NFC North: 2010 Week 12 Rapid Reaction

CHICAGO -- After Week 9, skeptics wondered how the Chicago Bears -- then 5-3 -- could scratch out the five additional victories it would take for them to reach the magic 10 wins required to make the playoffs.

The schedule looked tough: a road game against
Miami, and a home outing against Minnesota, followed by Sunday’s matchup at Soldier Field against the Eagles.

Three wins later, the Bears (8-3) -- after blasting the Eagles 31-26 -- are tied for the second-best record in the NFC, which could mean home-field advantage for the playoffs if the team finds a way to maintain its momentum.

But instead of going into detail about all that, let’s get into this statement victory by the Bears, who should no longer be taken lightly by national pundits. This team is for real.

What it means: The national perception of this team finally changes, because the Bears resoundingly proved themselves to be the real deal against a red-hot Eagles team that came into Soldier Field on Sunday with a three-game winning streak. More importantly, the Bears took sole possession of the NFC North lead by virtue of the win and Green Bay’s 20-17 loss at Atlanta.

Perhaps it’s premature. But not only is Chicago eyeing a division crown, the club increased its chances of gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which would be huge. The Bears are tied with the New Orleans Saints for the second-best record in the NFC.

Game of firsts: Bears defensive tackle Matt Toeaina posted his first career sack in the opening quarter when he dropped Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick for a 7-yard loss. Vick threw his first interception of the season, a second-quarter pick in the end zone by safety Chris Harris, who returned it 39 yards. Vick had thrown 238 passes without an interception.

The pick also set up Jay Cutler's 6-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett with 38 seconds left in the half, leading to Chicago’s 21-13 lead at intermission.

Cutler uncorks arm: Cutler had completed only one pass for more than 30 yards heading into Sunday’s game, but he connected on three in the first three quarters.

If he’s on your fantasy team, we hope you started him because Cutler carved up Philadelphia’s blitz. Against five or more rushers, Cutler completed 8-of-10 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and 16.9 yards per attempt, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Cutler generated a passer rating of 152.1 against the Eagles’ five-man blitz.

Tommie Harris sighting: Defensive tackle Tommie Harris lost his starting job earlier in the season, and has logged just two starts all year. But he’s been quietly stringing together solid performances and could find himself back in the starting lineup at some point.

Harris averted a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter when he batted Vick’s pass intended for LeSean McCoy into the hands of Chris Harris, who picked off the pass in the end zone. Tommie Harris hasn’t started a game since Sept. 19 at Dallas.

Healthy Bears: Amazingly, the Bears came out of Sunday’s game injury free, which bodes well about the club’s chances. Chicago is arguably the NFL's healthiest team this late in the season.

In Week 12, what team goes without listing one player on its final injury report heading into the week’s games? Chicago did just that headed into the game against the Eagles. There’s a good chance the club’s injury report stays blank this week.

Sacking Vick: By the 4:18 mark of the fourth quarter, the Bears had managed to sack Vick four times. Israel Idonije and Henry Melton registered half sacks, and Toeaina, Julius Peppers and Anthony Adams generated one apiece.

Vick played well for the most part, hitting on a 30-yard touchdown to tight end Brent Celek with 1:48 left to make the score 31-26 after a David Akers extra point. Vick completed 29 of 44 for 333 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 94.2.

Big day by Forte: Matt Forte rushed 14 times for 117 yards against the Eagles, the best performance of the year by any running back against Philadelphia’s defense. Coming into the game, the Eagles were allowing an average of 73.8 yards rushing over their last six outings.

Forte has two 100-yard rushing performances on the season.

What’s next: The Bears, now on a four-game winning streak, travel to Detroit (2-9) to take on the struggling Lions, who lost to the Patriots on Thursday.

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 20, Packers 17

November, 28, 2010
ATLANTA -- Some thoughts from the Georgia Dome after a thrilling game between two of the NFC’s top teams.

What it means: At least the Packers don’t go down easy. They’ve now lost four times this season, all by three points. Two were in overtime, and the other two have come within the final minute of the game. Despite the loss, I thought the Packers did nothing to deter us from believing they are one of the top teams in the NFC. But they’ll have to await the winner of the Chicago Bears' game against the Philadelphia Eagles to determine if they still hold a part of first place in the NFC North.

What happened: The Falcons got a short field to work with after the Packers tied the game with 56 seconds remaining. Packers cover man Matt Wilhelm’s face mask call against returner Eric Weems gave Atlanta the ball at the Packers’ 49-yard line. The Falcons had to move only 21 yards to get in position for Matt Bryant’s 47-yard game-winning field goal.

Final dash: The Packers tied the game with an epic 16-play, 90-yard drive that consumed 6 minutes, 5 seconds and didn’t end until quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson on fourth down with 56 seconds left. It was one of two fourth-down plays the Packers converted on the drive.

No rush: Rodgers was the Packers’ best rushing option against the Falcons’ physical defense, finishing with 51 yards on 12 carries. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers used more five-receiver sets Sunday than the rest of the NFL had in the previous 11 weeks of the season combined. We’ll get you the full numbers after the game.

Don’t forget: Rodgers was charged with a fumble on a goal-line sneak late in the second quarter. The Falcons recovered for a touchback and scored just before halftime in what was a significant momentum swing. Packers medical officials briefly looked at Rodgers’ wrist on the sideline, but apparently he did not suffer a serious injury.

Reviewable? Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez converted a fourth-and-3 play on that ensuing drive with a catch that replays later showed to be questionable at best. Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t challenge the call, but in his defense, a quality television replay didn’t surface until several plays later.

What’s next: The Packers host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday at Lambeau Field.