NFC North: 2012 Week 4 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Cowboys 18

October, 1, 2012
A few thoughts on Monday night's events at Cowboys Stadium:

What it means: The Chicago Bears improved to 3-1 and now share the NFC North lead with the Minnesota Vikings. This was the kind of all-around dominance the Bears envisioned this offseason. Their defense intercepted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo five times and accounted for two touchdowns, but their offense held up its end with a sharp and productive performance from quarterback Jay Cutler -- at least on the field.

CutlerWatch I: We'll handle Cutler's night in two separate posts. On the field, Cutler was accurate, aggressive and took few unnecessary risks. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards for two scores and no interceptions, and his 140.1 passer rating was the third-highest of his career. His impressive throws included a 34-yard touchdown strike to receiver Devin Hester, a 30-yard back-shoulder pass to receiver Brandon Marshall and also finding Marshall wide open against a blitz for a 31-yard clinching score in the fourth quarter. After two weeks of offensive struggles, the Bears couldn't have asked for more Monday night.

CutlerWatch II: A discussion of Cutler's night would not be complete without noting his refusal to acknowledge offensive coordinator Mike Tice during a second-half trip to the sideline. As we discussed earlier, Cutler walked away from Tice, sat down on the Bears bench, and then got up and walked away again as soon as Tice sat next to him. We don't have the full context and may never get it, but is sure didn't seem a respectful way to treat a coach who has given Cutler significant schematic latitude this season.

Defense rises: Cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs each returned interceptions for touchdowns in what was a dominant display by the Bears defense. Briggs' play was a turning point of sorts, coming shortly after Cutler had fumbled, and gave the Bears a 24-7 cushion. The final statistics might not bear it out, and some of you will note that Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant probably left 100 yards worth of catching on the field via drops. But to me, Monday night was a reminder for the nation the Bears defense is still on top of its game. These guys just know how to play this scheme.

HesterWatch: We discussed the possibility Monday afternoon of the Bears using Hester more in this game, and his touchdown reception was his first since Week 6 of last season. Cutler clearly focused on Marshall (seven receptions, 138 yards) but Hester stepped up with fellow receiver Earl Bennett sidelined by a hand injury.

What's next: The Bears will play at the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday, the second leg of the dreaded road game after a Monday-nighter on the road.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 28, Saints 27

September, 30, 2012

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A quick look at Sunday's events at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers salvaged their season with a wild 28-27 victory over the still-winless New Orleans Saints. The Packers are 2-2 after four games. History has not been kind to 1-3 teams, who have missed the playoffs 85.3 percent of the time under the NFL's current playoff format.

Officiating reprise: The Packers had another shaky day with officials. But six days after the infamous Fail Mary play cost them in a 14-12 loss at the Seattle Seahawks, they did benefit from a call that prevented the Saints from taking a late lead. Place-kicker Garrett Hartley's 43-yard field goal would have given the Saints a 30-28 lead with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left. But referee Jeff Triplette called the Saints for holding on the field goal protection, an unusual call and one for which Triplette did not name the offender. The Packers moved Hartley 5 yards closer by jumping offsides prior to the next kick, but ultimately Hartley was wide left on the ensuing 48-yard attempt.

More officiating fun: Earlier in the game, Saints receiver Marques Colston appeared to get away with pushing Packers safety Morgan Burnett to the ground before catching a 20-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Replays also showed the Saints' Darren Sproles fumbled on the kickoff return that preceded the go-ahead score. Triplette ruled Sproles down by contact, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't have a challenge remaining. All is well that ends well, however.

Defensive issues: The Packers looked more like their 2011 defense than the one they have displayed in their past two games of 2012. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 446 yards. In the end, however, the Packers had their best offensive game of the season, as well. They finished with 430 yards and quarterback Aaron Rodgers had four touchdown passes.

Brief Harrell era: The Packers were in position to extend a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter when Rodgers departed after Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins poked him in the right eye on a blitz. Backup Graham Harrell, on first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, promptly tripped over center Jeff Saturday's leg and couldn't connect on a clean handoff with tailback Cedric Benson. Jenkins recovered the ball at the 8-yard line, and four plays later, Brees found reserve receiver Joe Morgan open against a busted coverage for an 80-yard touchdown play. What could have at least been a 24-17 lead turned into 24-21 deficit in a matter of 1:17 seconds.

What's next: The Packers are on the road next Sunday to play at the Indianapolis Colts.