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NFL notebook

Notes: Bears will start Josh McCown at QB

Playoff hopes are on line vs. Packers

Quarterback Josh McCown will start an NFL game for the first time in four years when he lines up behind center for the Bears at Lambeau Field against the Packers Sunday night.

The Bears said yesterday McCown will replace the struggling Caleb Hanie. McCown hasn’t started a game since Dec. 23, 2007, for Oakland against Jacksonville. He was completely out of the NFL last season.

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“Other than just the excitement and the joy of being between the stripes with the lights on again, I think that first snap obviously will be exciting,’’ McCown said.

The excitement for McCown, who threw two passes last week in a late relief role and eight passes total since his last start, will be tempered by the fact that the Bears’ playoff hopes will end if they lose.

About five weeks ago, McCown was more concerned with coaching high school football than starting an NFL game.

Then quarterback Jay Cutler broke his thumb against San Diego Nov. 20, when the Bears were 7-3. Hanie started four straight games and lost all of them, throwing nine interceptions as the Bears’ offense got into the end zone only four times.

“We just felt like we needed a boost,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “Caleb had played four games. I felt like that was enough to prove who you are and if you could help our team win.’’

Manning impresses

Joseph Addai knows this much about Peyton Manning’s recovery: His right arm is getting stronger. Addai was one of three Colts players catching passes last week from the four-time league MVP. Yesterday, he told the AP Manning is putting some zip on his short passes. “He’s not throwing deep-level passes, but the short stuff is really good enough to play,’’ Addai said. The comments come three days after team vice chairman Bill Polian ruled Manning out of the Colts’ final two games . . . The Cardinals placed outside linebacker Joey Porter on injured reserve because of a knee injury, ending the season for the four-time Pro Bowler. The 34-year-old has missed eight games and is two sacks shy of 100 for his career . . . Rams rookie wide receiver Austin Pettis has been suspended for four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. Pettis, a third-round pick out of Boise State, has made three starts and has 27 catches for 256 yards, a 9.5-yard average . . . Bills starting tight end Scott Chandler (left ankle) practiced on a limited basis for a second straight day, and has what coach Chan Gailey calls “a decent chance’’ to play against Denver Saturday.

Big Ben hopeful

Ben Roethlisberger spent Monday night gingerly limping up and down the field at Candlestick Park on one leg not caring, to be honest, how he’d feel the next day. Turns out, he was pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t think I’d be able to walk,’’ Roethlisberger said. “It actually feels a lot better than I thought it would.’’ Good enough, Roethlisberger hopes, to play against St. Louis on Saturday. Despite speculation the Steelers (10-4) might sit him for both of the team’s final games to make sure he’s healthy when the playoffs begin, Roethlisberger insisted he’s doing everything he can to help keep Pittsburgh’s hopes for an AFC North title alive. Roethlisberger passed for 330 yards but also turned over the ball four times in a 20-3 loss to San Francisco while playing with his badly sprained left ankle in a brace he equated to a prosthetic limb . . . Steelers linebacker James Harrison practiced for the first time since being suspended one game for his hit on Browns QB Colt McCoy Dec. 8. McCoy remains out with a concussion . . . Jets receiver Plaxico Burress said he is looking forward to playing his former team, the Giants, Saturday. “I definitely want to get in the end zone once, maybe twice, maybe three or four,’’ Burress said. “I’m going to try and play lights-out football.’’ Both the Jets (8-6) and Giants (7-7) need wins to maintain pace in their playoff races . . . Cowboys running back Felix Jones sat out of practice again because of hamstring tightness.

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