A wild weekend for the division ends in a three-way tie for first – and a Lions team still looking for that elusive first victory.
Looking Back: A crushing last-second loss to the Falcons. The Bears fell behind early, then came storming back in the second half, surviving a Jerious Norwood kick-off return TD and taking the lead when Kyle Orton hit Rasheid Davis for 7 with 17 seconds left. They must’ve thought the win was in the bag – then Matt Ryan hit Michael Jenkins for 26 on a sideline play the booth reviewed and upheld. Jason Elam, who’d missed a field goal earlier, ended it with a 48-yarder. Kyle Orton was good again, and Devin Hester showed he might be #1 receiver material after all with 6 catches for 87 yards. But the defense and special teams gave up too many big plays late and the Bears missed a chance to take control of the division.
Looking Forward: A home showdown against the Vikings. Devin Hester is probably salivating after seeing what Reggie Bush did to the Vikes’ punt coverage a couple of weeks ago. Matt Forte doesn’t figure to get much action against the Minnesota D, but Kyle Orton, who continues to exceed expectations, has to feel like he can move the ball against a pass defense that remains spotty. The Bears got destroyed by Adrian Peterson once last season, but the 2008 Peterson doesn’t look nearly so fearsome. And their pass rushers figure to get plenty of pressure on an immobile, poorly protected Gus Frerotte.
Looking Back: They fought hard and lost to the Vikings, 12-10. It’s hard to imagine a more disappointing loss than this. The offense played terribly, but the defense held up well against an inept Minnesota attack, and the Lions were in position to get their first win of the year. Then the refs came and snatched it all away with a couple of questionable calls. Rod Marinelli must be wondering what he ever did to the football gods to deserve such a fate. The Lions have to console themselves with the knowledge that they scrapped to the end, that their defense made some plays and that they’ve only got 11 more games before this nightmare season ends.
Looking Forward: The Lions are perpetually picking up the pieces. They’ll try it again against a Houston Texans squad that came into the year with high hopes but has struggled to a 1-4 start. The Lions hope they discovered their defensive identity against the Vikings. Now they need to work on the offense which will likely be without Jon Kitna again. The Lions have a promising young running back in Kevin Smith and remain loaded with talent at receiver. Unfortunately they appear star-crossed. It’s likely too late for them to realize any playoff aspirations but they can still salvage their pride by stringing together a few wins. And maybe Dan Orlovsky can show them enough to become their QB of the future (he needs to learn where the back of the endzone is first).
Looking Back: Early struggles gave way to a second half rout against Seattle. The Packers looked to end a 3-game losing streak and they did, thanks largely to Aaron Rodgers who put to bed all those worries about his health by throwing for 208 yards and 2 TDs while missing on only 9 of 30 passes. Aaron Kampman led the charge for a defense that has been rocked by injuries but had enough to slow down a Seahawks team missing Matt Hasselbeck and, consequently, much of their offensive punch.
Looking Forward: The Packers host an Indianapolis team that appears to have its mojo working again after their obliteration of Baltimore. Green Bay doesn’t relish having to face Peyton Manning and company with a banged-up defense. At the same time, they have to like their offense against an Indianapolis D that’s clearly not as good as it was last year. Aaron Rodgers continues to grow every week, and this could be a bust-out game for him, a reputation-builder. The Packers may have lost 3 straight before the Seattle win but they still find themselves in position to take over first place in the division.
Minnesota Vikings (3-3):
Looking Back: Another week, another bail-out by the officials. Vikings fans have no reason to complain about luck – they’ve gotten almost nothing but good breaks the last two weeks. It’s a good thing too because their offense has been brutal. Gus Frerotte gives them a spark, but it’s in danger of being snuffed if the line doesn’t start protecting him. Adrian Peterson was better against the Lions than the Saints but he still isn’t breaking big runs – and his two fumbles threatened to sink Minnesota. Nobody in Vikingland should be satisfied with a 12-10 squeaker over a team as bad as Detroit.
Looking Forward: A second straight divisional showdown, this one on the road in Chicago. The Vikings have to know that, if they play as poorly against the Bears as they did against the Lions, they will lose and lose badly. The offensive line is where much of the concern lies. They need to keep Gus Frerotte off his back and they need to open holes for Adrian Peterson. Bernard Berrian has begun earning his money after a slow start and he hopes to give a good showing against his old team. Brad Childress, the most embattled coach in the division (even Marinelli seems safer), needs a convincing, non-flukey/referee-aided win to get the “Fire Childress” chants to die down.