NFC North: 2013 Week 15 Rapid Reaction
December, 16, 2013
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 18-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
What it means: The Lions defense did exactly what it needed to do Monday night: It kept Baltimore from scoring a touchdown. The Lions found a way to lose anyway, putting their season and perhaps the coaching career of Jim Schwartz in jeopardy.
Detroit's team was built on its offense, with the firepower of Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush as well as an emerging quarterback in Matthew Stafford. Stafford threw three interceptions. The Lions scored two touchdowns -- on the first drive of the game and another on their last -- and showed almost no urgency in between. It was just a completely brutal loss for Detroit. This was a team that at one point looked poised to win the division.
Now, at 7-7, the Lions are third in the NFC North and a team that will need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
Stock Watch: Rising -- Detroit's defense. Saddled by an ineffective offense for much of the day, the Lions didn't allow a touchdown and held Ray Rice to 56 yards rushing and Torrey Smith to 69 yards receiving. They also pressured Joe Flacco fairly well for most of the game, keeping him off balance. Falling -- Stafford's accuracy. In addition to the three interceptions, he had a completion percentage under 55 for the fourth time in the past six games.
Fauria reappears: He had not caught a pass since Week 12 against Tampa Bay, but Joseph Fauria grabbed what was the go-ahead touchdown on a tough pass over the middle in the end zone. It was perhaps Stafford's best throw of the day and also a very, very difficult catch by the rookie tight end. He has 12 receptions this season. Seven of them are touchdowns.
What's next: The Lions have their home finale Sunday against the New York Giants followed by a trip to Minnesota to close the regular season.
December, 15, 2013
By Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas – A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers’ 37-36 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium:
What it means: One of the more unlikely comebacks in franchise history saved the Packers’ season. They scored five touchdowns on their first five second-half possessions to erase a 26-3 halftime deficit. The unlikely victory kept their season alive. At 7-6-1, they trail the first-place Chicago Bears by a half-game with two remaining. The Detroit Lions could move into a tie with the Bears if they beat Baltimore on "Monday Night Football." But make no mistake, with two games remaining, there is still much at stake.
Stock watch: So much for Eddie Lacy’s bum ankle. A week after spraining his right ankle against Atlanta, Lacy looked like his usual self. He ran with power and speed, the latter of which was evident on his 60-yard run on the first play of the second half. Needing 113 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, Lacy hit that mark with a 10-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He finished with 141 yards on 21 carries, including the game-winning 1-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes remaining.
Overturned, twice: The Packers thought they had a game-changing interception with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter when cornerback Tramon Williams appeared to pick off a Tony Romo pass intended for tight end Jason Witten, but replay overturned it. Williams finally got that interception with 1:20 left in the game. That one was initially ruled incomplete, but a booth replay review changed it, icing the game.
Injury updates: The Packers lost defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (shoulder) in the first half and tight end Brandon Bostick (foot) in the second half. Neither returned to the game.
What’s next: The Packers play their final regular-season home game next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have a 2-1 record against the AFC North, but all three of those games were before Aaron Rodgers got hurt.
December, 15, 2013
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 48-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:
What it means: With no Adrian Peterson, no Toby Gerhart and none of the Vikings' top three cornerbacks, Minnesota beat the NFC East-leading Eagles at home for its most lopsided win of the season. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, the game might have at least given credence to the idea that Matt Cassel should have been the Vikings' starting quarterback for much more of the season than he's been. Cassel threw for 382 yards, helped Greg Jennings catch a career-high 11 passes and ran for a score. His future in Minnesota -- as well as the futures of the people who saw fit to keep him on the bench for so much of the season -- are bound to be tantalizing topics after this game.
Stock watch: Rising: Cassel. His 382 passing yards were the most by a Vikings quarterback since Brett Favre was under center, and he also ran for a touchdown on what was either a called run or a play that Cassel changed at the line of scrimmage. Either way, he continued to enable Jennings like no other quarterback on the Vikings' roster, and he did it without the help of Peterson, who missed the game with a sprained right foot. There's little question Cassel will start next week against Cincinnati, and he continued to make the case he should be in the Vikings' future plans, if as nothing other than a veteran caretaker until the team gets its next young quarterback ready.
Jennings comes up big: All three of Jennings' touchdowns before Sunday had come with Cassel at quarterback, but he also added his first 100-yard game since Week 17 of the 2012 season, when Jennings was playing in the Metrodome as a member of the Green Bay Packers. His 57-yard touchdown in the first quarter was a tremendous reminder of how good Jennings can be after the catch, and his success with Cassel is another factor that could cause Vikings fans to wonder what might have been if Cassel were the starter all season.
Allen closes in on double digits -- and pulls double duty: With plenty of chances to rush the passer on Sunday, defensive end Jared Allen registered two sacks of Nick Foles, giving him nine for the season. He said this week that double-digit sacks "mean the world to me," and he's now got two games to get one more and post his seventh straight season with at least 10 sacks. He also filled in at long-snapper for the first time since 2011, snapping a punt to Jeff Locke when Cullen Loeffler went out briefly with a hand injury in the second half.
What's next: The Vikings (4-9-1) travel to Cincinnati for their final road game of the season against the Bengals on Sunday.
December, 15, 2013
By Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
What it means: Jay Cutler shook off a horrid beginning with three touchdown passes to go with a passer rating of 102.2 to keep the Bears in the mix in the NFC North title race. What’s more, there’s a chance the Detroit Lions could help out the Bears on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Lions defeat the Ravens, they’ll remain ahead of the Bears by a half-game in the NFC North standings with just two contests left to play. But if Detroit falls, the Bears will lead the division, with a realistic shot at winning it.
Almost a statistical anomaly: Typically the Bears win games when they score defensive touchdowns. But the club nearly bucked that trend in Cleveland.
Coming into the game, the Bears had won 11 consecutive games when they scored a defensive touchdown. So when Zack Bowman helped the Bears score 14 points in just 1 minute, 41 seconds to turn a 10-3 halftime deficit into 17-10 lead with his 43-yard interception return at the 13:48 mark of the third quarter, it appeared the visitors were well on the way to yet another victory by way of a defensive score. After all, since 2005, the Bears had racked up a 25-2 record in games they scored a defensive TD. The record is now 26-2, but an offense that allowed the Browns to score two defensive touchdowns almost ruined that.
Score TDs, don’t give them up: Chicago’s offense is supposed to score touchdowns, not surrender them. But the Bears nearly negated a decent performance by the struggling defense when they granted Cleveland’s defense a couple of freebie touchdowns. Cutler started the giveaway party in the second quarter by throwing an interception that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Tashaun Gipson that put the Browns up 10-3.
Then, in the third quarter, Martellus Bennett caught a 5-yard pass from Cutler, only to cough it up on a hit from Billy Winn. T.J. Ward scooped up that loose ball and returned it 51 yards for a score to help Cleveland end the third quarter with a 24-17 lead.
Blown opportunity: Bowman intercepted Jason Campbell in the second quarter to give Chicago possession at its own 40, and although the Bears moved quickly into Browns territory, they blew an opportunity to score. On fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 24, receiver Alshon Jeffery was flagged for false start as the Bears attempted to convert for a first down. That penalty moved back the Bears and forced Robbie Gould to kick a 46-yard field goal. Gould connected on the kick, but Corey Wootton was called for holding.
That quick sequence of plays forced the Bears to punt when they were in prime position to put points on the board.
What’s next: The Bears face Philadelphia, which fell at Minnesota, on the road Sunday in a game flexed to a prime-time kickoff. Given where the Bears and the Eagles sit in their respective divisions and the fact that only two games remain, this contest is shaping up as a crucial one for both clubs.