NFC North: Minneosta Vikings
We just touched down back in NFC North territory -- everyone can rest easier now, I'm sure -- and we'll try something a bit different with today's Black and Blue feature. Since we're getting a bit of a late start, and you've probably caught up with the news of each division game by now, I wanted to give you a sampling of how some columnists viewed the festivities.
We'll start in Chicago, where no one was encouraged about the likely quarterback transition from Kyle Orton to Rex Grossman. Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times:
If the Bears didn't have a quarterback problem, they wouldn't know what to do. If the world gives them lemonade at that position, they will find a way to make lemons. And so just before halftime of their 27-23 win over the neutered Detroit Lions at Soldier Field, the Bears saw their quarterback legacy, their birthright to always be screwed up at the helm, enter quietly from the north end of the lakefront stadium. It came in the form of a green, six-wheeled, motorized cart, the one with the little black tires and bright yellow rims and the flat-bed just behind the driver's seat. Into this cart was deposited Kyle Orton, the Bears' rising quarterback for the last seven games, the quiet former backup with the patchy neckbeard who had been doing so well as a new starter.
Count Eric Olson of the Northwest Herald among those who fears a Grossman tenure of any length:
Grossman's not incompetent. He's just scary to watch because it's well-known that he can uncork a bad throw at any time. With Orton, that was less of a concern, and that also was a relief.
On the other side of the press box, Detroit-area columnists were debating the Lions' decision to sign quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press:
The Lions are 0-8, or as I like to think of it, Halfway to Nowhere. And with the Cincinnati Bengals finally winning for the first time all season, the Lions are alone on their desert island. They are the only winless team in the league and they have a quarterback controversy. I swear, sometimes I think they exist purely for the benefit of sports columnists. Incumbent quarterback Dan Orlovsky said he isn't thinking about Culpepper's arrival, which is like Barack Obama saying he isn't thinking about the election.
Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News thinks the Lions should look everywhere for help:
For the current regime -- executive vice-president Tom Lewand, GM Martin Mayhew, coach Rod Marinelli -- there's nothing wrong with trying everything. This also could be further indication that some combination of that group might return next season. This is the third major move -- trading Roy Williams and placing Jon Kitna on injured-reserve were the other -- the regime has pulled off since Matt Millen's firing, with eyes on the future.
In Minnesota, Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune notes how several of the Vikings' recent big-ticket acquisitions -- defensive end Jared Allen, receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe -- played key roles in Sunday's 28-21 victory over Houston:
Maybe the Vikings are jelling. Maybe they just had a good day. Either way, whatever success they've had this season stems from Zygi Wilf's willingness to stretch his wallet.
Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press celebrated Williams' return from a neck injury.
Yes, it's nerve-wracking to see a fellow come back from a neck injury and then play football with no helmet. For example, late in the third quarter with the Vikings up by a touchdown, Williams leapt high while covering Kevin Walter in the end zone. There was a big tangle, and they landed in a heap. Williams wound up with a key interception, but no helmet. That was rolling around several feet away. Fortunately, his head was not in it.
In Nashville, Tenn., Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal were impressed with how angry the Packers were about their loss. Vandermause:
But there was at least one encouraging sign in the aftermath of the Packers' red-zone failures, costly turnovers, dropped interceptions, misguided passes and boneheaded penalties. In the wake of a bitter defeat, there was no finger pointing or grumbling about what could have or should have been. Instead, a roomful of dejected players seemed willing to accept responsibility for their actions. While it doesn't change the painful 19-16 loss on the scoreboard, it bodes well for the second half of the season.
The most encouraging thing about Sunday's game wasn't that the Packers held up physically against the Titans or that their defense dominated at times or that they gained almost 400 yards on offense despite having to reshuffle their line at the 11th hour. No, the most encouraging sign was that they were really ticked off that they didn't leave Nashville with a victory. They thought they were the better team before, during and, yes, even after the game. If you're wondering where this 4-4 season will go from here, then those are all good things. They are all signs that this team finally has its collective helmet screwed on straight after muddling through the first half of the season with uneven performances filled with hard-to-fathom mistakes.
Some people around the country might have been surprised at the impact Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield had on the Vikings' 30-27 victory Monday night at New Orleans. Vikings fans, along with those who watched Winfield in Buffalo, probably were not.
Which brings us to this week's "Have at it" question: Other than Winfield, who do you think is the most underrated player in the NFC North? For the purposes of focusing this discussion, we'll define underrated as a player who has performed consistently at a high level but rarely has received national recognition.
This player could fall below the radar because he mans a relatively anonymous position (i.e. guard, nose tackle, strong-side linebacker). Perhaps he is overshadowed by a more well-known teammate. Or he could have a particularly introverted personality and thus refrain from the usual self-promotion that gains acclaim for some players.
Use the comments section below or hit the mailbag. As always, I'll cull through your answers and give you my own take -- even though you never asked -- on Friday morning.
So have at it.
What? Could one whole day have passed without an update in the Brett Favre saga? It appears as though both sides rested Sunday, at least publicly, in anticipation of a key week for the Green Bay Packers. So we'll take our cue and go Favre-less ourselves -- for now -- in this edition of Black and Blue all over.
- It's not clear if Chicago Bears wide receiver Mark Bradley will be ready for the start of training camp after offseason surgery on his right knee. With the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Bradley has an opportunity to finally establish himself as a front-line receiver. But he has to get on the field. And stay there.
- Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times endorses Kyle Orton for the Bears' starting quarterback job based on one qualification: He isn't Rex Grossman. "I have slightly more faith that he'll make fewer mistakes than Rex Grossman," Mariotti writes.
- Rookie safety/linebacker Caleb Campbell (Army) is expected to report to Detroit Lions camp on Wednesday, according to the Detroit News. Campbell's status has been in some doubt as the U.S. military reviews the "alterative service option" that will allow him to defer and modify his post-graduate service obligation.
- Among the issues that have been swept under the (public) rug recently is the Green Bay Packers' concerns at defensive line, according the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The Packers traded Corey Williams and then watched Justin Harrell tweak his back and Johnny Jolly get arrested this month for drug possession in Houston. Jolly could eventually face NFL discipline.
- The Packers are hoping to identify a clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Ryan Grant, assuming Grant signs a contract and reports to camp on time. Brandon Jackson will get the first crack, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress will keep in mind the NFL's new 80-man roster limit while monitoring his players' workload in training camp. "You don't need to be a slavedriver," Childress told the Star Tribune.