NFC North: 2013 Week 10 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

November, 10, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

What it means: The Packers lost their second consecutive game and are now down to their third quarterback of the season. At 5-4, they are a game behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North and are facing injury-related issues on both sides of the ball. It's hard to conceive of the Packers as a playoff team at the moment.

Injury report: Starter Seneca Wallace departed after the Packers' first possession due to a groin injury, leaving Scott Tolzien -- who was in training camp with the San Francisco 49ers and a member of the Packers' practice squad until last week -- to navigate the majority of this game. The Packers also lost center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), Don Barclay (undisclosed) and cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), finishing the game with only two offensive linemen in the same position they were in when it started.

Tolzien time: All things considered, Tolzien played well -- and much better than Wallace did in relief after Aaron Rodgers was sidelined this past Monday night. You could make an argument for Tolzien (24-of-38, 280 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) as the Packers' best option until Rodgers' fractured collarbone heals.

Defensively speaking: The Packers might have had a difficult time winning Sunday even if Rodgers had played. Their defense broke down repeatedly in coverage, allowed 155 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy and got no juice from the return of linebacker Clay Matthews -- who played with a substantial club protecting his injured right thumb and was ineffective in the pass rush. Cornerback Tramon Williams missed two interceptions on big Eagles passing plays, one a 55-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson, and receiver Riley Cooper broke open for touchdown receptions of 45 and 32 yards.

Challenge awry? Despite it all, the Packers had a genuine opportunity to get back in the game with 9 minutes, 32 seconds remaining. Referee Mike Carey ruled that receiver Jordy Nelson did not control the ball in the end zone on a fourth-down pass that would have made it a one-score game. Replays indicated the call was close, but coach Mike McCarthy's challenge was denied. The Eagles ran out the rest of the clock. In the end, there wasn't enough evidence to prove conclusively that Nelson controlled the ball underneath him.

What's next: The Packers will play next Sunday at the New York Giants at 4:25 p.m. ET.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 10, 2013

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 21-19 victory against the Chicago Bears.

What it means: The Lions, a team that has spent most of the past 30 or so years wandering in mediocrity or worse, are in first place in the NFC North. By themselves, barring a miracle comeback by Green Bay. In the second half of the season. For the first time in a long time.

And by beating the Bears in Chicago for the first time since 2007, the Lions now hold the tiebreaker over the Bears for any playoff implications and put themselves in even better position for a playoff berth should they end up not winning the division.

Detroit made it interesting, though, taking a lead late in the fourth quarter and then needing a two-point conversion stop at the end of the game to hold on. But a win is a win is a win, and the Lions are in first place in the division.

Stock Watch: Rising -- The play of defensive back Don Carey. Thrown into the game after Chicago picked on rookie Darius Slay early in the game -- the Bears went at him on two straight third-down conversions -- the Lions went to Carey and he played well, reading underneath routes and making two tackles. Detroit’s run defense is also rising. The Lions did a good job containing Matt Forte, holding him to 33 yards on 17 carries. And once again, Detroit’s playoff chances are rising. The Lions, with the victory and the Green Bay loss, are alone atop the NFC North. And Nick Fairley is on the rise. The large defensive tackle broke through the line, swallowed Forte on a two-point conversion and won the game for the Lions.

Return of the process: After a Matthew Stafford interception, Chicago had a first-and-goal to go. A holding call nullified a touchdown and set up a third down, when Jay Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for what looked like a 14-yard touchdown catch. But in the same stadium where the Calvin Johnson complete the process rule cost Detroit a game in 2010, the Lions got one back in 2013. In the opposite end zone of the Johnson non-catch, Jeffery bobbled the ball after he hit the ground, costing the Bears a touchdown.

What’s next: Detroit stays on the road next week, heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

November, 10, 2013

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field:

What it means: The Bears missed an opportunity to seize the division lead and put some cushion between themselves and the Green Bay Packers, who lost to Philadelphia. Instead, Chicago made its road to the postseason more difficult. Quarterback Josh McCown came in and provided a spark late, nearly rallying the Bears. His entrance at the 2:17 mark was long overdue, as Jay Cutler seemed to be hurting the team by trying to play through injury.

Second-guessing fourth-down call: Bears coach Marc Trestman drew praise for his decision Monday night to go for it on fourth down against the Packers, but a similar move in the second quarter resulted in criticism. With his team holding possession at the Detroit 27-yard line, Trestman called for a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. The offensive line appeared to produce adequate push, but Bush ran into the backs of his blockers.

Protecting Cutler: Just 21 days removed from tearing a groin muscle, Cutler returned to the starting lineup on Sunday, showing no residual effects from the injury -- at least initially. Cutler connected on 3 of 4 for 61 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall on Chicago’s opening drive. The team put Cutler in the shotgun for the majority of the game to minimize the risk of aggravating the injury; Chicago operated out of the shotgun on 12 of its first 13 snaps and 25 of 33 snaps in the first half. Then, late through the second quarter, Cutler started to show signs that he was in pain. That pain appeared to increase during the team’s first drive to start the second half. Looking stiff and sluggish, Cutler seemed to be in enough discomfort to leave the game. But the next time the Bears had the ball he hit Marshall for a 44-yard completion. Later in the drive, Cutler -- in tremendous pain -- actually headed toward the sideline, with McCown running onto the field. Cutler fell as he neared the sideline, but waved off McCown and walked back to the huddle.

Run D better, still needs work: Reggie Bush ran wild in the first meeting between the teams, gaining a 139 yards on 18 attempts. Chicago’s defense did a much better job defending Bush on Sunday, but the running back still made a few key plays. Bush broke a 39-yarder on Detroit’s first drive of the second half, which put the Lions in position to go ahead by seven on Calvin Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Bush shook struggling Bears safety Chris Conte; Charles Tillman making the touchdown-saving tackle.

Conte redemption? Despite the early struggles, Conte picked off a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Johnson and returned it 35 yards to set up a Robbie Gould 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Then he gave Chicago’s offense another chance when he knocked a pass out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to watch film of the loss to Detroit before taking the day off Tuesday. The club begins preparations Wednesday to host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at noon.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

November, 7, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night:

What it means: The Vikings improved to 2-7, getting their first win on American soil this season (after winning their first game in London). And just like in that win, they had Matt Cassel playing in relief of Christian Ponder. The difference here is, the Vikings are probably hoping Ponder will make a quick recovery after one of his best games with the team. He rallied them back from a 27-14 deficit just before hurt his shoulder. That development could throw the Vikings' quarterback situation off again.

Stock watch: Rising, contingent on his health: Ponder. After throwing an interception on a deep ball for Greg Jennings on his second pass of the game, Ponder looked as good as he has in his career with the Vikings. He hit 17 of his 21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, benefiting from a game plan that got the ball out of his hands quickly and let the Vikings' receivers run after the catch. Ponder hit John Carlson for a 28-yard touchdown rolling to his left, and looked like he had a 15-yard rushing touchdown to put the Vikings ahead at the end of the third quarter when he left the game with a shoulder injury. The touchdown was overturned, Adrian Peterson finished the drive and Cassel quarterbacked the rest of the game. But just like at the end of last season, Ponder got hurt just as he was building some momentum. He'll have nine days to get healthy for the Vikings' next game, but depending on how severe the injury is, that might not be enough time.

Williams: Defensive tackle Kevin Williams had one of the finest nights of his career, bulling through the Redskins' offensive line and collecting 2.5 sacks. It was Williams' first game with two sacks since Oct. 18, 2009, against Baltimore, and it was the third-highest single game total of Williams' career.

Carlson comes up big: Carlson signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings in 2012 as part of an attempt to upgrade the team's two-tight-end sets. But Carlson caught just eight passes in his first season with the Vikings, and has been similarly quiet this year. With Kyle Rudolph out Thursday because of a fractured foot, though, Carlson caught seven passes for 98 yards, coming just 7 yards short of his career high. Rudolph is expected to miss another month, which could give Carlson a chance to finally show his worth.

What's next: The Vikings (2-7) have a nine-day break before traveling to Seattle to face the Seahawks.