Green Bay has the slight edge in the NFC North down the stretch with both the Packers and the Bears at 8-4 following a Green Bay win and a Chicago loss. The Vikings' loss at Lambeau Field and the Lions' collapse against the Colts have them both still sliding backward.
What we learned: The Bears still have not figured out how to beat good teams. All four of their losses have been to teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. If the playoffs were to begin this week, there would be only two NFC playoff teams the Bears had not lost to — the Falcons and Giants, and the Bears do not play them this regular season. So, while the Bears are still the fifth seed in NFC and are in position to make it to the postseason as a wild card, they have not shown anyone that they measure up to the type of competition they will run into if they do reach the playoffs. Their overtime loss to the Seahawks could prove to be very costly — if the Seahawks and Bears finish with the same record (the Bears are one game ahead of them in the standings), Seattle would own the tiebreaker because of Sunday’s win.
What’s in store next: Chicago gets another crack at the only team it has defeated since Nov. 4. The Bears will travel to face the 6-6 Vikings on Sunday only two weeks after the teams met for the first time this season (a 28-10 Bears win at Soldier Field Nov. 25). The Bears have won their last six games against Minnesota, which is battling to stay in the playoff picture. The Vikings, who lost to the Packers in Week 13, are sitting with the Cowboys and Bucs on the edge of the wild-card race.
What the heck? As Lovie Smith said after the game Sunday, the Bears’ defense didn’t get a lot done vs. Seattle. Jay Cutler admitted he was surprised with what he saw from the Bears’ “D” late in the game. They looked slow and tired, which is not a frequent sight at Soldier Field. This is the second time in three games that a young quarterback made the Bears’ defense look bad. It was 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick in his first career start a couple weeks ago, and rookie Russell Wilson did the honors Sunday, leading the Seahawks on a 12-play, 97-yard touchdown drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter and a 12-play, 80-yard drive for the win on the only possession in overtime.
What we learned: The Lions’ problems finishing games continue. For almost four quarters in Sunday’s hard-to-believe 35-33 loss to Indianapolis, the Lions were better than the Colts. The Lions intercepted Colts QB Andrew Luck three times and consistently pressured him. The Lions’ offense gave the Colts fits, too, with WR Calvin Johnson catching 13 passes for 171 yards and a TD in a superb effort. With a little more than four minutes left, the Lions had the ball in Colts’ territory with a 33-21 lead, and the game looked to be over. The Lions had controlled the game, and there seemed no way the Colts could come back. Well, the Colts, to their credit, kept grinding. They forced the Lions to punt, and then their offense began to find its way. Luck found rookie WR LaVon Brazill for a 42-yard TD to cut the Lions’ lead to 33-28 with 2:39 left. Now it was on the Lions to close out the game. The offense, while converting a first down via penalty, couldn’t quite get it done, and the Lions again had to punt. Still, when the Colts got the ball back, they had 75 yards to go, no timeouts in hand and just 1:07 on the clock. Surely the Lions would rise up now. Instead, the Colts, with Luck leading the way, worked the ball downfield, and on the game’s final play, with Indianapolis facing a fourth down on the Detroit 14, Luck hit WR Donnie Avery short of the endzone — but with plenty of room to roll. The swift Avery did the rest, for the game-winning score. The loss dropped the Lions to 4-8 in what will be a lost season save for a miracle.
What's in store next: The Lions will try to turn the tables on the Packers (8-4), who notched a comeback win at Detroit in Week 11. The most pressing question is whether the Lions can muster another strong performance after three consecutive game efforts against contenders (Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis) ended in teeth-gnashing defeats. The Lions’ defense played quite well in the first meeting with Green Bay before surrendering the go-ahead TD late, and the Lions’ offense can match strides with the Packers’ attack. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, all eyes will be on how Detroit responds.
What the heck? The Lions’ season seems likely to be defined by a series of failures. Early in the season, their special teams fell apart, costing them dearly in losses to the Vikings and Titans. Lately, their inability to close games has cost them. There have been less-talented 4-8 teams than the 2012 Detroit Lions, and there have been less frustrating ones, too. The Lions have been victims of bad luck, and their schedule hasn’t had many gimmes, but they have had their chances to be much, much better than this, and they have squandered a good many of them.
What we learned: With the offense methodically cranking out a season-high 435 yards, including an impressive 152 yards on the ground, and a secondary spearheaded by SS Morgan Burnett (two interceptions) doing a solid job shutting down Minnesota’s receivers, the Packers seemed to solidify their playoff hopes with their 10th consecutive win over a divisional opponent. QB Aaron Rodgers coolly directed five scoring drives of 50 yards or more (9-of-16 third-down conversions), and James Starks, who had a nifty 22-yard outside run for a TD, and Alex Green provided a strong, double-barreled rushing attack. In addition, the Packers’ depth continued to make its presence felt, with undrafted rookie lineman Don Barclay doing a decent job replacing the injured T.J. Lang (ankle) at right tackle.
What’s in store next: Three weeks after beating them 24-20 in Detroit, the Packers will be entertaining the limping Lions at Lambeau Field this Sunday, losers of four consecutive games. Detroit has blown fourth-quarter leads in the last three games, and their defense has allowed at least 403 yards in three of the last four games (419.3 ypg). The Packers have won 13 of their last 14 games against the Lions. As always, they must pay special attention to Lions star WR Calvin Johnson, who is on a major roll, gaining more than 125 yards per game in the last five contests.
What the heck? Well, the Packers certainly could have done without the 210 yards compiled by Vikings league MVP candidate Adrian Peterson on Sunday, especially his 82-yard TD run on which the Packers missed a host of tackles. There were also 10 troubling penalties, including six for offensive holding and two false starts, one of which led to Rodgers reading Evan Dietrich-Smith the riot act in a moment of frustration. Finally, while Lang’s injury is not considered serious, there are concerns that WR Jordy Nelson might have reinjured the hamstring that kept him out of action earlier this season enough to sideline him again.
What we learned: The Vikings might be toast. Sunday’s formula was all too familiar: a brilliant day by Adrian Peterson (210 yards, career-best 82-yard TD run), shaky quarterbacking and a defense that just couldn’t make a stop when it needed to most. That was it. That was the Vikings’ 23-14 loss in a nutshell. Oh sure, had PK Blair Walsh made his late field-goal attempt and converted an onsides kick, perhaps the Vikings could have stolen a game. But it would have underscored the serious problems that lie on a team that once was 4-1 but currently sits at a disappointing (in perspective) 6-6.
What’s in store next: The final four games are tough, starting with Week 14’s rematch against the Bears in Minnesota. A 6-10 finish is entirely possible. Forget the whole “I would have taken 6-10 at the start of this season” nonsense — in no realm would a 2-9 finish be considered a relative success. The Bears will be in better health than it appeared they’d be the last time these teams left the field, two weeks ago. Noted Vikings killer RS Devin Hester could return for this one, and you know the Bears will be in full bear-down mode in a game they have to have for their playoff lives. The Vikings pretty much have to win out to feel good about their chances, having lost to Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington — teams that could be in the NFC wild-card mix — and hope for help.
What the heck? Christian Ponder is a smart guy. That’s why we’ll let his words do the talking here. "As a quarterback, don't throw the ball across your body," he said. Do what he says, not what he does, kids. Ponder now has made 22 NFL starts, almost a season and a half’s worth, and he’s doing the same kinds of things he did early in his career. His third-quarter pick in the endzone — the one he described above — was an absolute killer. It was 14-10 Vikings, with the Packers still reeling from Peterson’s long run earlier, and a score (TD or field goal) would have changed the game completely. Instead, the Packers turned the pick into a field goal the other way. Ponder also had Peterson wide open in the third quarter, opting to throw elsewhere. It’s the QB’s decision making, more than anything else, that fails him in crunch time. Will there be a change? Likely not, as the team would see it as undermining his progress, but at some point they have to hold him accountable for his repeated mistakes.