The NFC North race took an interesting turn Sunday with the division-leading Bears falling in a sloppy game and the Vikings bouncing back with a win over the Lions. The Packers, who had a bye in Week 10, and Bears could have identical records by the end of Week 11.
What we learned: Backup QB Jason Campbell might not have endeared himself to Bears fans with his performance in relief of Jay Cutler, who missed the entire second half Sunday vs. the Texans after it was determined he had suffered a concussion late in the first half. In a tough situation, Campbell — one of the highest paid backup QBs in the league — was unable to provide a spark for the offense. However, the truth is that Campbell’s passer rating (70.9) was 54.2 points higher than Cutler’s (16.7), and Campbell took care of the ball (he did not have turnover) while guiding the Bears on their three longest drives of the game. Cutler threw two picks in the first half. Both QBs failed to lead a touchdown drive in their two quarters of play, and neither one was sacked — they had good pretty good protection from the offensive line. The scary thought for the Bears is that they might not have a quarterback they can trust to play well, even if Cutler is cleared to play next week. He ranks 24th in the league in passer rating (80.4).
What’s in store next: The Bears will meet the 49ers (6-2-1) for the first time since 2009, when Cutler threw five interceptions in Chicago’s 10-6 loss at San Francisco. Coming off Sunday night’s loss, the Bears’ lead in the NFC North is on the line. A Bears loss and a Packers win at Detroit in Week 11 would even the teams’ records at 7-3, with the Packers holding the tiebreaker by virtue of their Week Two win over the Bears. In addition, the 49ers and Bears are both vying for a first-round playoff bye, and San Francisco would move ahead of Chicago in the race for the No. 2 seed with a win. However, the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Alex Smith, also suffered a concussion Sunday, so the condition of Smith and Cutler will be one of the most talked about story lines heading into the Monday-night game between the clubs.
What the heck? Maybe TE Kellen Davis is not regressing, but he sure does not seem to be getting any better and the Bears might want to reevaluate how they are using him. Davis is certainly making it hard for quarterbacks to trust him. He was targeted five times Sunday, made only one catch for six yards and concluded that reception by fumbling the ball away on the Bears’ first drive. Later in the first quarter, a pass intended for Davis was picked off, and Davis dropped a would-be first-down catch on 3rd-and-11 in the fourth quarter with the Bears trying to make a comeback.
What we learned: The Lions suffered a big setback on Sunday. Not only did they again fall under .500 for the season, but the 34-24 loss at Minnesota was their second loss to the Vikings. Now, the Vikings have the head-to-head sweep in their favor. If they are to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Lions (4-5) must play better than they did Sunday. The Vikings, whose offense wouldn't be considered one of the NFL's most potent, racked up 403 total yards in victory and established both the run and pass. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson gashed Detroit for 134 rush yards in the second half — his 61-yard TD with 8:06 left turned a 24-17 contest into a 14-point Minnesota lead. Then, on the Lions‚ next possession, WR Calvin Johnson — who otherwise had a wonderful game — fumbled, with the Vikings recovering. They turned the takeaway into a field goal, making it a three-possession game and essentially putting it out of reach of Detroit. In defeat, the Lions lost CB Chris Houston (ankle) and DE Cliff Avril (concussion), adding to injury woes on defense. Injuries have been a major problem in the secondary all season. FS Louis Delmas missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury, and SS Amari Spievey has missed the past three games because of a concussion. On offense, the story was Johnson, who's playing through a knee injury in remarkable fashion. He caught all but one pass thrown his way on Sunday, racking up 12 catches for 207 yards and a TD.
What's in store next: The Lions begin a three-game homestand that could define their season by hosting surging Green Bay (6-3) on Sunday. The Packers, who swept Detroit a season ago, have some major injury concerns of their own, with OLB Clay Matthews among those that are hurting. Can the Lions get back to .500 before a Thanksgiving Day meeting with AFC power Houston? The Lions' playoff hopes are far from over, but they cannot afford many more losses, especially in division play, where they have yet to win. They must get out of the NFC North cellar to have a chance at the postseason.
What the heck? QB Matthew Stafford had a solid game overall, but his first-quarter interception was costly, and it was avoidable. Stafford threw flat-footed in the direction of TE Brandon Pettigrew, and Vikings LB Chad Greenway closed and picked off the pass, which set up a Minnesota field goal. In Stafford's defense, he was under some pressure, and he does have a strong arm, but that wasn't textbook execution by any means.
What we learned: Rebuilding or contending? How about both? The Vikings staved off season derailment with an inspired 34-24 victory over the Lions, and they did so on offense. Without Percy Harvin. Go figure. Christian Ponder reversed field on his negative trend in recent games and had one of his best performances of the season. An early post to rookie Jarius Wright (active for the first time) seemed to loosen Ponder up, and he did a good job of reincorporating TE Kyle Rudolph into the offense after a cold snap of his own. Of course, RB Adrian Peterson is the best closer in the business, and he ran for 120 of his 171 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 61-yard TD that put the Vikings up 14 points with eight minutes left. Peterson now has a shocking 629 rushing yards in his last four games.
What’s in store next: Had they lost Sunday, the Vikings would have crawled into this week’s bye at .500, losers of 4-of-5 games. Instead, the victory vaulted them headlong into the NFC playoff picture. Ponder needed this performance, and winning without Harvin was an important step, as was integrating Wright’s deep speed (he also caught a short TD) into the offense. The next three games will tell us everything we need to know about whether the Vikings are contenders: at the 7-2 Bears in Week 12, followed by the 6-3 Packers at Lambeau Field and the Bears again at home in Week 14.
What the heck? It wasn’t just that the Vikings won. They outslugged the Lions. They played like the favorites. Favorites, they were not. Ponder was struggling, Harvin was out and the defense was in a mini-funk. But instead of acting desperately or getting too far away from themselves, the Vikings simply audited the playbook during the week and found ways to adjust. Ponder connected with nine different receivers in his 24 completions, and the Vikings didn’t rely on Peterson to bail them out until the final period. The defense was excellent on third downs, not allowing one to be converted until garbage time (1-of-9 overall).