NFC North: 2012 Week 8 coverage

Wrap-up: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

October, 28, 2012
A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Lambeau Field:

What it means: Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, ugly and/or short-handed victories count the same as blowouts in the standings. This game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a struggle from the start, but ultimately the Packers held on to win their third consecutive game and improve to 5-3.

Offensive struggles: The Packers played without their top two receivers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, as well as their top running back, Cedric Benson. And it showed. They put up a season-low 238 yards of offense, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished under 200 yards for only the 11th time in 70 career starts. The Packers worked hard to establish their running game against the NFL's worst-ranked run defense, but tailback Alex Green managed 54 yards on 22 carries. One of the biggest plays of the game was Rodgers' decision to take a shot downfield on third-and-7 with two minutes, 44 seconds left. Receiver James Jones couldn't make the catch, but a pass interference call on the Jaguars' William Middleton moved the ball 38 yards to the Jaguars' 38-yard line. That field position put the Packers in position for a 25-yard field goal that made it a two-score game.

Special teams excitement: Davon House's blocked punt in the second quarter, eventually recovered for a touchdown by rookie Dezman Moses, was the play that allowed the Packers to operate with a lead during some tough times in the middle of the game. House came unblocked off the right side of the Jaguars' formation. The Packers tried a trick play from the Jaguars' 37-yard line in the third quarter, shifting from a field goal formation into a punt formation before punter Tim Masthay unleashed a long and incomplete throw down the right hash mark. Replays showed Masthay had tight end Ryan Taylor open for a first down. That's the risk of such calls. Masthay is a punter, not a quarterback. As easy as it might look on television, you can't assume a non-quarterback will make the right decision on a throw. It's not his professional expertise.

Defensive struggles: The Packers did well to hold the Jaguars to 15 points considering quarterback Blaine Gabbert had receivers open for most of the afternoon. Gabbert completed 27 of 39 passes for 303 yards in the Packers' first game without cornerback Charles Woodson, and the Packers' tackling was inconsistent. Linebacker A.J. Hawk won't want to watch replays of his miss in the flat of running back Rashad Jennings, leading to a 24-yard pass play in the fourth quarter.

Injury report: Nose tackle B.J. Raji returned to the lineup, but the Packers lost two other defensive linemen during the game. Rookie Jerel Worthy suffered a concussion and Mike Neal injured his ankle.

What's next: The Packers will host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' defense bailed out Jay Cutler and the offense, who had a horrid showing Sunday. Tim Jennings' 25-yard interception return touchdown with 6:44 left and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Bears to a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Gould atoned for missing a 33-yard field goal with 12:14 remaining.

Let’s look closer:

What it means: Not much in terms of the NFC North standings. The Bears extended their lead in the division, which is a positive moving forward because the Bears face stiff competition in the coming weeks, facing Houston at home on Nov. 11 before traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 19.

The second-place Minnesota Vikings helped the Bears by losing Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Green Bay Packers moved into a tie for second in the division Sunday by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Record-breaking performance: Jennings’ return TD gave Chicago its sixth interception return TD of the season, which breaks the franchise record of five set in 2004. Since 2004, the Bears have now scored 24 touchdowns on INT returns, which is good for third in the NFL over the past eight years.

The Bears are now 19-5 over the past seven years when they score a touchdown on defense. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 31 defensive touchdowns (24 INT returns, and seven fumble return TDs).

Third-down inefficiency: The Bears failed to convert a third down in five tries through the first three quarters, while their opponents converted 53 percent, which allowed the Panthers to mount several long drives.

What’s worse is the Bears didn’t convert their first third down until there was 9:27 left to play. By then the club had converted 1-of-7.

O-line issues again: Having given up six sacks on Sunday, Chicago’s offensive line has now allowed Cutler to suffer 11 sacks over the past two weeks after limiting opponents to just 12 sacks over the previous four games. It would difficult to pin all of the sacks on the offensive line, because Cutler seemed to be responsible for at least two of them.

But the fact the quarterback has absorbed so many sacks over the past two weeks is alarming and definitely an issue the Bears will have to re-address in their preparation for next week’s game at Tennessee.

In addition to the sacks, the pressure the offensive line allowed resulted in two Cutler fumbles.

Bennett missing: With rookie Alshon Jeffery missing his second consecutive game because of a fracture in his hand, the Bears expected Devin Hester or Earl Bennett to step up and fill the void. So far, neither has picked up the slack but Bennett simply hasn’t been used.

Cutler didn’t throw the ball in Bennett’s direction until the last two plays of the third quarter, and the receiver hauled in both passes for 35 yards.

What’s next: The Bears travel to Tennessee next week to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season. Interestingly, Chicago scored 41 points in winning each of its first two meetings against AFC South foes this season, so maybe the club can duplicate that scoring production against the Titans.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Seahawks 24

October, 28, 2012

A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field:

What it means: The Lions improved to 3-4, and all three victories this season have required a fourth-quarter comeback. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, but as we've said many times, you're a fool to count out this team if its late-game deficit is at all manageable.

Comeback king: Quarterback Matthew Stafford played his best game of the season, completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards. He threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner to receiver Titus Young with 20 seconds remaining, and also ran for a touchdown. His composure on the Lions' final drive -- a 16-play, 80-yard monster over five minutes, seven seconds -- was incredible. And here is a nearly unbelievable statistic: Stafford has won 16 career starts, and eight of them have required a fourth-quarter comeback. (He put together a total of nine game-winning drives.)

YoungWatch: We finally saw Young live up to the hype surrounding him after training camp. In the Lions' first game without veteran Nate Burleson, he stepped up for nine catches, 100 yards and two scores -- the game winner and also a 46-yarder down the seam in the second quarter. I wasn't a huge fan of his extended celebrations after the scores, but I understand it's been a frustrating year for him. Young's performance helped mitigate a quiet game from Calvin Johnson, who caught three passes and dropped a sure touchdown four plays before Young's game winner.

Injury report: Safety Louis Delmas did not return after injuring his left knee -- the same knee that required surgery in August -- in the third quarter. The Lions finished the game with Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva (replacing Amari Spievey) at safety. The Seahawks did a nice job targeting some other injury replacements. Receiver Sidney Rice beat cornerback Alphonso Smith for a touchdown; Smith was playing because Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley were out. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Miller's 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter came against linebacker Ashlee Palmer, who started for the injured DeAndre Levy, to give the Seahawks a 24-21 lead.

What's next: The Lions will play at the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after Thursday night's 36-17 Tampa Bay victory at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Vikings are 5-3 at their season's midpoint. It's better than what many thought they would do, but their second-half schedule is far more difficult. That's what made Thursday night's presumably winnable game so crucial. Entering this game, home teams had won 13 of the past 16 Thursday-night games. Since 1990, 5-3 teams have made the playoffs 66.4 percent of the time.

Offensive struggles: Quarterback Christian Ponder got off to a slow start on the heels of his 58-yard performance on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, completing just one of six passes for four yards in the fourth quarter. He played a really substandard game for the second consecutive week. But Ponder wasn't solely to blame for the Vikings falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 at halftime. Two fumbles near midfield, one from receiver Jerome Simpson and one from tailback Adrian Peterson, led to 10 Tampa Bay points in the first half. But two things seem clear. The Vikings don't have an offense capable of playing from behind. And Ponder doesn't look to be playing with a lot of confidence. He is guiding his throws instead of driving them.

Martin factor: The Vikings had a hard time tackling an opposing running back for the second game in a row. Last week, it was the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling. Thursday night, it was rookie running back Doug Martin, who finished with 135 rushing yards and 79 receiving. Most notably, Martin ran through four arm tackles on his 64-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Seeing blood: Tensions rose late in the third quarter when Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, a former Vikings practice-squad player, pushed off defensive end Jared Allen's helmet after the play and landed several punches. Allen was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose and was livid when referee Ron Winter's crew assessed offsetting fouls. As he and Penn continued to gesture to one another, Allen followed up with a sack on the ensuing third down, setting the crowd into a frenzy.

Missed opportunity: Trailing 30-17 at the time, the Vikings couldn't capitalize on the ensuing emotional wave. They went three-and-out on their next series, which included two plays that lost yardage, and their defense looked winded as the Bucs answered with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock and ultimately made it a three-score game.

Injury report: Cornerback Chris Cook didn't return after leaving the game in the third quarter with an arm injury. He was replaced by rookie Josh Robinson in base defense and veteran A.J. Jefferson in the nickel.

What's next: The Vikings have 10 days to get ready for their next game, Nov. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.