, the Bears lost all seven games without him. They are already without Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn foot ligament.

The Giants have won five in a row to open a two-game lead in the NFC East, but they must deal with injuries of their own to key players.

Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan is expected to be sidelined two weeks to two months due to a sprained ligament in the middle of his right foot, an injury he suffered in the second quarter of the Giants' 14-10 win over Houston last week.

Strahan is tied with Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor for the franchise lead in sacks with 132 1/2, including three this season.

Osi Umenyiora, the Giants' other Pro Bowl defensive end, has missed the last two games with a hip flexor and may not be ready to return Sunday. Reserve end Justin Tuck has also missed the last two games with a foot injury.

That means the Giants are down to two healthy ends - rookie Mathias Kiwanuka, the team's first-round pick, and Adrian Awasom, who was on the practice squad two weeks ago.

Cornerback Sam Madison has also missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and linebacker Brandon Short sat out last week with a quad injury. Both may not be able to play on Sunday.

The Giants have already lost outside linebacker LaVar Arrington and wide receiver Amanai Toomer to season-ending injuries. Arrington ruptured his Achilles tendon in an October 23 win at Dallas and Toomer was diagnosed with a partially torn ACL this week.

The offense may also be without wide receiver Plaxico Burress for a second straight week. Burress, who leads the team with 510 yards on 31 receptions, has been bothered by back spasms.

Without Burress, Eli Manning completed just 17 passes, eight of them going to tight end Jeremy Shockey, in the win over Houston.

New York's Tiki Barber leads the NFL in rushing with 830 yards and also has 32 catches for another 282 yards. He rushed for 115 yards on just 17 carries and scored his first touchdown of the season in the win over Houston.

The Bears won in their last visit to Giants Stadium, 28-21, in November 2004. In that game, Chicago forced five turnovers and recorded seven sacks, including four by defensive end Alex Brown.

After this game, the Bears will travel to Giants Stadium again next week to face the New York Jets.

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