NFC North: 2013 Week 3 Rapid Reaction
September, 22, 2013
By Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 40-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:
What it means: The Bears sit alone atop the NFC North and start 3-0 for the just the second time since 2006.
Stock watch: Jay Cutler put on a gritty performance down the stretch. Cutler threw for just 159 yards and faced more pressure in this outing than he had in the two previous combined. Still, he completed 67 percent of his passes, took care of the ball and made clutch plays late.
Three for 3-0: The Bears captured division titles in each of the past three seasons in which they started 3-0, dating back to 1990, while also winning at least 11 regular-season contests in those seasons.
Scoring D: The Bears scored 24 points off turnovers, including a 42-yard Julius Peppers fumble return for TD and a 38-yard interception return by Major Wright. Wright’s interception return marked the second consecutive game in which the Bears recorded a pick-six.
Tim Jennings scored on an interception in Chicago’s win last week over the Minnesota Vikings.
Just last season, the Bears racked up eight interception return TDs to tie the 1998 Seahawks for second most in NFL history. This season, Chicago is already a quarter of the way there.
Williams contributes: Rookie Jonathan Bostic developed into the favorite to start at middle linebacker because of his play during training camp, but veteran D.J. Williams showed why the staff prefers him in the middle of the defense.
Williams logged two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, including one on which he stripped the quarterback with James Anderson recovering at the Pittsburgh 17. That turnover led to a Matt Forte TD.
Explosive plays still an issue: Entering the game, the Bears had surrendered eight completions of 20 yards or more, including two of 40-plus yards. In the second quarter alone, the Bears gave up two more long balls (gains of 45 and 33 yards) to Antonio Brown, who snagged a difficult 33-yard TD with 6:27 left in the first half. Roethlisberger also hit a 32-yard completion, a 22-yarder and a 26-yarder before finding Brown for a 21-yard TD with 1:57 left in the third quarter. Roethlisberger also made a 21-yard connection and 27-yarder in the fourth quarter.
This is a problem.
What’s next: The Bears take Monday off before beginning preparations Wednesday for yet another road matchup, this time at Detroit on Sunday.
September, 22, 2013
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 27-20 win against the Washington Redskins.
What it means: For Detroit, right now, everything. The Lions had not beaten Washington in the general District of Columbia area since the Redskins moved there in 1937. And it is Detroit’s first win on the road since Nov. 4, 2012, when the Lions beat Jacksonville 31-14. But the importance of the win is heavier because of what it signifies. A week after blowing a lead in Arizona, the Lions held on to beat a desperate Washington team. Its defensive line pressured Robert Griffin III all day. Its offense was diversified and featured both running and passing. And perhaps the biggest sign that this Detroit team is different than in years past: With a fourth-down decision up three points in the fourth quarter, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz went for it instead of taking the field goal. The Lions converted, scored a touchdown and won the game. Plays like that make a team believe.
Stock watch: Rising -- running back Joique Bell. In his first career start in place of the injured Reggie Bush, Bell gained 63 yards rushing and 69 yards receiving and scored a touchdown. He ran hard, hit holes well and broke tackles on many of his runs. Rookie tight end Joseph Fauria didn’t see a lot of opportunities, but he made plays when he did, scoring his second career touchdown and pulling off an 'N Sync touchdown dance. Falling -- cornerback Darius Slay. The rookie didn’t play at all in base defense, replaced by veteran Rashean Mathis from the first snap of the game.
Return of Burleson: Often in interviews, Nate Burleson will call himself a complementary player to Calvin Johnson and Bush. And compared to them, it is a fair assessment. But the 11-year pro out of Nevada had his first 100-yard game since Nov. 7, 2010, against the New York Jets. He had 116 yards, his most since Dec. 30, 2007, when he had 119 for Seattle.
Johnson milestones: Johnson became the third receiver in NFL history to catch 500 or more passes for 8,000 or more yards in fewer than 100 games. He now has 505 catches for 8,104 yards.
What’s next: Detroit returns home to face Chicago in an NFC North game at 1 p.m. Sunday, followed by trips to Green Bay and Cleveland.
September, 22, 2013
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- My thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
What it means: The Browns pulled out their first victory of the season days after trading running back Trent Richardson, with third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer shaking off three interceptions to lead a late-game scoring drive. The Vikings, meanwhile, blew a lead and gave up a last-minute touchdown for the second straight week. A team that went 10-6 last season is now 0-3, heading into a quasi-home game in London, and the loss to the Browns exposed serious issues on both sides of the ball.
Vikings stock watch: Falling -- Vikings' secondary. Minnesota lost Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson and Jamarca Sanford to injuries, and while it remains to be seen if any of them are long-term problems, the injuries left an already-thin secondary vulnerable to Hoyer, who recovered from a miserable second half to stun the Vikings at home. Antoine Winfield is sitting at home, and though the Vikings so far have been reluctant to talk their former Pro Bowl defensive back out of retirement, Sunday's events could change their minds.
Browns stock watch: Rising -- Browns' run defense. Cleveland had given up an average of just 59.5 yards per game in its first two losses, and even though Adrian Peterson ran for 88 on Sunday, the Browns made sure they didn't come easy. Peterson's longest gain of the day was 9 yards, and the Vikings had to rely on Christian Ponder and their passing game more than they would have liked to.
Hoyer Watch: In the first half, Hoyer looked capable of pulling out a surprising victory, making a number of effective throws on rollouts to keep him away from the Vikings' defensive line and burning cornerback A.J. Jefferson on a stop-and-go route to Josh Gordon for a 47-yard touchdown. He threw a pair of interceptions in the second half, when the Vikings turned up the heat with blitzing linebackers, but he rebounded to lead an 11-play, 55-yard drive for Cleveland's final touchdown, finding Jordan Cameron in the corner of the end zone.
Ponder Watch: In a game that exposed plenty of issues for the Vikings, Ponder's play was what got fans the most riled up. He crumbled after leading a couple of drives early in the game, throwing for just 7 yards in the third quarter, and was unable to direct a late-game drive to put the game away after the Vikings took a 27-24 lead on a Blair Walsh field goal. The Vikings' play calling will come into question after the team handed Peterson the ball just five times in the fourth quarter, and the team's offensive line again left Ponder running for his life. But a quarterback the Vikings drafted 12th overall still has not shown any signs of being a fixture at the position, and on Sunday, a quarterback making his second career start got the last laugh on Ponder.
What's next: The Vikings (0-3) head to London to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium, while the Browns return home for their first division home game of the season, playing host to the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday afternoon.
September, 22, 2013
By Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers’ 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:
What it means: This has to be a deflating loss for the Packers, who blew a 16-point second-half lead. They appeared to be in control when Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones for a 7-yard touchdown pass with five and a half minutes left in the third quarter for a 30-14 lead. The Packers probably could have wrapped the game up had they converted a fourth-and-1 from the Bengals’ 30 with four minutes left in the game. But rookie running back Johnathan Franklin fumbled while trying to jump over the pile, and Bengals cornerback Terence Newman picked up the loose ball and returned it 58 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The loss leaves the Packers 1-2 and reeling as they head into their bye week.
Stock watch: Before his fumble, it looked like Franklin was going to save the Packers’ day. He had not played a snap on offense before Sunday but was called to duty in the second half after James Starks dropped out because of a knee injury. Starks and Franklin were the Packers’ only available running backs because Eddie Lacy (concussion) and John Kuhn (hamstring) were inactive. Franklin capped his first series with a 2-yard touchdown run, and then ripped off a 51-yard run to set up a touchdown later in third quarter. He finished with 13 carries and 103 yards and also had three catches for 23 yards.
Injuries galore: In addition to losing Starks and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), the Packers also played most of the game without tight end Jermichael Finley. He was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter after taking a blow to the head from Bengals safety George Iloka, who appeared to lead with his shoulder. There was no penalty called on the play, but a case could have been made that Finley was a defenseless receiver.
Trouble brewing? Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy appeared to have a disagreement on the sideline after a second-quarter series that saw the Packers settle for a 19-yard field goal with 6:36 left before halftime. Rodgers had gestured toward the sideline during that series, and then had a heated exchange with his coach after he came off the field. Shortly after that, defensive tackle B.J. Raji was seen calming Rodgers down. Rodgers didn’t have his best game, throwing two interceptions for the first time in a regular-season game since Week 7 of the 2010 season.
What’s next: The Packers have their bye -- the earliest possible bye for NFL teams -- next week before they return to action on Oct. 6 against Detroit at Lambeau Field.
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