NFC North: 2011 Week 2 Rapid Reaction



NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on Chicago’s 30-13 loss on Sunday to the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Bears could be in a tough situation. The club anticipated a difficult stretch to start the season with the Falcons, Saints, and Green Bay Packers. So falling to the Saints wasn’t necessarily a surprise. What’s surprising, however, is the team’s failing health. The Bears lost starting right guard Gabe Carimi (knee), safety Major Wright (head), and receiver Earl Bennett (chest) to injuries against the Saints, after starting the contest without Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Chris Harris, Lance Louis and Corey Wootton. The Bears know that overall team health is one of the most significant factors in the team repeating as NFC North champions. But the club might actually start division play next week against the Packers with as many as five starters out due to injury. That’s a major concern.

Forte homecoming: Running back Matt Forte returned to his home state of Louisiana and produced a blistering performance in multiple facets. Of the 165 net yards the Bears produced in the first half, Forte accounted for 118 of them.

A native of Slidell, La., and a former Tulane standout, Forte ran for 49 yards on nine attempts in the first half, including a burst for 42 yards. Forte also caught six of the seven passes thrown his direction for 69 yards. Prior to the regular season, Forte expressed the desire to receive a lucrative contract extension from the Bears, who extended what the running back considered a subpar offer. The Bears own the option of placing the franchise tag on Forte next season. But if the running back continues to produce the way he has over the past two weeks, the Bears -- fearing the asking price could climb too high -- might finally make an offer closer to what Forte seeks.

Chicago’s last offer prior to the start of the season was worth significantly less than what the running back is seeking, according to sources.

Urlacher returns: A day after attending the funeral services of his mother, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher rejoined his teammates, who appeared to give him a stirring reception during pre-game warm-ups.

Before the contest, Urlacher typed up a pre-game tweet that read: “Thanks for all the support and love given to the Urlacher family… now it’s back to my second family.”

The defense appeared to be emotionally charged prior to the game, but the unit still struggled, in part because of the absence of Harris, who was inactive because of a hamstring injury.

Urlacher also had somewhat of a quiet afternoon. By the end of the third quarter, the linebacker had been credited with three tackles. But it’s worth noting that Urlacher administered a few crushing tackles early in the game.

O-line still struggling: With 4:16 left to play, Cutler had been sacked five times. The offensive line suffered a major setback against the Saints, after what seemed to be a solid opener against the Falcons. The offensive line struggled to adjust to the multiple blitz looks and pressure packages brought by the Saints. The tight ends deserve a share of the blame, too.

As a result, Cutler took a beating. Cutler completed less than 50 percent of his passes against the Saints, marking the first time that’s happened in a regular season game since Dec. 12 of last season. Further complicating matters was the loss of Carimi.

What's next: The Bears host the divisional rival Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field, in the first meeting between these teams since the 2010 NFC Championship. The Packers have sacked Cutler eight times over the past two games the teams have played. Given the performance of Chicago’s offensive line against the Saints’ exotic blitz packages on Sunday, count on the Packers sending plenty of heat off the edge at Cutler, who could be without receivers Williams and Bennett.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after a stunning final result at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings fell to 0-2 in stunning fashion, watching a 17-0 halftime lead dissipate as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers outscored them 24-3 thereafter. The game demonstrated both the strength and weakness of the way the Vikings have built this team. They rode Adrian Peterson's power running and a bootleg-heavy passing game to the big lead, but they didn't have a downfield answer when the Bucs defense tightened on the line of scrimmage in the second half.

Second-guessing: Should Vikings coach Leslie Frazier have called timeout on the play prior to LeGarrette Blount's game-winning 4-yard touchdown run? By not calling one, the Vikings lost about 30 seconds on the clock and ultimately took over at their 10-yard line with 31 seconds remaining.

PetersonWatch: Peterson finished with 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns and became the second player in Vikings history to exceed 6,000 rushing yards in his career. But 83 yards and both scores came in the first half.

McNabbWatch: Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 203 yards, but I feel confident saying that nearly 75 percent of the Vikings' passing production came on plays that faked a run. Bootlegs and play-action can only take you so far. When the Vikings needed a downfield play on third down prior to the Bucs' final drive, McNabb's timing pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu down the right sideline was off.

Injury report: Vikings nickelback Chris Cook departed in the first half with a groin injury and did not return. Asher Allen served as the nickelback thereafter. It's worth noting that Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 191 yards in the second half.

What's next: The Vikings will open their divisional schedule by hosting the Detroit Lions next Sunday at the Metrodome.

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