NFL news roundup: NFC North quarterbacks return to health

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions hold a tenuous lead at the top, but returns at quarterback could define the playoff race.

Josh McCown played extremely well for the Chicago Bears in a reserve role, but head coach Marc Trestman always stated Jay Cutler's starting quarterback job would not be lost due to injury. The Bears coach stuck to his guns Thursday, naming Cutler starter for a Week 15 matchup against the Cleveland Browns.

Typically returning to the starter would be a non-decision, but the Bears' quarterback position was complicated by how well McCown played. In five starts he threw for almost as many yards as Cutler did in eight games, had a higher completion percentage and threw more touchdowns -- all while turning the ball over seven fewer times.

It's a gutsy decision for first-year coach Trestman, and if it pays off, the move will be highly regarded.

Aaron Rodgers continues to practice, still limited

The Green Bay Packers are holding on to their playoff chances, despite being without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It's drawing closer to his return, but there's still no indication when he'll see the field again.

Rodgers was limited on Thursday, and will be evaluated by the team medical staff on Friday. The Packers play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and must win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Calvin Johnson responds to Matt Elam

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is only 28 years old, but he has vowed he'll show Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam "old man's strength" when the teams face off on Sunday.

Elam made waves earlier in the week when he called the Lions' veteran receiver "kind of old." Confidence is a wonderful thing, but it remains to be seen if the rookie can stop Johnson, who has totaled 1,348 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013.

Reggie Bush misses practice

Johnson and Elam can continue their war of words, but the biggest threat to Detroit's chances is not having a reliable running game. Bush has been a difference-maker on the field, more so when he gets consistent touches.

Luckily Bush told reporters that missing practice was a precaution and he should return Friday, but he'll be a name to watch on the injury report when it rolls around prior to the game.

Geno Smith plans to be less "like a robot"

Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has been inconsistent in 2013, and he's blaming it on a pursuit of perfection. Talking to reporters, Smith spoke of a need to get back to leaning on his natural ability, rather than focusing too much on perfecting each play.

This shined through in Week 14 when Smith played well against the Oakland Raiders and looked more comfortable in the Jets offense. A playoff push is possible, but developing for 2014 is far more important.

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