NFC North: 2012 week 14 coverage
December, 9, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
A few thoughts on Sunday night's events at Lambeau Field:
What it means: The Green Bay Packers overcame a two-touchdown deficit and are now within one victory of the NFC North title. They are 9-4 and can clinch the division with a victory next Sunday at the Chicago Bears. The Detroit Lions lost their fifth consecutive game and, at 4-9, have guaranteed the third losing season in the four-year tenure of general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz. It was the Lions' third consecutive loss when leading by at least 10 points, tying an NFL record. And yes, it was the franchise's 22nd consecutive loss in the state of Wisconsin, including the playoffs.
What I liked I: The Lions took the early advantage with a ball-control offense on a snowy night that kept the Packers' offense off the field for nearly 25 of the first 30 minutes of this game. They were aggressive and creative, getting one touchdown on a fourth-down bootleg from quarterback Matthew Stafford and mixing in returner Stefan Logan to their running game. It was 14-0 after just four plays of the second quarter, and the Packers got only 16 plays off before halftime.
What I liked II: The Packers worked their way back into the game in part by getting creative with their running game. They gave DuJuan Harris his first start, featured Alex Green but also mixed in veteran Ryan Grant. In total, they rushed for 140 yards a week after piling up 152 yards against the Vikings. All seven plays on their go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter were runs, and it was capped by Harris' 14-yard scamper. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't have a touchdown pass in a regular-season home game for the first time since his third career start in 2008. But he did contribute a 27-yard scoring run when he caught the Lions in a man-to-man defense in the third quarter.
What I didn't like: The Lions seemed to get away from the running game in the second half. In fact, they ran the ball 24 times in the first half and eight times in the second. Was that because the Packers pulled defenders into the box in response to the Lions' early success? Stafford threw 16 passes in the first half and 29 in the second, and only part of that was late-game hurry-up. In the end, the Lions didn't have the horses to have their usual success in the passing game. Surprise starter Kris Durham made a nice one-handed catch in the first quarter, but it was the last big play he made. Receiver Calvin Johnson had 10 receptions for 118 yards, but he didn't score.
Defensive playmaking: The Packers' defense hasn't gotten many big plays from its defense since linebacker Clay Matthews joined defensive back Charles Woodson on the sidelines last month. So we should note that rookie defensive tackle Mike Daniels made a huge, if risky, play in the second quarter by picking up a Stafford fumble rather than falling on it. Daniels returned the ball 43 yards for a touchdown to close the deficit to 14-10.
Injury report: Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew didn't play much because of a sprained left ankle. His absence was felt.
What's next: The Packers will take on the Bears at Soldier Field. The Lions will play at the Arizona Cardinals, who are fresh off a 58-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
December, 9, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on Sunday's events at the Metrodome:
What it means: The Chicago Bears continued their late-season slide, losing for the fourth time in five games. They're now 8-5 after a 7-1 start and staring at a fight for a wild-card playoff spot. The Vikings, meanwhile, beat the Bears for the first time in seven attempts and improved to 7-6. The win ensured them of playing at least one more meaningful game in December.
CutlerWatch: With most of the attention on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, it was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler who threw two key interceptions and finished the game on the bench. One of the interceptions was a clear overthrow and was returned 56 yards by Vikings safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown in the third quarter. The other occurred when receiver Alshon Jeffery slipped in his cut in the first quarter. Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson returned the interception 44 yards to the Bears' 5-yard line to set up Peterson's second touchdown. So in many ways, those two plays were the difference in this game. Receiver Devin Hester dropped what could have been a fourth-quarter touchdown, but the Bears removed Cutler from the game after taking over possession with three minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the game. Cutler had absorbed a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen on the previous possession, and overall he was hit or sacked six times and had eight passes knocked away. We can only assume the Bears were putting Cutler out of misery. They made no injury announcement, and he remained on the sideline for the rest of the game. If he had concussion symptoms, Cutler would have been taken to the locker room.
PetersonWatch: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson ran 51 yards on the game's first play, had 104 yards in the first quarter and finished with 154 yards on a career-high 31 carries. Peterson hadn't carried as many as 30 times in a game since 2008, but he now has an even 1,600 yards on the season. His early success took the pressure off Ponder, who needed to throw only 17 times. He completed 11 for 91 yards, his third sub-100 yard game of the season.
MarshallWatch: Receiver Brandon Marshall set a Bears record for receptions in a season. He hauled in 10 for 160 yards in the game and now has 101 in 13 games. Marshall is one of four players in NFL history to achieve the 100-catch milestone four times in their careers. Wes Welker of the New England Patriots is in range of doing it for the fifth time.
Injury report: Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould suffered a left calf injury during pregame, but the injury didn't play much role in the outcome of the game. Gould converted the Bears' extra point, punter Adam Podlesh handled kickoffs and there was only one instance when the Bears passed up a potential field goal: a 53-yarder in the first quarter.
What's next: The Bears will fight for NFC North title hopes next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. The Vikings will play at the St. Louis Rams.