NFC North: 2013 Week 17 Rapid Reaction
December, 29, 2013
By Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.
What it means: The Bears missed out on the NFC North title and a playoff berth with the heartbreaking loss to the Packers. So their season is over, and they’ll now set upon the task of evaluating the roster internally, in addition to turning the focus toward improving for 2014. The Bears have several veterans with contracts coming to an end. So they’ll have to make a determination on which players to bring back. The club has already identified some of the veteran free agents they’d like to pursue in the spring, and the personnel staff will also now turn the focus toward the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine in preparation for the draft.
No timely stops: Despite playing a fairly solid game on defense, the Bears failed in clutch situations too many times during the moment of truth. During Green Bay’s final drive, the Packers converted two fourth downs on a run by John Kuhn and a 6-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. In that same drive, Rodgers converted another third down with a 5-yard scramble, but Chicago’s defense held the Packers to minimal gains during that sequence.
Then, on what should have been the final play of the game: a fourth-and-1 with just 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers scrambled around in the pocket before firing a 48-yard bomb to a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown. What’s worse, it appeared the Bears busted the coverage on the play as Chris Conte seemed to let Cobb run right by without the safety dropping back to account for him.
More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday tied for 12th in takeaways, and generated two more against the Packers to run up their total on the season to 28 (nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions). Conte and Tim Jennings each picked off Rodgers passes, with the Bears scoring seven points off one of the miscues.
For the most part this season, the Bears have capitalized when they generate takeaways. Entering the contest ranked sixth in the NFL in points scored off takeaways (97), the Bears boosted that to 104 points when Matt Forte scored his first touchdown of the game on the drive that followed a Conte interception in the end zone.
Status of Mills unclear: Right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury during Chicago’s first possession, and was ruled out for the game. But the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately disclosed.
A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills became the starter at right tackle at the beginning of the season and started 15 games. Veteran Eben Britton filled in for Mills.
Hester tries for record: With the matchup against Green Bay potentially his last as a Chicago Bear, return man Devin Hester made a strong push to break the NFL’s record for career return touchdowns. Hester owns the NFL records for total kick return touchdowns (18) and career punt return TDs (13), but he needed only one more return score to break Deion Sanders' record for total return TDs (19).
Hester took his first kickoff 39 yards, and broke a punt return 49 yards in the third quarter. He’ll eventually break the record, but the chances of doing that as a Chicago Bear remain uncertain. Hester is in the final year of his deal, and there’s a chance either he or the club could elect to go in a different direction in 2014.
What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to clean out their lockers and likely take care of end-of-the-season physicals as their season comes to an end. The club will also hold final meetings and start the task of performing internal personnel evaluations.
December, 29, 2013
By Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 33-28 win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
What it means: Fourth-and-8 from the 48-yard line with 46 seconds left will be remembered for quite some time. Aaron Rodgers, in his return from his Nov. 4 collarbone injury, won the NFC North with a 48-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, who was playing his first game since his Oct. 13 broken tibia injury. The Packers (8-7-1) ran their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to five.
Stock watch: No one was probably happier to have Rodgers back than Jordy Nelson, who had only one 100-yard receiving game in the seven weeks Rodgers missed because of his broken collarbone. Nelson bettered his previous season high of 130 yards receiving with 10 catches for 161 yards.
Gimpy but effective: Running back Eddie Lacy's sprained right ankle appeared to limit his playing time. Several times, Lacy looked gimpy coming off the field. The Packers gave James Starks more work than usual. He responded with a 41-yard gain on a third-quarter, third-and-1 play. It helped keep Lacy available for the entire game, and he scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.
What’s next: The Packers will host a wild-card playoff game on either Saturday or Sunday.
December, 29, 2013
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 14-13 win against the Detroit Lions:
What it means: Neither the Vikings nor the Lions had anything to play for on Sunday, and they combined to turn in four quarters of listless football in the final game at the Metrodome. The game might have also been the last one for Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who could both be fired this week. This one went to the Vikings on the strength of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and punt returner Marcus Sherels, whose 50-yard return in the fourth quarter set up Patterson's go-ahead touchdown reception. The Vikings finish the season at 5-10-1, and while it probably won't be enough to save Frazier, it sent fans home happy on the final day at the Dome.
Stock watch: Rising: Matt Asiata. Filling in for an injured Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the running back ran for 114 yards on 15 carries, helping the Vikings seal the game with a 39-yard romp in the fourth quarter. If the Vikings do lose Gerhart in free agency this spring, Asiata might have shown them that they have another backup for Peterson at the ready.
Patterson breaks two records: Heading into Sunday's game, Patterson needed just 4 yards to break the Vikings' single-season kickoff return record. He missed his first opportunity to break it when he was still exhorting fans in the end zone on the Lions' opening kickoff, but he passed Buster Rhymes in the second half. That was, however, after Patterson had broken another team record. His 50-yard rushing touchdown, which came on another play where he had an option to pass, gave him three rushing TDs for the season, breaking Percy Harvin's record for single-season rushing TDs by a receiver. Patterson later added a touchdown, catching an 8-yard back-shoulder throw from Matt Cassel that looked awfully reminiscent of another receiver who wore No. 84 for the Vikings.
Allen finishes with a flourish: If this was indeed Jared Allen's final game in a Vikings uniform, he made it a memorable one. He sacked Matthew Stafford twice, ensuring he would end the season with double-digit sacks for the seventh year in a row. He also got in for a play on offense, lining up as a tight end on a second-quarter play from the Lions' 2. Allen ran a crossing route to the back of the end zone, and Cassel's pass bounced off his outstretched hand. But Allen still left the field to a standing ovation from fans.
What's next: The Vikings assured themselves the No. 8 pick in the draft this spring, where they likely will look for a new quarterback. That, and possibly finding a new coach, will be the biggest items on their offseason to-do list.
December, 29, 2013
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' season-ending 14-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
What it means: The end. The end of a lot of things. The certain end of the Lions' season, a collapse from holding their own destiny in the NFC North two weeks ago to flying home for the season before New Year's.
The possible end of the Detroit coaching career of Jim Schwartz, who likely will learn whether he'll be fired or retained by Monday, the typical day of firing of coaches in the NFL. Also the possible end of some NFL careers, from kicker David Akers to the uncertain nature of the future for Rashean Mathis, Dominic Raiola and Nate Burleson.
This, of course, came in the most predictable way possible. Detroit took a lead in the fourth quarter and, as the Lions have done in the five losses before this one, watched it disappear by the time the game was over. This week it came because of a 50-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels that led to a Vikings touchdown that took a 13-10 Detroit lead and turned it into a 14-13 Minnesota lead.
Stock watch: Rising -- Kevin Ogletree. Starting in place of Calvin Johnson, the free-agent-to-be had five catches for 75 yards and was open on two other occasions. He was the only Lions receiver to show any ability to get open Sunday. Rising -- Lions' draft pick. Depending on what else happens Sunday, the Lions could end up with a top-10 pick. Falling -- Everything else. Few Lions played well Sunday, and for the most part, it was a fairly uninspired effort from a team that said it would try to stay focused throughout the week.
Bush hits 1,000: Reggie Bush needed 26 yards entering the game, and it took three-and-a-half quarters, but he finally eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. He did it with a 7-yard run up the middle in the fourth quarter. A couple of weeks ago, when it looked like Bush would surpass 1,000 yards then, I asked him about the benchmark number, and he said it wasn't necessarily a big deal to him. That's understandable, considering in a 16-game season, a running back needs to average only 62.5 yards a game to get there. But he is the first Lions running back since 2004 to get to 1,000 yards. Actually impressive was what Bush and Joique Bell were able to do. They became the first running back tandem in NFL history to each rush for 500 yards and have 500 yards receiving in a season. Combined, they were effective for Detroit for most of the season.
What's next: The NFL draft is a few short months away -- taking place from May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.