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Black and Blue all over: Officials fight back

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher was one of at least two NFL players who were fined $20,000 for verbally abusing officials during a game last weekend. (St. Louis center Richie Incognito was the other. Denver cornerback Dre Bly, meanwhile, was fined $20,000 for criticizing officials in media interviews.)

Urlacher and Incognito were both penalized 15 yards during the game, but it's somewhat jarring to know a player can be fined more for showing disrespect to an official that he can be for tackling a player by his facemask -- which could cause serious injury. And because there are only a handful of people who can hear what the abusing player said, officials obviously get a high level of discretion.

NFL officials receive constant abuse from coaches and players, most of which goes unnoticed publicly because the audio isn't captured for television broadcasts. And we can't say for sure that these fines represent a new trend because the NFL only publicizes them when asked specifically by media members.

All that said, it's hard not to draw a connection between the fines and a series of high-profile officiating gaffes we've witnessed this season. Officials have a tough job, and perhaps the NFL is giving them a little cover right now.

On to the rest of the NFC North on this Saturday morning:

  • It's not clear whom the Bears will use as their nickelback Sunday against Minnesota with Danieal Manning (hamstring) out and cornerback Charles Tillman (shoulder) very questionable. One possibility, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, is rookie safety Craig Steltz.

  • The Bears need to improve their pass rush this weekend, writes John Mullin of the Chicago Tribune.

  • Green Bay likely will decide today whether to activate defensive tackle Justin Harrell from the physically unable to perform list. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette lays out the situation.

  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as saying: "Everybody's going to be writing, 'Kabeer's back.'" Through six games, "KGB" has a half-sack amid multiple injuries afflicting the Packers' defensive linemen.

  • Minnesota receiver Sidney Rice (knee) said he "definitely" will play Sunday against Chicago after missing three of the past four games, Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune reports. Ultimately, though, the decision isn't in Rice's hands.

  • The best guess is that Dontarrious Thomas will start at middle linebacker Sunday for Minnesota but that Napoleon Harris will eventually reclaim the position. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press breaks down the situation.

  • Lions players still believe in Detroit coach Rod Marinelli, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News. "I absolutely love him," quarterback Dan Orlovsky said.

  • Good luck to Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus on Sunday when he faces Houston defensive end Mario Williams. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com sizes up the (mis-)matchup.