NFC North: 2011 Week 1 Rapid Reaction


CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears demolished the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 to remain tied with division-rival Green Bay for the most opening-day victories of all time (52).

In addition, the club picked up its NFL-best 62nd home-opening win and has now triumphed in five of its past six openers at Soldier Field.

Let’s take a closer look at what transpired in Sunday’s lopsided affair:

What it means: Chicago showcased dominance against a Falcons team considered to be among the NFL’s best, and that bodes well considering the team travels to New Orleans next Sunday before facing the Packers at home the following week.

As important as the actual win was, the Bears answered questions along the offensive line, and receiver positions, while the defense proved that despite the unit’s overall age, it’s still one of the league’s most dominant groups.

The team suffered two injuries in receiver Roy Williams (groin) and right guard Lance Louis (ankle), but came out of Sunday’s game relatively healthy. Besides that, both Williams and Louis have capable backups in Johnny Knox and Chris Spencer who can fill in next week with little-to-no drop off in performance.

Sack parade: The Bears played with just three defensive ends (Julius Peppers, Nick Reed, and Israel Idonije) on the active roster, but that didn’t keep the defensive line from racking up five sacks.

Peppers and Henry Melton contributed two sacks apiece, and new acquisition Amobi Okoye contributed another.

The team came into the season with question marks about potential sack producers outside of Peppers, but Melton and Okoye proved capable of providing plenty of pressure from their inside defensive tackle spots.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Falcons played without two of their starters along the offensive line. So while Chicago showed promise with the pressure, the front-four players still have plenty left to prove.

Classic Peanut: Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman proved his mettle as the team’s turnover artist in the first quarter by punching the ball loose on Michael Turner run in the first quarter. While attempting to tackle Turner, Tillman poked the ball out with Peppers recovering.

The forced fumble marked Tillman’s 25th nine seasons, giving him the most since 2003 among NFL cornerbacks.

Turnover party: The Bears forced three turnovers through the first three quarters, and scored points off two of them, courtesy of linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Urlacher made a diving interception in the first quarter, which the Bears turned into a 56-yard scoring strike from Jay Cutler to running back Matt Forte just three plays later. Then in the third quarter, Urlacher brought one in for a score himself by scooping a fumble forced by Peppers and returning it 12 yards to make the score 30-6.

Quick strike: The Bears scored touchdowns on offense and defense in a span of 57 seconds.

Matt Spaeth caught a 1-yard touchdown with 6:55 left in the third quarter, and three plays later Urlacher scored one for the defense with his 12-yard fumble recovery return when Peppers sacked Ryan for an 11-yard loss.

Interestingly, the Bears were the quickest-scoring team in the NFL last year. The team’s average scoring drives in 2010 were 3 minutes and 2 seconds.

OL still developing: The offensive line gave up three sacks over the first two quarters, but as Cutler anticipated, the unit adjusted in the second half.

Still, Cutler appeared to take too much punishment. Several times Falcons defenders converged on Cutler for crushing shots just as the quarterback delivered the ball. Earlier in the week, Cutler anticipated the offensive line would experience some early struggles before finally settling in, which seems to be what transpired.

Louis delayed the adjustment period by leaving the game in the second quarter with a right ankle injury. Veteran center Chris Spencer stepped in as Louis’ replacement. Louis’ availability for next week’s game is uncertain, but the club isn’t concerned with Spencer assuming the starting role because he’s started in 70 of the 83 games he’s played.

Injury update: Louis suffered an ankle injury near the end of the first half, and his status for next week wasn’t immediately known. Williams sustained a groin injury in the second half, and was held out for the duration.

What’s next: The Bears face their second consecutive NFC South foe on the road when they take on the New Orleans Saints (0-1).

TAMPA, Fla. -- A few quick thoughts after Sunday afternoon's events at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Detroit Lions got their first Week 1 victory in four years, giving us at least one more week of Lions Fever. After months of offseason hype, much of it on this blog, the Lions provided a convincing glimpse that they can be a force this year in the NFC. They displayed an explosive pass offense and a stingy defense, along the way outgaining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 431-313 and had 25 first downs to the Bucs' 17.

Picky, picky: To be fair, the Lions didn't do a great job closing out this game. They allowed the Bucs to pull within one score on Mike Williams' 5-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus' post-play 15-yard penalty at the end of the ensuing possession was an inexcusable loss of end-game exposure, and the Lions defense also had 12 men on the field for one play during the Bucs' final possession. But ultimately the Bucs ran out of time with the ball on the Lions' 41-yard line.

StaffordWatch: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was sharp in his first regular-season game since offseason shoulder surgery, throwing for three touchdowns and becoming the first Lions quarterback since Bobby Layne in 1953 to have a 300-yard game in a season opener. Lions fans no doubt gasped when Stafford limped off the field after his third-quarter touchdown pass to receiver Calvin Johnson, but he was merely cramping up on a hot and humid Florida day.

WeatherWatch: Temperatures reached 90 degrees with a heat index of 94 during the game. But the Lions followed the perfect path for such an occasion. Their offense possessed the ball for 36 minutes, 14 seconds. It helped that the Bucs' only touchdown came on an Aqib Talib's interception return, robbing the Bucs of an early possession.

Tulloch shines: I thought new middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch made a nice impression in his debut with the team, sacking quarterback Josh Freeman once and nearly bringing down backup Josh Johnson on a second play that he broke up. It's amazing how a high-energy, sure-tackling middle linebacker can change the face of a defense.

Secondary solid: National observers have expressed concern about the Lions' secondary, but I thought it held its own Sunday with a number of strong individual plays. Cornerback Chris Houston intercepted a pass in the end zone. Cornerback Aaron Berry broke up a pass in the end zone. Safety Louis Delmas also made a nice play to break up a third-down pass in the second quarter.

What's next: The Lions will host the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday at Ford Field.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 42, Saints 34

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
11:51
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few immediate thoughts after the Green Bay Packers' 42-34 victory in Thursday night’s kickoff game against the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Packers scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, and held on during some tense moments late in the third and fourth quarters, becoming the 12th consecutive Super Bowl champion to win its home opener. It also was the Packers’ seventh consecutive victory, dating back to December 2010 and including the playoffs. Lockout or not, their offense opened the season in midseason form and demonstrated its full array of weaponry. Five players scored touchdowns. And along the way, the Packers announced the arrival of a new weapon: rookie receiver/returner Randall Cobb.

CobbWatch: Cobb caught eyes early in training camp but was quiet thereafter while recovering from a bruised knee. However, he exploded onto the scene Thursday night, taking a slant pass 32 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and then returning a kickoff 108 yards for a score in the third quarter. His 31-yard punt return in the fourth quarter was nullified by penalty. I’ll have much more about Cobb after the game, including how his kickoff return -- which tied an NFL record for distance -- could affect the entire league’s reaction to this year’s kickoff rule change.

Turning point 1: The Saints trailed 35-27 with 3 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter when coach Sean Payton decided to go for a fourth down at the Packers’ 7-yard line. I could see where Payton was coming from; the Packers' defense was tired and the Saints had scored 20 of the game’s previous 34 points. But the Packers sniffed out a play-action pass that appeared designed for tight end David Thomas. Brees had nowhere to throw. The Packers then drove 93 yards over 12 plays to take a two-touchdown lead on John Kuhn’s 1-yard touchdown run.

Turning point 2: Receiver Donald Driver recovered an onside kick with 2:14 remaining to nearly end the Saints’ hopes. Driver also finished with 41 yards to pull into a tie for the most career receiving yards in team history.

Turning point 3: The game ended in dramatic fashion after a last-minute drive put the Saints at the Packers' 1-yard line for the final play of the game. But linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett stopped Saints rookie tailback Mark Ingram for no gain. Wow.

Injury report: Packers cornerback Tramon Williams injured his right shoulder after colliding with safety Nick Collins late in the fourth quarter. He walked gingerly off the field, and was replaced by Sam Shields and Pat Lee in the nickel. We’ll update you with more information when we get it.

What’s next: The Packers will get a long weekend and then play Sept. 18 at the Carolina Panthers.

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