Berrian waits for Favre's benefits
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Bernard Berrian is making the most money among Minnesota's receivers. Yet he's the one Vikings pass catcher for whom Brett Favre's arrival hasn't paid off.
When Favre signed in August, Berrian was hurt and missed valuable time to forge a connection with the new quarterback.
Last month, Berrian aggravated that left hamstring strain and has continued to play, but his production has been minimal. In three November games, Berrian has scored two touchdowns but has only eight receptions for 80 yards.
The injury has been a hindrance, but Sidney Rice's emergence as Favre's favorite target and go-to deep guy has also redefined Berrian's role.
Signed to a huge contract before last season worth as much as $42 million over six years to give the Vikings the long threat they were lacking, Berrian has been getting mostly slants and short stuff this season.
"I'll be the first to admit that I need to spread it out to those guys even more. Bernard, I know he wants to catch some deep ones, but who doesn't?" Favre said. "But he's been great to work with."
After leading the NFL with a 20.1-yard average last year, Berrian is averaging just 10.4 yards on his 32 receptions.
"It's really just not getting the looks for it and him not coming there," Berrian said, referring to the deep routes he's more accustomed to running. "Sidney's been doing such an exceptional job this year, so why not keep throwing it up to him?"
Berrian chuckled after that last line, trying to shrug off any frustration, but it's clear it's been a difficult season for him.
"There's still some room to grow, and there's still a lot more plays out there to be made, but each week we're getting better and better at it," Berrian said, assessing his chemistry with Favre. "We haven't peaked yet, and that's the good thing."
Favre said he hasn't heard any complaints from his receivers, though with Adrian Peterson in the backfield and Rice, Berrian, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe trying to get open it isn't easy to consistently get everyone the ball.
When the offense is thriving, that's a good problem to have; only the New Orleans Saints have scored more points than the Vikings this year.
"I know those guys, receivers, are kind of delicate in how you have to talk to them and how you have to approach them," Favre said. "You see that across the league, year in and year out. They all want the ball. They're all open. I could just go down the list."
Almost exactly a year ago, Berrian's 99-yard touchdown reception after a goal-line stand by the defense sent the Vikings to a pivotal win over the Bears on their way to their first division title since 2000. With Minnesota hosting Chicago, Berrian's old team, maybe Sunday will be his breakout game.
"I know what it's like to go through injuries like that and not be yourself," Rice said. "But I feel like he'll pull through and do a good job for us."
Berrian left the Bears after the 2007 season, their first of three drop-offs following the Super Bowl year. They're 20-22 since that appearance on the sport's grandest stage. They're struggling to revive their swagger and rejuvenate their health on defense while Cutler's rocky beginning as the quarterback and a sharp decrease in running production has the offense in redefinition mode.
"I think they're trying to re-establish their identity right now," Berrian said. "They're missing a couple key players right now, Brian Urlacher being one of them, so it's kind of hard for that defense. Because everything starts with that defense on that team."
While Favre is fueling the 9-1 Vikings, the Bears haven't enjoyed the same early success with Cutler. He's thrown 13 interceptions in the last six games, and the Bears have lost five. With Matt Forte unable to find the same rhythm running the ball he did as a rookie, Cutler leads the NFC with 381 attempted passes.
That's not a Chicago-style statistic.
"The plan wasn't to be at 4-6 right now," coach Lovie Smith said. "We've looked like a good football team for parts of the season, parts of games, but haven't been able to finish."
The Bears gave up a bounty to the Denver Broncos to bring in Cutler, and they're not about to admit any regret.
"We are disappointed with where we are right now, but there is still a lot of season left to go," Smith said. "I am going to say that about our entire football team. We can still make this right, and that's what we plan on doing."
They have a stiff challenge on Sunday at the noisy Metrodome with Favre on a roll and the defense coming off a stingy performance against Seattle in which the Seahawks netted only 4 yards rushing.
"This would be a good jump-start for us," cornerback Zackary Bowman said of beating the Vikings.
This is the first time the Bears, so used to facing Favre in green and gold with the Packers, will see him in purple. They play Minnesota again in Chicago on Monday night, Dec. 28.
"I have a lot of respect for him, a lot of respect for the way he's been playing this year," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "He's having one of his MVP-caliber years."