NFC North: 2012 Week 2 Rapid Reaction
September, 16, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Some thoughts on Sunday night's events at Candlestick Park:
What it means: The Detroit Lions fell to 1-1, matching the record of every other NFC North team. It's hard to conjure much criticism toward the Lions on this night, however. They were overwhelmed by a better and more powerful opponent playing its home opener, a result that seemed predictable since the day the NFL released its schedule. It's not as if the Lions botched a bunch of opportunities to win this game. The 49ers might be the best team in football.
For those asking: Lions coach Jim Schwartz and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh shook hands without incident both before and after the game. Finis.
Mixing in the run: The Lions kept it close in large part because of an uncharacteristic commitment to the running game. Before they got into catch-up mode in the fourth quarter, the Lions ran on 22 of their first 40 plays. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had 89 yards passing through three quarters. I don't blame the Lions for their approach; the 49ers' defense is too good to be allowed to defend only half the field. Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn't convert their possessions into touchdowns. Unofficially, they didn't throw a single pass into the end zone. As it turned out, place-kicker Jason Hanson accounted for most of their scoring with four field goals in five attempts.
Turning point I: The Lions forced the 49ers' first turnover in seven regular-season games during the first quarter, a fumble by kick returner Kendall Hunter. But they weren't able to fully capitalize on it, gaining only two offensive yards, and settled for Hanson's 41-yard field goal. A touchdown would have given them a 10-7 lead and perhaps changed the complexion of the game.
Turning point II: After the Lions made it a one-score game at 20-12 on Hanson's fourth field goal, 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree converted three consecutive third-down receptions. The 49ers then sealed the game on Vernon Davis' 23-yard touchdown reception with 3 minutes, 4 seconds remaining.
Official confusion: Here's one I don't remember seeing before. Schwartz had to challenge a play to prove Stafford was sacked. Midway through the fourth quarter, referee Matt Nicks did not blow this whistle when Stafford's right knee hit the ground at the 49ers' 30-yard line after a hit by Aldon Smith. Stafford popped up and lost another six yards before getting tackled again. Nicks gave the Lions their six yards back after the review, and the decision left the Lions in position to end the possession with Hanson's 48-yard field goal. Nicks' crew also missed clear head shots on both quarterbacks, Stafford and the 49ers' Alex Smith, after scrambles. The blow Smith absorbed from Lions safety John Wendling left the bridge of his nose bleeding.
What's next: The Lions will play at the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.
September, 13, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Some thoughts on Thursday night's events at Lambeau Field, a 23-10 Packers victory:
What it means: Led by their defense and special teams, of all things, the Green Bay Packers evened their record at 1-1 and picked up an important early NFC North win. The Chicago Bears' much-vaunted offense flopped in its first real test of the season, managing just 168 yards and 11 first downs.
TramonWatch: The Packers sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seven times and intercepted him four times. Linebacker Clay Matthews got credit for 3.5 sacks to bring his season total to six after two games. But to me, no single player turned in a better performance than cornerback Tramon Williams. I'm no expert in cornerback play, but it would be hard to imagine a player at that position doing any better. Williams blanketed Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and intercepted Cutler twice. Bears fans might be upset that Cutler didn't look Marshall's way more often, but they should credit Williams for that. Marshall's only playmaking opportunity came in the third quarter after Williams slipped in coverage, but he dropped Cutler's pass in the corner of the end zone.
Special specials: The Packers' only touchdown through the first three quarters was Tim Masthay's 27-yard shovel pass to tight end Tom Crabtree on a fake field goal in the second quarter. That's the kind of play a coach calls when he knows his offense isn't going to score a ton of points, and the timing was perfect for the Packers. The Bears' Charles Tillman chased place-kicker Mason Crosby for a few steps, opening space for Crabtree to start downfield. Meanwhile, Crosby later hit a 54-yard field goal after earlier converting from 48.
Injury report: Bears tailback Matt Forte did not return after suffering a right ankle injury on the opening possession of the third quarter. The injury appeared to occur at the end of a 14-yard third-down reception. Forte was tackled by Packers cornerback Charles Woodson on the play. Michael Bush (54 yards) and Armando Allen took the Bears the rest of the way.
Slow it down: The Packers' game plan smartly reflected the Bears' recent ability to limit their downfield passing game. They handed the ball to tailback Cedric Benson on their first two offensive plays, and Benson finished the game with 81 yards on 20 carries. It was the right approach for this team against this opponent at this time.
What's next: The Bears will host the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 23 at Soldier Field. The Packers will have an extra day of rest and then travel to the Seattle Seahawks for "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 24.