NFC North: 2012 Week 1 coverage

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 30, Packers 22

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
7:53
PM ET
A few thoughts from Sunday's affair at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers were outmuscled and outmaneuvered for most of this game by the San Francisco 49ers, and a fourth-quarter comeback fell short. The Packers are now 0-1 for the first time in seven seasons.

Powerful 49ers: There are times when you blame a team for playing poorly in a loss. And the Packers certainly made some mistakes Sunday. But the 49ers were the more physical team from start to finish in this game. They looked excellent and had answers for everything the Packers tried. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had difficulty getting the ball downfield all game. It's fitting that on the Packers' final play from scrimmage, Rodgers had to get rid of the ball early because a free blitzer was in his face.

CobbWatch: The Packers' inability to get the ball downfield for most of the game left Randall Cobb as Rodgers' favorite receiver. He caught nine passes for 77 yards, but his biggest play was a 75-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter. That touchdown, along with the subsequent two-point conversion, actually made it a one-score game at 23-15.

Turning point: The Packers reclaimed possession a few minutes later with a chance to tie the game. But Rodgers never saw 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman on a pass intended for Greg Jennings. Bowman intercepted it, and on the next play, 49ers running back Frank Gore rumbled in from 23 yards out to re-extend the 49ers' lead.

Official woes: Replacement officials made some good calls Sunday, including a third-down spot on Gore that stood up to a challenge. But they missed a fair share and erred on some others, as well. It's not clear why they picked up a flag on Cobb's punt return, where replays showed that Packers linebacker Terrell Manning blocked the 49ers' Anthony Dixon illegally in the back. It's also hard to explain how they missed at least two clear false starts against 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. Mistakes will occur every week no matter who is officiating, but I would imagine the game will be the focus of this week's national discussion on replacement officials.

Key field goal: 49ers place-kicker David Akers ended the first half with an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal. It hit the crossbar and bounced through the uprights, and the three points obviously played a key role in the end game.

What's next: The Packers have a short week. They'll host the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau.
 

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears unleashed the explosive offense they discussed all offseason in demolishing the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 in Mike Tice’s first official game as the club’s new playcaller.

While the unit looked shaky early on, it’s not out of the question to say that with some seasoning the Bears could develop into arguably the most dangerous offense in the NFC North with all the weapons the team has acquired to put around quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler shook off a 1-for-10 start to throw for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 42-yard bomb to rookie Alshon Jeffery in the fourth quarter to put the exclamation point on an explosive Bears performance that also featured running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush combining for 122 yards and three more TDs.

Here’s a closer look:

What it means: The Bears needed to start off with a victory because they face the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. Minnesota and Detroit started off their seasons with victories, so it was important for the Bears to do the same to keep pace in a division that will be one of the league’s most competitive in 2012.

Shaky start: Cutler dramatically improved as the first half progressed, but the Bears know he can’t get off to such a slow start again Thursday night. Cutler completed only one of his first 10 passes, and threw an interception returned for a touchdown by Jerrell Freeman that gave the Colts an early advantage at the 11:23 mark of the first quarter. Cutler’s passer rating after 13 attempts was 0, and he finished the first quarter with a passer rating of 4.9 after completing 3-of-10 for 21 yards. Once Cutler stopped forcing passes to Marshall and the offensive line settled in, the quarterback finished the first half completing 15-of-27 for 228 yards and a touchdown and a passer rating of 80.5.

Andrew Luck makes history: Well, not really, but sort of. Luck starting against Chicago marked just the second time the Bears faced a starting quarterback making his NFL debut. The last time it happened, the Bears matched up against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Scott Tinsley, who was playing his first NFL game during the 1987 strike season. Chicago smashed the Eagles 35-3 in that outing in front of 4,074 fans as Tinsley completed 7-of-22 passes for 65 yards. The Bears sacked Tinsley’s backup, Guido Merkins, 10 times. Obviously, Luck fared a little better by hitting on 23-of-45 for 309 yards and a TD.

Cutler milestone: Cutler’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall with 5:52 remaining in the second quarter moved the quarterback into sole possession of fourth place in franchise history in career TD passes. Cutler came into the game tied with Ed Brown and Erik Kramer for fourth with 63 TD tosses. Cutler finished the game with 333 yards and two touchdown passes. But Cutler still has plenty of work to do to catch franchise leader Sid Luckman (137 career TD passes).

Forte moves past Sayers: Forte entered the matchup with the Colts needing 46 yards from scrimmage to move past Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers for fourth most yards from scrimmage in franchise history. Forte passed Sayers in the first quarter when he gained 47 of Chicago’s 61 yards on two plays during one of the club’s two first-quarter scoring drives. Forte entered the game with 6,218 yards from scrimmage in 60 outings. Sayers had gained 6,263 yards from scrimmage in 68 games. Forte also became just the third player in Bears history to gain 4,000 career rushing yards and 2,000 receiving. Forte come into the game with 1,985 yards receiving and caught two passes for 32 yards in the first half to move into select company with Walter Payton and Neal Anderson, who rushed for 6,166 yards and gained 2,763 yards receiving during his career.

What’s next: The Bears face a short turnaround going into Thursday night’s matchup on the road against the Packers. So they’ll return to the practice field to work on Monday and Tuesday before using Wednesday as a travel day.

Wrap-up: Vikings 26, Jaguars 23 (OT)

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
5:01
PM ET

A few thoughts on a wild day at the Metrodome:

What it means: You hate to call the season opener a must-win game, but losing at home to the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars would have signaled a very early end to the competitive portion of the Minnesota Vikings' schedule. It wasn't pretty and featured far too much drama, but the Vikings won't argue with being over .500 (even at 1-0) for the first time in three seasons.

WalshWatch: Rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh demonstrated a deep and accurate leg throughout training camp, but no one knew how that would manifest itself in the pressure of a game that counted. Well, here you go: Walsh might have been the Vikings' MVP on Sunday. He drilled four field goals, including a stunning 55-yarder at the end of regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime. His 38-yarder was the eventual game winner in overtime.

What I liked: Quarterback Christian Ponder had a mostly efficient day, completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards and committing one turnover. I thought he was really impressive getting the Vikings in position for Walsh's 55-yard field goal. The Vikings got the ball back with 14 seconds left, and Ponder found time to fire off a 24-yard completion to receiver Devin Aromashodu and a 6-yarder to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Meanwhile, his 17-yard pass to Aromashodu set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. Ponder kept his cool, and as a result, so did the Vikings.

What I didn't like: I'm all ears if you have an explanation for how the Jaguars caught the Vikings in single coverage with 20 seconds remaining in a 20-17 game. Sure, it was erstwhile No. 1 cornerback Chris Cook who was chasing receiver Cecil Shorts. If anyone was going to be in single coverage, Cook would be the guy. But when you're leading by three, you've got to have help deep, right? I don't get it. In the end, Shorts caught a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown.

PetersonWatch: I'll be the first to admit that tailback Adrian Peterson did much more than I thought he would. Peterson rushed 17 times for 84 yards and two short touchdown passes in his first game since tearing two knee ligaments Dec. 24. Backup Toby Gerhart rushed six times for 18 yards. The lesson: Always, always, always expect the highest end of performance for Adrian Peterson.

What's next: The Vikings make their first road trip of 2012 to play next Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts.

Wrap-up: Lions 27, Rams 23

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
4:30
PM ET

A few thoughts on Sunday's wild events at Ford Field:

What it means: The Detroit Lions avoided a home upset to what is clearly a better St. Louis Rams team than anyone was anticipating. All's well that ends well, of course, and the Lions start 1-0 for the second consecutive season.

StaffordWatch: Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions in his first 21 attempts but finished the game with the sixth fourth-quarter comeback victory of his young career. He finished the game with an 80-yard scoring drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to tailback Kevin Smith with 15 seconds remaining. Stafford finished with 355 yards and showed us the late-game gumption that has endeared him to fans around the country. According to pro-football-reference.com, it was Stafford's seventh game-winning drive (from either a tie or a deficit).

What I liked: The Lions didn't play for overtime after getting the ball to the Rams' 26-yard line with 35 seconds left. Stafford threw for 3 yards to tight end Tony Scheffler and then completed an 18-yarder to receiver Calvin Johnson. That set up the Lions at the 5-yard line. Stafford spiked the ball once before finding Smith all alone in the flat for the score.

What I didn't like: The Rams sure seemed to have a bead on the Lions' passing offense in the first half. Stafford did not appear to anticipate cornerback Janoris Jenkins being in place on his first interception, and the other two featured nice anticipatory plays by Rams defenders. That means Stafford either made three very poor decisions, or the Rams crossed him up. I'm going to guess at least two of the three fell in the latter category. The Lions will have to look closely at the tape.

DisciplineWatch: Receiver Titus Young appeared to be benched for several series after a post-play head butt earned him a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter. Young is one of the players the Lions hoped had matured after last season's well-chronicled post-play issues.

SackWatch: The Lions' defensive tackles had an active day. Nick Fairley's third-down sack forced a field goal in the second quarter. Ndamukong Suh had a sack, and Corey Williams forced Rams quarterback Sam Bradford into a fumble.

What's next: The Lions have a tough trip to play the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on "Sunday Night Football."

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