NFC North: 2012 Week 17 coverage
December, 30, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts from one of the best NFC North football games we've seen in recent memory:
What it means: The Minnesota Vikings qualified for the playoffs by winning their fourth consecutive regular-season game. They beat the Green Bay Packers for the first time in six games, snapping the Packers' 12-game winning streak in division games. The Packers are the NFC's third seed and will host the Vikings next weekend in the wild-card round. The result eliminated the Chicago Bears from playoff contention.
PetersonWatch: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson ran for 199 yards, giving him 2,097 on the season -- just eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson's NFL record for rushing yards in the season. His final carry was a 26-yard scamper that put place-kicker Blair Walsh in position for a 29-yard field goal to win it on the final play. Still, let's not take anything away from Peterson. Just 371 days from tearing two knee ligaments, he had the second-best season for a running back in NFL history.
PonderWatch: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder stepped up in the biggest game of his career, tying a career high with three touchdown passes and also throwing a 25-yard pass to receiver Michael Jenkins to jump-start the Vikings' comeback drive.
RodgersWatch: The Packers offense came alive in the second half, no doubt aided by the absence of Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 262 of his 365 yards and three of his four touchdowns after Winfield departed at halftime because of a broken hand. In the end, though, the Packers defense gave up 444 yards to a Vikings offense that hasn't been great this season.
CrosbyWatch: Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby had an encouraging game on the eve of the playoffs. He drilled kicks of 51 and 40 yards, giving the Packers perhaps a little less to worry about in the postseason.
Dirty laundry: Packers coach Mike McCarthy was fortunate that replay official Dale Hamer buzzed referee Mike Carey for a review before McCarthy threw his challenge flag in the third quarter after James Jones was ruled to have fumbled at the goal line. Had McCarthy challenged before the review was initiated, the Packers would have lost the opportunity to have it reviewed, according to NFL rules. Upon review, the play was reversed and Jones was given a touchdown. For those wondering, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz squandered his team's chances at a review on Thanksgiving Day because he challenged an automatic review before the replay official initiated it.
What's next: Let's do this again next week at Lambeau Field!
December, 30, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com
DETROIT -- Despite a fast start, the Chicago Bears wound up escaping Ford Field with a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday to keep alive their hopes for salvaging the club's second consecutive late-season collapse.
The Bears scored 16 points off four turnovers, but the performance on offense didn't inspire much confidence about the club's prospects in the postseason, should it advance.
Let's look closer.
What it means: The Bears finish the season 10-6, but it's still unknown whether they did enough to advance to the playoffs. Chicago certainly took care of its part, but now it needs the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. If the Packers defeat the Vikings later on Sunday, the Bears advance to the postseason as the sixth seed, and will face the San Francisco 49ers on the road to open the playoffs.
Diversity pays off: Jay Cutler completed passes to six receivers in the first half, which is the most he's hit in a game since the club's 21-14 loss on Dec. 9 to the Vikings. With the Lions geared up to shut down Brandon Marshall, Cutler fired a 55-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery on Chicago's first play from scrimmage before hitting Evan Rodriguez on the next play. By spreading the ball around early, Cutler opened up things for the entire team.
It's almost a given that on most passes, Cutler looks solely for Marshall. But against the Lions, Cutler gave his other receivers opportunities to make plays and they delivered. Earl Bennett caught a 60-yard touchdown from Cutler with 4:33 left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-3 lead after Olindo Mare's extra-point kick.
With 13:37 left to play, Bennett and Jeffery had already combined for 185 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. The Bears certainly needed the contributions. With 6:50 left to play, Marshall caught a 19-yard pass, his fifth of the game. The Lions for the most part neutralized Marshall, holding him to just 42 yards receiving.
Turnover tally: The Bears scored 13 points off turnovers, but blew an opportunity to turn those giveaways into more; 28 points, potentially. Julius Peppers, Major Wright, and Eric Weems each scooped up fumbles, while Tim Jennings increased his league-leading interception total to nine with his pick in the second quarter.
Peppers' fumble recovery off a Israel Idonije sack and strip of Stafford marked the only takeaway the Bears turned into a touchdown (a 1-yard run by Matt Forte). Chicago settled for field goals on the rest. The Bears came into the game with a record of 50-12 in games in which they finished with a positive turnover margin.
Decision-making costly: During the week of preparation for Sunday's game, special teams coordinator Dave Toub talked extensively about the need for Devin Hester to make better decisions when fielding punts. Toub should've discussed decision-making on kickoffs with Hester as well. Hester fielded a kickoff 5 yards deep in his end zone and attempted to bring it out. Lions special teams ace Kassim Osgood dropped Hester on the Chicago 5, forcing the Bears to start in bad field position on their first drive of the second half.
The offense managed to move the ball 41 yards before punting after eight plays. But Hester would have given the offense a better chance to succeed by downing the kickoff for a touchback that would've given the group possession at the 20 instead of its own 5.
What's next: The waiting game as the Bears fly on a charter home that isn't even equipped with Wi-Fi to keep them connected to what's going on in some of the other games. With the Green Bay-Minnesota matchup kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET, the Bears won't immediately know their postseason fate. But if the Packers win, the Bears will face the 49ers in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. If the Vikings win, Chicago's season ends and an offseason of uncertainty begins.
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