NFC North standings
Chicago Bears: 2-0
Detroit Lions: 1-1
Green Bay Packers: 1-1
Minnesota Vikings: 0-2
Last week: 31-30 win against the Minnesota Vikings
For the second time in this young season, the Bears' offense came through late in the game to keep them the lone undefeated team in the NFC North. This week's finish was even more dramatic with Jay Cutler finding tight end Martellus Bennett in the front of the end zone with 10 seconds remaining to take the lead.
This was a frantic game with most of the points coming, directly or indirectly, from turnovers and special teams. In other words, this was a typical Bears game. Vikings rookie receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson and Bears returner Devin Hester consistently provided their teams with fantastic field position. Each team's defense also contributed on the scoreboard with Vikings defensive end Brian Robison returning a Cutler fumble and Bears cornerback Tim Jennings returning a Christian Ponder interception for a touchdown.
The Vikings looked primed for an upset late in the game after kicker Blair Walsh converted his third field goal of the day with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter to give the Vikings a 6-point lead. However, Cutler and the Bears' offense executed an impressive 10 play, 66-yard drive to seal the game. Cutler in particular was very effective on this drive with only 2 incomplete passes and leaving only 10 seconds left on the clock for the Vikings to respond.
Martellus Bennett - Okay, Bennett is legit. I was somewhat skeptical as Bears fans sang his praises all summer, but Bennett is as good as billed. He had his second impressive game on Sunday, but his best play of the day didn't even count. On the play in question, Cutler tried to hit Bennett in the back of the end zone, but placed the ball about 3 feet too high. Bennett was able to show off his vertical ability by jumping up and one-handing the ball while landing just inches out of bounds.
Bears offensive line - This is a repeat from last week, but the new-look Bears offensive line has continued to hold up under pressure. They did give up Cutler's first sack of the year in Week 2, but did a decent job in pass protection and were able to provide many more running lanes for running back Matt Forte. Considering how little time this unit has spent together, they have played extremely well this season.
Stupid nicknames - Jay Cutler is "Mr. Fourth Quarter" now, Brandon Marshall? Really? Yes, Cutler has led two fourth quarter comebacks this year, but I think this is beyond a stretch. If anything, Cutler's biggest criticism is his inability to consistently win clutch games (see 2010 playoffs; every Packers game).
Turnovers - The Bears thrive on turnovers and were able to force 3 more takeaways in Week 2. However, they also gave up four. They barely survived this negative ratio against the Vikings, but that won't happen often. Although the Bears' offense has definitely improved this season, I still see them as a team that has to force turnovers, while limiting their own, to succeed.
Next week: at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2)
Last week: 31-30 loss at Chicago Bears (see above for a recap)
Vikings rookies - Even though I highlighted Cordarrelle Patterson last week based on a couple of "almost" plays, I'm really glad he waited until this week to fully realize his potential. Patterson is electric and the Vikings need to find ways to get him the ball. While returning kicks, he one-upped the best in the business (Devin Hester) by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and amassing 149 return yards on 3 chances. Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke also had a great game, averaging 56.7 yards per punt (besting Bears punter Adam Podlesh by over 20 yards a punt and including a long of 65 yards) and pinning the Bears inside the 20 on two out of three punts.
Ball control - After allowing the Lions to dominate time of possession last week, with a 13-minute disparity, the Vikings were able to leave Soldier Field with a nearly even possession split in Week 2. A large part of this was running back Adrian Peterson's more consistent production. Peterson was by no means dominating, but he was able to spread his production out over the course of the game.
Play calling - After receiving so much production from its special teams and defense, it was disappointing how ineffective the Vikings' offense was at taking advantage. To a large part, I blame the Vikings' offensive play calling. Despite leading for most of the game, Ponder put the ball up 30 times and completed only 16 passes. With a team built to pound the ball and an ineffective QB, why were the Vikings throwing so much? The one time they should have thrown, first-and-goal on the Bears' 6-yard line, Peterson was sent straight into the teeth of the goal line defense twice and the team walked away with a field goal when a touchdown would have iced the game. That is not the time to get conservative.
Adrian Peterson - I'm doing it. I'm pulling the trigger. Peterson has simply not been the same consistently effective runner we're used to through two weeks of the 2013 season. Outside of his 78-yard run last week and a 36-yard run this week, Peterson is averaging a paltry 1.8 yards a carry. This might have something to do with the play calling I complained about above. Does Peterson just miss his lead blocker Jerome Felton (serving a three-game suspension)? Did last season wear him out? I don't know what the problem is, but the Vikings need to figure it out.
Next week: at Cleveland Browns (0-2)
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 38-20 win against the Washington Redskins
Winning by 18 points is no small feat, but this game was actually not even that close, as the Redskins scored all three of their touchdowns after the game was already out of hand. The Packers' offensive onslaught hit early and often with a fairly balanced approach. Aaron Rodgers was his normal self while throwing for 480 yards and 4 touchdowns, and running back James Starks rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown.
The Packers built in insurmountable 24-0 lead by halftime through several long, sustained drives. The Redskins offense did a decent job protecting the ball, with only 1 turnover, but it was just utterly ineffective in the first half and managed only 4 punts and an interception.
Highly touted quarterback Robert Griffin III was completely ineffective until putting together some fantasy stats late in the game, and he finished the game with only 1 rushing yard. The Redskins' most effective player was running back Alfred Morris, but the Skins fell behind so early that he was only given 14 rushing attempts, as the team was forced to rely on the pass.
Passing attack - I'm going to assume that the Packers' pass catchers read my review last week, because they turned their performance around this week. Specifically, receiver James Jones brought in 11 of his 12 targets for 178 yards, and his only negative on the day was a lost fumble. Overall, Packers receivers were phenomenal and helped Rodgers compile a 34 for 42 passing day.
James Starks - The mindset of NFL backups is often described as "next man up," and Starks fit that role admirably on Sunday. When rookie Eddie Lacy left early with a concussion, Starks immediately contributed, which allowed the Packers to feed him 20 carries to run some clock and hold on to their lead. Considering he only had 233 career carries coming into the game, 20 carries was a pretty heavy workload, and he responded with a 6.6 yards per carry average.
Pass protection - The Packers gave up 4 sacks and 6 quarterback hits on Sunday after giving up 2 sacks and 5 hits in Week 1. Both the Redskins and 49ers are good pass rushing teams, but Rodgers is a valuable commodity that needs better protection than that.
Next week: at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)