NFC North: Packers Defeat the Vikings to Reclaim Division
By Tom Pollin
Presenting the Week 13 Black and Blue Review (@tjpollin)
In an action-packed Sunday the Green Bay Packers shut down the Minnesota Vikings 23-14 while the Chicago Bears were losing at home to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 in overtime.
In Detroit, the Lions had a seemingly insurmountable 33-21 lead with just under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter but two touchdown passes by Andrew Luck in the final four minutes dropped their record to 4-8 in a 35-33 loss to the Colts.
With their win the Packers leapfrog the Bears back into first place in the division and into the No. 3 seed in the conference. The Bears dropped to the No. 5 seed and the Seahawks get the tiebreaker advantage in the playoff race. The Vikings drop a game behind the Seahawks for the final playoff spot and the Lions continue their season ending free fall.
As everyone but the Packers drag themselves back to the film room to start evaluating what went wrong here are the five things we learned during week 13 in the NFC North.
1. Spot the Packers to a 10-0 first quarter lead and expect to lose.
The Packers have never lost a game with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback after holding at least a 10-0 lead after the first. The last time the Packers lost in that situation was in September of 2006 with Brett Favre at quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers had another one of his signature games, completing 27 passes in 35 attempts for 286-yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 98.0 Passer Rating. Rodgers targeted 10 different receivers and completed passes to nine of them.
Green Bay even ran the ball well against the Vikings, who are No. 7 on defense in Rushing Yards per Attempt. James Starks continued his re-emergence in the running game with 66-yards on 15 attempts for a 4.4-yards per carry average and one touchdown, a 22-yard dash around right end. Overall the Packers gained 152-yards on the ground during the game.
2. The Packers forced Christian Ponder to beat them.
Adrian Peterson carried 13 times in the first half for 126-yards and a touchdown to help stake the Vikings to a 14-10 lead. He finished with 21-rushes for 210-yards but the Vikings failed to convert on opportunities in the second half to press their advantage.
At the start of the third quarter, Packers’ placekicker Mason Crosby shanked his kickoff out of bounds and the Vikings took over on their own 40-yard line. Two runs by Peterson of 48 and 4-yards put the ball on the Green Bay 8-yard line. On the third play of the drive Ponder’s pass to Michael Jenkins was intercepted by Morgan Burnett.
That interception not only kept the Vikings from stretching their lead to 21-10 but the Packers went on a 12 play drive ending in a 47-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to close the score to 14-13, a 10 point turnaround.
Ponder threw his second interception of the game at the end of the third quarter right after Peterson had picked up 23-yards to put the Vikings within striking distance again at the Packers’ 25-yard line.
Ponder finished with 12 completions in 25-attempts for 119-yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s and a 41.9 Passer Rating, his third worst this season. With Percy Harvin still unable to play though, tight end Kyle Rudolph is the only reliable receiver Ponder has left.
Ponder targeted Rudolph eight times leading to six catches for 51-yards. Free agent receiver bust Jerome Simpson was targeted seven times but only pulled in two for 25-yards. Without the field stretching production that Simpson was expected to provide and with Harvin out it leaves the Vikings’ offense dangerously one dimensional.
3. Don’t blame the offense, the Bears’ defense lost this game.
Let that sink in for a moment. The team’s identity is defense and has been since Sid Luckman was quarterback and the Bears were running the revolutionary new offense (the T-Formation) that all teams in the NFL would eventually implement.
Jay Cutler did everything he could on offense, completing 17 passes in 26 attempts with 2 TD’s and a 119.6 Passer Rating. He threw for an 8.4 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, most of those attempts going Brandon Marshall’s way. Out of Cutler’s 26 attempts, Marshall was targeted 14 times with 10 catches for 165-yards.
The Bears had opportunities that they didn’t take advantage of throughout the game. They were stopped on fourth and 1 at the Seahawks 15-yard line when Lovie Smith decided to go for it instead of taking the field goal. Their makeshift offensive line was slow off the snap and Michael Bush was hit and dropped before he could get back to the line of scrimmage, ending the scoring threat.
The Bears had a second chance to take a 14-0 lead in the second quarter but Earl Bennett dropped what would have been a sure touchdown pass. The Bears ended up punting to finish the possession.
The Bears’ defense gave up two touchdown drives of over 90-yards to the Seahawks. The first was a nine play, 94-yard drive in the second quarter. The second was the 12 play, 97-yard drive that took all but 24 seconds off the clock and gave the Seahawks a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
The mistake the Seahawks made at that point was leaving 24 seconds on the clock. Eric Weems returned the kickoff to the Bears’ 14-yard line. On the next play, Cutler calmly waited, side stepped the light pressure brought by Seattle’s defensive line and fired a strike to a double covered Brandon Marshall for a 56-yard completion. Robbie Gould sent the game to overtime with a 46-yard field goal.
Each week Russell Wilson starts for the Seahawks he continues to make the case that he will not be ignored as one of the top rookie quarterbacks in 2012. He completed 23 passes in 37 attempts for 293-yards, 2 TD’s and a 104.9 Passer Rating. That’s the second worst passer rating the Bears have surrendered this season. The worst was two weeks ago when they turned Colin Kaepernick into the 49ers’ starting quarterback with a 133.1 Passer Rating.
The Bears were ranked No. 3 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt but surrendered a Manning-esque 7.3 RPYA against Wilson along with 5.5-yards per rushing attempt against the Seahawks’ running game. Even worse than the stats they surrendered, the Bears’ defense looked tired and slow on the Seahawks’ final drive in regulation and the 80-yard drive they gave up in overtime.
4. The Lions led nearly the entire game except for the final minute.
And as we all know statistically, teams that aren’t ahead in the final minute of a game lose 100 percent of the time. The Lions have now lost three straight games when leading with 2 minutes to go. These were the games the Lions were winning last season.
They kept the pressure on Andrew Luck the entire game. The Lions were credited with two sacks and 13 quarterback hits against the Colts but couldn’t get to Luck when they needed to, with three seconds left when Luck found Donnie Avery for the winning touchdown.
The bright spot for the Lions was Calvin Johnson who pulled in 13 catches for 171-yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. It was Johnson’s fifth straight game with at least 125 receiving yards. The Lions also ran for 138-yards on 29 carries and a touchdown by Mikel Leshoure.
The Colts took another step towards making the playoffs with a quarterback other than Peyton Manning under center. They are currently the fifth seed in the AFC with an 8-4 record, one game ahead of the 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers.
5. Here are the latest playoff scenarios for the NFC North after Week 13.
The Packers have returned to being the No. 3 seed in the NFC with an 8-4 record after beating the Vikings. The Packers also have the tiebreaker advantage against the No. 4 seed Giants.
The Bears dropped behind the Giants and into the No. 5 seed, one game ahead of the Seahawks.
The Vikings are still tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both with 6-6 records, one game behind the Seahawks to get into the playoffs.
Here is the breakdown for the remaining five games of the 2012 season for the NFC North after Week 12:
|Team||Record||Opp. Record||Opp Win %||Quality Opponents||Team Div. Record||Team Conf. Record|
|Packers||8-4||22-26||.458||1 of 4||3-0||6-3|
|Bears||8-4||22-26||.458||1 of 4||2-1||5-3|
|Vikings||6-6||31-16-1||.646||3 of 4||2-1||4-5|
|Lions||4-8||31-17||.646||3 of 4||0-4||3-5|
The Bears and Packers continue to have the easiest schedule to finish their run to the playoffs. The only quality opponent left on each team's schedule is each other.
The Vikings still have games against the Packers and Bears plus the Texans, who are 11-1. The best record the Lions can finish with now is 8-8. They still have to face the Packers and Bears so there is still pride as motivation for them to finish strong.
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