A front-runner emerged in the division this weekend – and it wasn’t either of the teams most people were picking before the season. The first-place Bears are still led by their defense, but now they’ve discovered their offense too – which is more than can be said for the Lions, who continue their descent into football hell. The Packers kept on stumbling, while the Vikings got involved in a tussle for the ages.
Looking Back: A resounding 34-7 thrashing of the hapless Lions. Kyle Orton is only a passable NFL quarterback, but the Lions’ inept defense made him look like the second coming of Sid Luckman. Lovie Smith’s decision to choose Orton over Rex Grossman (and Brian Griese who was let go in the off-season) is coming up roses so far. Matt Forte has cooled off significantly after exploding out of the gate – but who needs a running game when you can throw the ball at will? Chicago’s defense chewed up Jon Kitna, who finally had to be yanked, and had no problem handling that joke the Lions call a running game. And as if all that weren’t enough, the Bears even got an offensive TD from Devin Hester. The weak NFC North belongs to Chicago for one week at least.
Looking Forward: A visit to the Falcons, who have surprised a lot of people with their 3-2 start. Atlanta may have gone into Lambeau and shocked Green Bay, but they were facing a hobbled defense and quarterback. The Bears defense, by contrast, looks frisky again and Kyle Orton has been, at least for the last couple of weeks, one of the more effective signal callers in the league. The Bears will face a challenge in running back Michael Turner, but their veteran defense will likely give upstart Atlanta QB Matt Ryan fits. Another win for Chicago could mean a commanding lead in a division that looks increasingly weak behind them.
Looking Back: A 34-7 beatdown at home against the Bears. If the Matt Millen firing was meant to send a charge through the Lions’ coaches and players…well, it failed. You want numbers? The Lions were outgained 425-185 overall, and 328-131 through the air (despite allegedly having a better pass offense than the Bears). They managed only 54 rushing yards (that’s sort of what happens when you fall behind 31-0) and were thoroughly dominated in time-of-possession. And with Matt Millen gone, coach Rod Marinelli is the one getting all the heat. Team VP Tom Lewand tried sticking up for Marinelli, saying, “We had an awful game today, but it’s an organizational loss. It’s not on any one individual.” I’m sure Marinelli feels reassured.
Looking Forward: The Lions will try to regroup – again – in the Metrodome against Minnesota. The Vikings will be feeling better about themselves after their big win in New Orleans. The Lions have plenty of negative recent history going against them – 10 straight losses at the Dome (Bobby Ross was coach the last time Detroit won in Minnesota). Then again, the Vikings pass defense has looked porous again this year – and passing is supposed to be the Lions’ forte. They may as well forget about trying to dent the Vikings’ run defense with their no-name backs. One of these days, the breaks have to go the Lions’ way – don’t they?
Looking Back: A stunning 27-24 home loss to the Falcons. The Packers fell behind early, then fought back only to lose on a late Michael Turner TD run. Green Bay’s banged up defense couldn’t stop the Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White combo which accounted for 132 yards and a touchdown. They also couldn’t handle Turner who continued his emergence with a 121-yard, 1 TD performance. Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder seemed to bother him at times, but he was still able to sling it, and looked for a time like he might pull off a comeback of Favrian proportions. Alas, Rodgers seems to lack that dash of magic #4 always conjured when needed. On the plus side for Green Bay – Ryan Grant came out of his slump with a passable 83 yard performance. Unfortunately, the Packers appear to have suffered too many injuries on defense, and have begun sliding in the standings.
Looking Forward: The Pack will try to snap their 3-game losing streak at Seattle. The Seahawks tumbled from favorite status in the NFC West after getting spanked 44-6 by the Giants. Seattle and Green Bay are both battered and bewildered, but only one of them will get to right the ship this week. Mike Holmgren’s offense has looked uncharacteristically punchless this season, which is good news for a Packers defense that hasn’t had much go right the last few weeks. Another loss and Green Bay may find itself falling straight out of the NFC North race.
Minnesota Vikings (2-3):
Looking Back: A 30-27 victory over the Saints. A true freak show of a game. The Saints dominated on the stat sheet, but the Vikes found themselves ahead by 10 at the half (thanks largely to a heroic effort by Antoine Winfield). The breaks started going against the Purple in the second half though, and the Saints stopped killing themselves with penalties. And then the Reggie Bush show began – two punt return touchdowns and a third that was nearly housed as well. It took a valiant drive by a punchy Gus Frerotte to knot the score again, and a Martin Gramatica field goal miss to open the door on an improbable season-saving win for the Purple. By all rights, the Vikings should’ve lost – but the football gods chose to smile on the embattled Brad Childress.
Looking Forward: A home match-up with the Lions, whom they’ve beaten 10 straight times in Minnesota. The stars were clearly aligned for the Vikings against New Orleans – but they shouldn’t need that kind of help to beat the Lions, who look not only inept but completely dispirited. The offense needs to play better overall than it did against the Saints, especially Adrian Peterson who all but disappeared. The Vikes may look at the Lions as a handy cure for all that ails them – but it would be a mistake for them to get complacent, especially if Jon Kitna repeats some of his past performances against them. It would behoove the Vikes to shore up their special teams coverage which has been awful. A win gets them back to .500, and perhaps within hailing distance of the division leader.