NFC North: Jacksonville Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears scored 38 second-half points to turn a competitive 3-3 affair at the half into a 41-3 slaughter on the strength of two Jay Cutler touchdown passes and a pair of defensive touchdowns from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.
Over the past six days, the Bears have racked up four defensive touchdowns, with Tillman and Briggs chipping in two apiece dating back to the club's Monday night victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Four of the club's TDs against the Jaguars came in the fourth quarter alone.
Let's look at this thing a little closer.
What it means: The Bears accomplished their goal of going into their week off with a 4-1 record, and will be tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead. In addition, the Bears extended their NFC North lead over the Green Bay Packers to two games. Such a lead could come in handy down the stretch.
Slow start for Cutler: Cutler completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and an interception to go with a passer rating of 45.8 in the first half as the Bears sputtered on offense, converting just 2 of 7 on third down.
But the quarterback rebounded to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
As Cutler caught fire, his passer rating improved to 88.8 as he hit Jeffery for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a slant route defended by Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, and later a 24-yard scoring strike to Marshall. By the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Bears had improved their third-down conversion rate to 50 percent.
Cutler finished the game having completed 23-of-39 for 292 yards.
Carimi's struggles continue: Gabe Carimi played a major role in the club's squandering what should have been a touchdown drive in the third quarter with a couple of false-start penalties that moved the team from the Jacksonville 3 to the 13, and forced it to settle for Robbie Gould's second field goal of the day.
The Carimi false starts came during a drive in which he also gave up a sack to Austen Lane for a 5-yard loss.
Deja vu: In what looked like a repeat of Chicago's win over the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Tillman and linebacker Briggs returned their second interceptions for touchdowns in six days courtesy of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Bears have proved that when the defense scores, good things happen.
Since 2004, the Bears own a 21-5 record when the defense scores a TD. The Bears are 18-2 under those circumstances over the past seven seasons.
Tillman scored Chicago's first touchdown with 5:04 left in the third quarter to give the Bears a 13-3 lead after Gould's extra point. The INT came on what might have been a communication mishap between Gabbert and receiver Justin Blackmon.
Tillman now has 32 career interceptions, with seven returned for touchdowns. Tillman's seven TDs go down as the most defensive touchdowns in franchise history.
Briggs' score came in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard return.
Here’s a breakdown of Chicago’s defensive touchdowns since 2004: 30 TDs total; 23 interception return TDs, 7 fumble return TDs; 26 games in which the defense scored a TD.
More sacks: Jacksonville's offensive line for the most part kept the defensive line of the Bears in check until the second half, when Briggs and Corey Wootton (two sacks) dropped Gabbert to run up the club's season sack total to 18.
Considering the Jaguars started off the game converting 4-of-8 on third down, the Bears applied the pressure at just the right time.
Briggs' sack in the third quarter marked just the second by a player not on the defensive line. Interestingly, 15 of the team's sacks have come from the defensive line. Briggs and strongside linebacker Nick Roach are the only players that aren't members of the defensive line to nab sacks.
What's next: Plenty of rest for the Bears, who will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday. The Bears are idle this week, and don't return to action until they face the Detroit Lions in a Monday night matchup at Soldier Field on Oct. 22.
Three of the NFC North's top personnel men, two of its coaches and at least one offensive coordinator were in attendance Wednesday at USC's pro day, an event highlighted by the presence of quarterback Mark Sanchez.
According to this roll call from NFL.com, Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew, Packers general manager Ted Thompson and Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman were all there. So were Lions coach Jim Schwartz, Vikings coach Brad Childress and Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
While Sanchez was the headline performer, the event also included three linebackers who could be top-25 picks in the April 25-26 draft.
I'll focus on Sanchez here for two reasons. One, Schwartz said last week the Lions were hoping to get some extra work with him at the conclusion of the throwing session. Two, Childress has been known to frequent pro days in the past, but more often than not it's to see a big-time quarterback.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay was in attendance and shared his notes with the Black and Blue blog. According to McShay, Sanchez had a superb workout and threw harder than he ever has before. His accuracy was spot-on, even when required to move out of the pocket and re-set his feet before throwing.
You can expect to see McShay's full report Wednesday night on SportsCenter and later on ESPN.com.
It will be interesting to see how high Sanchez can push himself in this draft. I don't think he's a realistic possibility for the Lions' No. 1 overall pick, but he could certainly enter their picture if they trade down from No. 1.
But they might not want to move too far. According to multiple reports, Seattle (No. 4 overall) and Jacksonville (No. 8) have been all over Sanchez the past two days. The Seahawks had five members of their organization at Wednesday's workout.
At No. 22 overall, the Vikings have almost no chance of grabbing Sanchez unless they trade up. But there is a strong chance that at least one of the Trojans' linebacker trio will be sitting there. Maybe Spielman and Childress had linebackers on their minds.
You kind of figured things would go the Bears' way Sunday when Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw his first pass into a crowd of four defenders. The ball hit nickel back Danieal Manning in the chest, and the play ultimately led to Chicago building a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
The Jaguars did not put up much of a fight at Soldier Field, but give the Bears credit for bouncing back from their disappointing loss at Minnesota last week. Most notably, quarterback Kyle Orton produced an encouraging bad-weather performance, completing 62.5 percent of his passes and throwing two touchdowns on a chilly and windy day.
The Bears will need similar outings in their next two games, also at Soldier Field, against New Orleans and Green Bay. Those matchups are two winnable, prime-time games that give the Bears a real chance to pull even with the Vikings in the NFC North.
It could happen as early as this week, with the Bears facing the Saints at home while the Vikings must protect their division lead at Arizona.
Hold on for a wild ride.
A big part of winning on the road, or in any NFL venue, is accepting every gift your opponent offers. In a not insignificant development, Minnesota did just that in a 30-12 victory at Jacksonville.
The Jaguars committed two turnovers in the first 20 seconds of the game, which the Vikings converted into the earliest 14-0 lead you could imagine. Jacksonville placekicker Josh Scobee missed two of his three field goal attempts, and so you didn't have to look far to find where the Vikings' 18-point margin of victory came from.
The Vikings hardly put on an offensive show, converting four of 13 third-down attempts and finishing with 226 total yards. But in a tight division race, the Vikings protected their lead and hoarded their gifts. It's a significant achievement for a team that hasn't always understood how to finish games in recent years.
Although they have some work to do -- quarterback Gus Frerotte needs to cajole his body through another five weeks, and there are some lingering questions about tailback Adrian Peterson's health -- the Vikings can feel proud about winning a game that few observers were counting on when the schedule was released.
Apologies to AngryBearsFan and others for today's Minnesota-centric coverage, but I can't pass up on this one.
Make sure you check out my colleague Paul Kuharsky's rundown of an bizarre but entertaining exchange Wednesday between former Vikings receiver Troy Williamson (now with Jacksonville) and coach Brad Childress.
The short version: Williamson, who won't play in Sunday's game between the two teams, suggested that he and Childress meet pregame at the 50-yard line to settle their differences stemming from two rocky seasons together in Minnesota. Childress admitted he is only 190 pounds but, with humor, noted it is "twisted steel, romping-stomping dynamite." Ultimately, Childress said, there will be no fight because of the NFL-mandated midfield buffer zone between the two teams.
Tongue-and-cheek as it might have been, Williamson has done enough to embarrass himself on the field during his NFL career without challenging one of his former coaches to a fight. Williamson probably blames Childress for temporarily withholding a game check following the death of his grandmother last year -- even though the move was initiated by the team's front office, not Childress -- but overall Williamson himself was responsible for 99 percent of the problems he encountered in Minnesota.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is running a fan poll on its Web site this week as Minnesota prepares for its matchup Sunday at Jacksonville.
The question: "Whom would you rather have coaching the Vikings?" The choices are current coach Brad Childress and his predecessor, Mike Tice. As of Wednesday morning, Tice was leading the voting 85 percent to 15 percent.
(You have to vote to see the results. I voted once for each to maintain my perfect record of objectivity).
Unscientific as it might be, the poll suggests some fans have come around on Tice's tenure after applauding his firing in 2006. It also speaks to the backup quarterback syndrome, which dictates that fans crave whoever isn't playing quarterback, or coaching, at the time of the question.
Tice, now the Jaguars' assistant head coach/tight ends, had a 33-34 record in four seasons with the Vikings. Childress is 19-23 in Year 3. Speaking this week to the Star Tribune's Mark Craig, Tice said he was proud to have been "competitive each week" given the limitations of working for a franchise that was on the selling block for most of his time as coach.
Tice also said that his admission to scalping 12 Super Bowl tickets in 2006 has blocked his chances of getting another head coaching job.
"I'm absolutely sure the ticket thing will harm me because it harmed me last year with one particular team," Tice said. "The team came out and told my agent that they wouldn't consider me because of that. But you make your bed. You have to sleep in it."
Tice would not identify the team.
Continuing around the NFC North this morning:
- The Vikings never announced it, but according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, the team has extended the contract of vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski. The agreement occurred during the spring, at about the same time vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman's contract was extended.
- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune suggests that fans get off the back of defensive coordinator Bob Babich and jump on coach Lovie Smith: "The assumption here is that Smith, not Babich, is really running the defense."
- Could defensive tackles Marcus Harrison and Anthony Adams get more playing time? The Chicago Sun-Times delves into that question in its Two-Minute Drill.
- The Green Bay Packers are three defensive touchdowns away from tying the NFL record of 10, set by the 1998 Seattle Seahawks. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has the story.
- Really good read from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel, who profiles nickel back Tramon Williams, who went to Louisiana Tech to be a full-time student -- working odd jobs to pay his way -- before walking onto the football team.
- Detroit has three consecutive home games coming up, but as Terry Foster of the Detroit News points out, the Lions have been better on the road. Their margin of defeat this season at Ford Field has averaged 20.5 points, while they have lost by an average of 9.3 on the road.
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press offers six suggestions for maintaining a winless season. Among them: Continuing to "think inside the box."
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy waded into the sensitive waters Monday of dividing up blame after watching film of Sunday's 28-27 loss to Minnesota.
McCarthy faced two significant lines of questioning Monday in Green Bay: Why couldn't the Packers adjust their pass protection to account for the Vikings' pressure? And, as the offensive play caller, why didn't he more aggressively pursue better field position on a final drive that ended in an errant 52-yard field goal attempt?
In both instances, McCarthy said the Packers' troubles rested with execution, not scheme or decision making. He said the Packers' offensive line had individual breakdowns that would have occurred no matter what protection was called. McCarthy also defended his play calling as being appropriate for the situation.
"I'll say this, you can sit here and dissect it all you want," McCarthy said. "And I'd love to tell you the play calling was just flat awful. You can blame it on me. I'd be all for it. But I don't think that's the case, especially after viewing the film."
McCarthy might well be right from a football standpoint, and we appreciate him defending his actions and giving his honest opinion. But players will read those comments and have no choice but to conclude McCarthy is blaming their execution -- and exonerating himself -- for the loss. Even if true, that's a tough public pill to swallow.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Tuesday morning:
- Packers punter Derrick Frost continues to struggle, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Speaking of schemes, Bears coach Lovie Smith defended his defensive approach Monday -- a day after Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins threw for nearly 300 yards against it. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune offers five suggestions for fixing the Bears' defense, including benching cornerback Nate Vasher and getting Smith more involved in the defensive play calling.
- There was no further indication Monday if quarterback Kyle Orton will be ready for Sunday's game at Green Bay, writes Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald.
- Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte has learned to forget about his mistakes, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Here's an entertaining video from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on fan "behavior" during Sunday's game at the Metrodome.
- Jacksonville players were taunting Detroit Lions players during Sunday's game at Ford Field, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News. Lions tailback Kevin Smith said the Jaguars "thought we were a joke." Can you blame them?
For those interested in such things: The Green Bay official who negotiated quarterback Aaron Rodgers' rookie contract offers an interesting take on how much money Rodgers lost when San Francisco bypassed him and selected Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall choice in the 2005 draft.
In short, here is what Andrew Brandt wrote over at The National Football Post: Smith received more guaranteed money in his first (and perhaps only) contract than Rodgers likely will receive in his first two.
Smith's $49 million deal included $24 million guaranteed. Rodgers, selected 24 spots behind Smith, received a $7.7 million deal with $4.13 million guaranteed.
Rodgers' contract expires after the 2009 season, meaning it's likely the Packers will approach him sometime this winter to discuss an extension -- provided, of course, he establishes himself as their long-term starter. According to Brandt's analysis, Rodgers would be in line for a deal similar to the one Jacksonville gave quarterback David Garrard in the offseason. They key number: $18 million guaranteed.
This is all very preliminary for a quarterback with one NFL start. But let's say Rodgers and his new agent, David Dunn, extract a decent bump from Garrard's numbers and sign a deal with $19 million guaranteed. Rodgers' first two NFL contracts, then, would have combined for $23.13 million in guarantees -- a total just short of Smith's rookie contract.
Comparing Rodgers and Smith is an extreme case, but it illustrates the disparity in the NFL current rules for determining rookie pay scale.
Had a nice chat Friday night with Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf before his team's preseason opener at the Metrodome. Wilf committed some $70 million in guaranteed money during the Vikings' preseason shopping spree, and he was eager to see the first game action of the summer.
Although some might view the Vikings' moves as a quick-fix approach to building a contender, Wilf's philosophy has been to focus on winning now and in the future. He has charged Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel, with assembling personnel behind the current veteran base to provide seamless transition of talent.
I didn't bother asking Wilf about the elephant in his suite: The Vikings' long-running, and still-unsolved, quest for a new stadium. Wilf and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission are revising a proposal for downtown Minneapolis that was once priced at $954 million. They hope to bring it before the Minnesota state legislature in 2009 -- but the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011 and they are on most observers' short list for relocation to Los Angeles.
Wilf de-leveraged himself soon after buying the team in 2005 by saying he would never move it. He continues to follow that rhetorical path, and is instead relying on Minnesota state leaders to salvage a community asset before the NFL steps in and forces his hand.
In an extended profile of Wilf in Sunday's Star Tribune, reporter Judd Zulgad broached the topic. Wilf repeated his mantra: "I'm not considering moving [the team.] I'm not considering selling it."
In other, somewhat lighter news around the NFC North:
- The Vikings are giving a long look to their last link of the 2005 trade that sent receiver Randy Moss to Oakland. Sixth round draft choice Jaymar Johnson is working as a punt returner and receiver. The Vikings received the pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for receiver Troy Williamson, whom the Vikings originally drafted in 2005 with one of the two draft picks they received from the Raiders for Moss. (English majors, go ahead and diagram that sentence.)
- In a Q&A with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said he didn't anticipate signing a veteran quarterback to back up starter Aaron Rodgers. Currently, Rodgers' backups are rookies Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. "We feel pretty comfortable where we are," Thompson said. "And I understand the risk involved. But our coaches like our guys."
- The Chicago Bears hadn't changed the configuration of their offensive line in time for practice Saturday night. In the wake of presumptive left tackle Chris Williams' back surgery, the Bears kept John Tait at right tackle and John St. Clair on the left side. There has been some discussion of moving Tait back to left tackle.
- Tom Kowalski of MLive.com cleans up some pending roster moves for the Detroit Lions: Cornerback Stanley Wilson will miss the season because of a torn Achilles tendon. Placekicker Jason Hanson will rest his strained left leg for at least a week, leaving kicking duties to Dave Rayner. The Lions also plan to remove tight end Dan Campbell and receiver Shaun McDonald from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday.