All four NFC North teams stayed home in Week Nine, and only the Vikings failed to make use of their advantage. The Bears pulled out an ugly win vs. the Panthers, the Packers held off a surprising challenge from the Jaguars and the Lions kept their season alive by defeating the Seahawks.
What we learned: The Bears’ offense is having a lot of trouble figuring out how to solve its problems. In fact, it was as bad as it has been all season for the first 3½ quarters or so of Sunday’s win over the Panthers. They didn’t convert a third down until the 9:34 mark in the fourth quarter, and finished 2-for-8 on third down for the game. In contrast, the Panthers were 10-for-19 on third down. The Bears’ offense is doing enough to win against lesser competition, but the schedule gets much tougher in a couple weeks and the offense is not giving us any reason to think it’s suddenly going to stop playing the way it has been for nearly the entire first half of the season.
What’s in store next: A trip to Tennessee to play the 3-5 Titans in Week Nine is next for the Bears. Chicago has been fairly dominant in its two games against Tennessee’s fellow AFC South teams this season — the Bears racked up 41 points in wins over Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Titans are coming off an overtime loss to the Colts and actually have the league’s worst point differential (-95). The Bears, on the other hand, have the league’s third-best point differential (85), and it will be even more impressive after Week Nine if the Bears keep on beating up AFC South teams.
What the heck? Jay Cutler didn’t blame his sore ribs or anyone else for his three-turnover performance after the game. He owned it, but also said he’s not worried about the offense’s habit of long ineffective stretches, often early in games. It would be understandable if some Bears fans are worrying about Cutler, though. He already has thrown more interceptions (eight) than he did in the 10 games he played last season (seven) and has lost all three of his fumbles this season (he lost 3-of-7 last season). Cutler has thrown for only 336 yards in the past two games — both of which were against suspect secondaries.
— Dan Parr
What we learned: The Lions are resilient. Twice they lost the lead on Sunday, but both times, they fought back, and when WR Titus Young caught a one-yard TD pass with 20 seconds left, the Lions had clawed their way to a 28-24 win against tough Seattle. Young, who caught all nine passes thrown his way for 100 yards and a pair of TDs, had his best game as a pro, and the Lions desperately needed it with Calvin Johnson held to three catches. Four plays before Young’s TD, Johnson had a sure score bounce off his hands. The player considered to be one of the NFL’s very best receivers is in a bit of a slump. The good news for the Lions: their other pass catchers stepped up, and QB Matthew Stafford (34-of-49 passing, 352 yards, three TDs, one interception) skillfully distributed the ball to a variety of targets. The Lions’ defense didn’t have its best day; Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch broke free for a career-long 77-yard TD run, and rookie QB Russell Wilson completed 25-of-35 passes for 236 yards with a pair of scores and an interception. However, Detroit allowed just seven second-half points.
What’s in store next: The Lions travel to Jacksonville (1-6) in a contest that has all of the makings of a “trap game” for Detroit. The Lions will be favored against the Jaguars, and a .500 record and a two-game winning streak is so close to Detroit’s grasp. However, the Jaguars, after some early-season lopsided defeats, have started to play better. They were competitive in a 24-15 defeat at heavily favored Green Bay on Sunday. If the Lions aren’t sharp, the Jaguars could make life difficult on Jim Schwartz’s team.
What the heck? Penalties were a big problem for the Lions early in the game. The Seahawks’ first points came on a drive extended when DE Willie Young was penalized for illegal formation on a 4th-and-5 Seattle punt. Also, the Seahawks’ second TD was helped set up by a 41-yard pass-interference penalty on Lions rookie CB Jonte Green. Green had good coverage on Seahawks WR Golden Tate but used an “arm-bar” move on Tate and was flagged for the contact. However, to their credit, the Lions didn’t commit a single penalty in the second half.
– Mike Wilkening
What we learned: The Packers looked like a team feeling the effects of being without eight injured starters in their 24-15 victory over the lowly Jaguars that was way too close for comfort. With WRs Greg Jennings (groin) and Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and FB John Kuhn (hamstring) riding the pines, Green Bay’s offense was clearly out of rhythm most of the game (only 238 total yards). The Packers’ run game continued to struggle mightily, with RB Alex Green failing to gain more than three yards per carry for the third game in a row. But there were just enough big plays on defense (the Packers’ first fumble recovery of the season by FS Morgan Burnett) and special teams (Davon House’s blocked punt that was recovered in the endzone by Dezman Moses) to produce a very ugly victory, but a victory nonetheless.
What’s in store next: The injury-plagued Packers will get no sympathy from the Cardinals, their next opponent next Sunday at Lambeau Field. Arizona, which will be coming off a short week after their game Monday night against the division-rival 49ers, also has been severely handicapped by a host of ailments to key players, most notably QB Kevin Kolb and RBs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams (out for the season). It’s worth noting that the Jaguars still managed to make the Packers sweat bullets on Sunday despite missing star RB Maurice Jones-Drew, among a host of other key players out with assorted injuries.
What the heck? The injury bug continues to show no mercy, with DL Jerel Worthy (concussion) and DL Mike Neal (ankle) forced to leave Sunday’s game (check statuses). In addition, while the special teams did produce a pivotal play with a blocked punt for a TD, it also produced one of the ugliest plays of the season — P Tim Masthay’s feeble pass across his body to the other side of the field in the general direction of D.J. Williams on a fake field goal in the third quarter. PK Mason Crosby, who started out the season 5-for-5 on FG attempts, also continued his erratic placekicking of late with a 32-yard shank that was way off the mark.
— Dan Arkush
What we learned: The season officially hangs in the balance. After the storybook 4-1 start that surprised most of the NFL, the Vikings have lost 2-of-3 games, including a Week Eight home blowout on Thursday at the hands of the sub-.500 Buccaneers. The loss hurt three-times as much because the Lions, Bears and Packers all gained on them with comeback victories in the division. The Vikings’ defense has been a little off the past three games, and the loss of CB Chris Cook (perhaps for the season) is expected to be a big blow.
What’s in store next: The Vikings’ extra rest is undercut by a tough trip to Seattle. Even though the Seahawks’ defense was as poor as it has been this season in Week Eight, the Vikings’ passing game could find itself challenged against a talented, aggressive secondary. QB Christian Ponder’s recent slide and penchant for turnovers has to be solved before this game. On the other side of the ball, there will be some familiarity: Former Vikings WR Sidney Rice and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have found homes with the Seahawks.
What the heck? Ponder now has regressed in both of his NFL seasons after promising starts. He is definitely pressing now. The first four games he was composed and in control. The past four he has looked skittish and indecisive. Some games his clock has not been fast enough; others Ponder looks like the ball is hot and painful to the touch. He was a 70 percent passer with a more diverse offense early but has looked inaccurate in recent games despite a safer game plan. The coaches need to revive his confidence. The Vikings lack a deep passing game, as Jerome Simpson has yet to break out. Perhaps it’s time to insert rookie Jarius Wright into the lineup, to at least give a speed element on the field. Otherwise, the Vikings' season could slip away quickly.
— Eric Edholm