Oct 20, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) is taken off the field on a stretcher during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Packers Take Over First Place, But Lose Jermichael Finley

It was kind of a crazy day in the NFC North. Two teams suffered bitter defeats despite battling down to the wire, while the other took care of business in pretty easy fashion. And there were some very significant injuries around the division as well.

In the early games, you had the Bears squaring off against the Redskins in Washington and the Lions hosting the Bengals. Unexpectedly, the Bears-Redskins game developed into a shootout. The two teams just kept trading touchdowns back and forth all afternoon, and what made this even more remarkable? The Bears had to do it without Jay Cutler who suffered a groin injury in the first half. Josh McCown came in for Cutler and ran Marc Trestman’s offense like he’s been in it all his life.

But of course, these being the Bears, they got a lot of help from special teams and big plays on defense. Devin Hester got on the board for the first time in a couple years with a punt return TD, and they also got a big pick from Peanut Tillman to set up a score. Matt Forte had a huge game with 3 rushing TDs. The problem for the Bears all day was the run defense which had no answer for Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. The final score ended up 45-41 Redskins, with neither team going over 300 yards passing. How often do you see that big a score without huge QB numbers in this day-and-age?

The Bears still had a chance to win that game late but couldn’t stop a final 80-yard scoring drive by RG3 and the Skins. The other early division game also came down to the wire, and the NFC North team also came out on the short end of the stick. Detroit battled the Bengals hard, getting a huge game from Calvin Johnson in the process, but the Bengals own big-time receiver A.J. Green also had a nice day, and that Bengals defense stood up when it needed to. The Bengals finally won it on a last-second field goal set up by a horrible kick from rookie punter Sam Martin. Very frustrating defeat for the Lions who fall to 4-3.

The late game for the division saw the Packers hosting the Browns. This one looked like an easy win for the Packers even without Randall Cobb, James Jones and Clay Matthews, and indeed it turned out to be more-or-less of a cakewalk. Aaron Rodgers was efficient all day, spreading the ball around as usual, but the big story on offense was Eddie Lacy who continues to give the Packers a very consistent running game.

Unfortunately there was also a huge injury in this game and a very scary one at that. Jermichael Finley got lit up by a defender in the fourth quarter and had to be carried off on a stretcher with an apparent neck injury. It was reported that Finley had feeling in his extremities and that’s good news but obviously any injury involving the head/neck is a bad deal and this could still turn out to be a season-ender for Finley.

If you’re still paying attention to the division standings – there are a few Viking fans who have probably given up looking at those already – you will find the Packers now on top at 4-2, with Detroit and Chicago both a half-game back at 4-3. There’s a long time yet to go but if the Packers keep running it as effectively as they have been and keep getting better on defense, they should take control of the division. The Bears and Lions are decent teams but both have flaws, and now the Bears have injury issues too. Those teams are both in danger of fading if they don’t shore some things up.

We’ll see tomorrow night if the Vikings can get a win and hang on to one last shred of hope for vaulting back into the division race. I know it seems silly to even suggest that with the team at 1-4 but I’m trying to be a little bit optimistic here.

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