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NFC North News and Notes: November 19

Posted Nov 19, 2013

We take a look around the NFC North to see what the Vikings closest competition has going on…

Vikings

Last Week: 37-27 loss to the Steelers

In one of the weirder games you’ll see, the Lions scored 27 points in the 2nd quarter on Sunday against the Steelers … and none in the other three quarters, which resulted in a 37-27 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped Detroit into a tie with the Bears atop the NFC North.

The Steelers got out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of long touchdowns by Antonio Brown, but given Detroit’s offensive artillery, they had no reason to worry and promptly flexed their muscle thanks in large part to Calvin Johnson, who hauled in touchdowns of 79 yards and 19 yards during their 2nd quarter outburst.

The teams went into halftime with the Lions leading 27-20, and the game totally changed in the second half, with Detroit’s two best players – Matthew Stafford and Johnson – doing next to nothing all half. Johnson had zero catches in the second half while Stafford was just 3-16 passing in quarters three and four, a far cry from his first half line: 16-30, 327 yards and two touchdowns. In the 4th quarter alone he was 0-10 with an interception.

Maybe the most controversial play of the game came near the start of the 4th quarter when the Lions, up 27-23 at the time, opted to try a fake field goal from the Steelers 10. Pittsburgh sniffed the play out and the Lions failed to convert. Pittsburgh then drove 97 yards to take the lead and they would never look back, as Stafford was picked off on the next drive and Pittsburgh against cashed in with a touchdown five plays later.

Reggie Bush was largely ineffective on this day, gaining just 31 yards on 12 carries and only hauling in two Stafford passes. Outdoor games on grass in November and December don’t suite Bush’s game all that well, but the good news for him and the Lions is that five of Detroit’s final six games will be played inside on fast surfaces that should allow him to get going again both on the ground and through the air.

On defense the Lions allowed Ben Roethlisberger to have his best game of the season, throwing for 367 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers.

This Week: Lions vs. Buccaneers, Sunday at Noon

The good thing for the Lions is they have arguably the easiest schedule in the NFL remaining, including four of their next five games at Ford Field before closing the season at Mall of America Field vs. the Vikings. This Sunday they take on the Bucs, who have won two in a row but shouldn’t pose any type of a big threat to a desperate Lions team. One concern here could be Detroit possibly looking ahead to a Thanksgiving clash with Green Bay.


Vikings

Last Week: 23-20 overtime win vs. Baltimore

If the Lions-Steelers game was a “weirder” game, then the Ravens-Bears was certainly the “weirdest” as the Bears pulled out a much-needed overtime win in a game beset by storms, driving rain, and a nearly two-hour delay.

Baltimore got out to an early 10-0 lead in the 1st quarter before the delay kicked in, forcing fans to head into the concourse and players and staff to the locker rooms while everyone waited out the storms in the area.

The Bears got going after the delay, though, putting up 17 points in the 2nd quarter to find themselves down just four at the half. After a scoreless 3rd quarter, Josh McCown – who started again in place of Jay Cutler, who injured his ankle in his return from a groin injury last week vs. Detroit – led the Bears on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass from McCown to Forte. That put Chicago ahead 20-17 with just under five minutes to go.

However, the Ravens charged back and kicked the game-tying field goal with :03 left in the 4th quarter to send the game to overtime. The Ravens actually had the ball in Chicago territory but failed to convert on a third down, resulting in a punt. McCown completed two big passes: a 3rdand 9 strike to Alshon Jeffrey for 14 yards to keep the drive alive, and then two plays later McCown found Martellus Bennett in single coverage down the middle of the field.  Bennett jumped up and made his second catch of the day, a 43-yard gain, to put the Bears in field goal position. Robbie Gould would then connect on a 38-yard field goal to give Chicago the win.

McCown was again very good for the Bears, especially given the sloppy conditions, and outplayed Joe Flacco.  He didn’t turn it over at all, had the one touchdown pass to Forte and took just two sacks.

On defense the Bears got gashed once again on the ground, with the Ravens rushing for 174 yards on 41 carries. Given their injuries on defense this will likely continue as the season rolls on.  However, they did pick Flacco off twice – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and sacked him three times, so the splash plays can certainly offset the issues they have stopping the run.

This Week: Bears at Rams, Sunday at Noon

Chicago finishes the season by playing four of their final six on the road, though three of those four are against teams with losing records, including this weekend’s clash with the Rams, who are 4-6 but coming off a Week 10 38-8 whitewashing of the Colts prior to their bye last weekend. The Rams biggest strength is their defensive line, which can wreck havoc all day long. Chicago’s offensive line has allowed just 13 sacks, good for third in the NFL, but that group will be put to the test in St. Louis on Sunday.


Vikings

Last Week: 27-13 loss to the Giants

The Aaron Rodgers-less Packers continued their slide down the NFC North standings on Sunday, losing their third straight game, this one in New Jersey by a 27-13 score to the surging Giants, who have won four in a row after starting the season 0-6.

Scott Tolzien got the start after replacing an injured Seneca Wallace very early in the previous game vs. the Eagles, and though he threw for over 300 yards and completed 71 percent of his passes, three of his attempts were picked off, including a crushing pix six by New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul early in the 4th quarter when the Packers trailed 20-13.

Unlike most weeks this season, the Packers were unable to get their running game on track. Eddie Lacy, who had been one of the best backs in the NFL over the last several weeks, really struggled to the tune of 27 yards on 14 carries. As a team Green Bay had just 55 yards on 20 carries, a number they are going to need to improve on as life without Rodgers rolls on.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that Rodgers will miss at least another week, and after this Sunday’s game vs. the Vikings they have a short week with a crucial Thanksgiving Day matchup in Detroit set for November 28.

Defensively the Packers were only able to cause one turnover, which is not nearly enough going against a Giants team notorious for handing the ball over. The Packers defense was playing without two of their top three cornerbacks in Sam Shields and Casey Hayward.

Green Bay now sits one game back of both Chicago and Detroit, who are both 6-4, with road games against both still on the docket for the Packers.

This Week: Packers vs. Vikings, Sunday at Noon

The Packers will look to end their losing streak this Sunday by playing host to the Vikings, who of course are coming off a 41-20 loss in Seattle. Green Bay ran for 182 yards in the previous meeting this year at Mall of America Field, so they will almost assuredly try to establish Eddie Lacy early and often. Even though it’s only mid-November, the tundra at Lambeau Field could indeed feel frozen on Sunday, with the high temperature expected to be just 20 degrees.


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