NFC North: 2012 Week 5 coverage


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears scored 38 second-half points to turn a competitive 3-3 affair at the half into a 41-3 slaughter on the strength of two Jay Cutler touchdown passes and a pair of defensive touchdowns from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.

Over the past six days, the Bears have racked up four defensive touchdowns, with Tillman and Briggs chipping in two apiece dating back to the club's Monday night victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Four of the club's TDs against the Jaguars came in the fourth quarter alone.

Let's look at this thing a little closer.

What it means: The Bears accomplished their goal of going into their week off with a 4-1 record, and will be tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead. In addition, the Bears extended their NFC North lead over the Green Bay Packers to two games. Such a lead could come in handy down the stretch.

Slow start for Cutler: Cutler completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and an interception to go with a passer rating of 45.8 in the first half as the Bears sputtered on offense, converting just 2 of 7 on third down.

But the quarterback rebounded to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

As Cutler caught fire, his passer rating improved to 88.8 as he hit Jeffery for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a slant route defended by Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, and later a 24-yard scoring strike to Marshall. By the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Bears had improved their third-down conversion rate to 50 percent.

Cutler finished the game having completed 23-of-39 for 292 yards.

Carimi's struggles continue: Gabe Carimi played a major role in the club's squandering what should have been a touchdown drive in the third quarter with a couple of false-start penalties that moved the team from the Jacksonville 3 to the 13, and forced it to settle for Robbie Gould's second field goal of the day.

The Carimi false starts came during a drive in which he also gave up a sack to Austen Lane for a 5-yard loss.

Deja vu: In what looked like a repeat of Chicago's win over the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Tillman and linebacker Briggs returned their second interceptions for touchdowns in six days courtesy of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Bears have proved that when the defense scores, good things happen.

Since 2004, the Bears own a 21-5 record when the defense scores a TD. The Bears are 18-2 under those circumstances over the past seven seasons.

Tillman scored Chicago's first touchdown with 5:04 left in the third quarter to give the Bears a 13-3 lead after Gould's extra point. The INT came on what might have been a communication mishap between Gabbert and receiver Justin Blackmon.

Tillman now has 32 career interceptions, with seven returned for touchdowns. Tillman's seven TDs go down as the most defensive touchdowns in franchise history.

Briggs' score came in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard return.

Here’s a breakdown of Chicago’s defensive touchdowns since 2004: 30 TDs total; 23 interception return TDs, 7 fumble return TDs; 26 games in which the defense scored a TD.

More sacks: Jacksonville's offensive line for the most part kept the defensive line of the Bears in check until the second half, when Briggs and Corey Wootton (two sacks) dropped Gabbert to run up the club's season sack total to 18.

Considering the Jaguars started off the game converting 4-of-8 on third down, the Bears applied the pressure at just the right time.

Briggs' sack in the third quarter marked just the second by a player not on the defensive line. Interestingly, 15 of the team's sacks have come from the defensive line. Briggs and strongside linebacker Nick Roach are the only players that aren't members of the defensive line to nab sacks.

What's next: Plenty of rest for the Bears, who will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday. The Bears are idle this week, and don't return to action until they face the Detroit Lions in a Monday night matchup at Soldier Field on Oct. 22.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on a dominating 30-7 performance Sunday at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings are 4-1 and tied for the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears. The Tennessee Titans put on a listless and punchless performance, but the Vikings pounced and never let up in an impressive outing. Through five weeks, the Vikings have already exceeded their 2011 win total.

HarvinWatch: We discussed the MVP candidacy of receiver/running back/return man Percy Harvin last week, and Harvin did nothing to remove himself from the conversation Sunday. He scored two touchdowns, one on a 4-yard dive at the goal line and the other on a 10-yard reception in which four Titans defenders missed opportunities to tackle him. You'll see the latter play on highlight videos all week. Overall, Harvin caught eight passes for 108 yards, including a 45-yarder that set up his first touchdown, and added 8 more yards on two carries.

PonderWatch: Quarterback Christian Ponder threw his first two interceptions of the season, on his final pass of the second quarter and first pass of the third, but rebounded well from that point. After the second interception, Ponder completed 11 of 12 passes for 100 yards, including the score to Harvin and a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Defensive dominance: Through three quarters, the Vikings limited the Titans to 96 total yards and five first downs before the game turned into a hurry-up situation. Anyone who watched the Vikings slog through the 2010 and 2011 seasons can see this group is playing with more confidence and aggressiveness, especially in contesting passes. Unofficially, the Vikings batted down or tipped away nine of Matt Hasselbeck's 43 throws. They also sacked him twice and hit him five times, unofficially.

SmithWatch: The defense hardly missed a beat after losing safety Harrison Smith to ejection in the second quarter. But will Smith incur an NFL suspension for shoving aside an official who was trying to back him away from a scrum? That has yet to be determined. It's difficult to know exactly how rookie Robert Blanton played in his place, but the Titans finished with seven points, so ...

What's next: The Vikings will visit the Washington Redskins next Sunday. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion today, calling into question whether he will be available to start against the Vikings. Griffin tweeted Sunday evening that he thinks he will be ready to play.

Wrap-up: Colts 30, Packers 27

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
4:53
PM ET

A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers fell to 2-3 after a stunning second-half comeback by the Indianapolis Colts. Ahead 21-3 at halftime, the Packers were overwhelmed by an emotional Colts team and, depending on the rest of Sunday's results, could find themselves two games back in the NFC North just five games into the season. It was the Packers' largest blown halftime lead since November 1957, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Luck for Canton: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck dominated the Packers' pass defense as if he were a six-year veteran. He threw for 362 yards, ran for 24 more and accounted for three touchdowns. Most impressively, he took the Colts 80 yards on 13 plays in 3 minutes, 55 seconds before finding receiver Reggie Wayne for the game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass. The Colts torched Green Bay for 464 yards and 28 first downs, and a couple of key defensive plays in the red zone were the only things that kept the Colts from scoring more than 30 points. Most discouraging from the Packers' perspective was that they couldn't slow down Wayne, who is really the Colts' only threat at receiver. Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards, and no other pass-catcher had more than 41 receiving yards.

Long-distance miss: Place-kicker Mason Crosby missed badly on two 50-plus-yard field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder with three seconds remaining that would have sent the game to overtime. But the Packers had their porous defense and an inconsistent offense -- not their place-kicker -- to blame for this loss game.

Second-half slump: The Packers watched their halftime lead slip away to a 22-21 deficit midway through the fourth quarter. Watching the game with no volume, it sure looked like the Colts' emotions surged after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Colts took over at the Packers' 39-yard line and quickly converted a touchdown, turning what could have been a knockout drive for the Packers into an energizer for the Colts. Among other things, the Colts sacked Rodgers five times in the second half.

Injury report: Three key players did not return after suffering injuries: tailback Cedric Benson (left foot), nose tackle B.J. Raji (left ankle) and tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder). Benson and Raji suffered their injuries in the second quarter; Finley's injury was in the third. Alex Green and veteran John Kuhn filled in for Benson, who had a combined 41 rushing/receiving yards at the time of his injury. Raji's injury led to additional playing time for defensive lineman Mike Neal, who was added to the roster Saturday and had his first sack since 2010 in the second quarter.

Dirty laundry: You might have been surprised to see officials take away a sack/forced fumble by linebacker Nick Perry in the second quarter, instead ruling that Perry had roughed Luck. Replays indicated Perry's helmet hit the top of Luck's chest but not his head, even though Luck's head snapped back by the force of contact. Former NFL officiating executive Mike Pereira tweeted: "[Y]ou can't lower your head and hit a defenseless player anywhere with the crown of your helmet." The question is whether Perry hit Luck with the crown of his helmet.

What's next: The Packers have their third prime-time game in the season's first six weeks, a Sunday night game against the undefeated Houston Texans.

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