NFC North standings
Chicago Bears: 8-6
Green Bay Packers: 7-6-1
Detroit Lions: 7-7
Minnesota Vikings: 4-9-1
Last week: 38-31 win at the Cleveland Browns
With quarterback Jay Cutler once again at the helm, it seemed like the Bears picked up right where they left off early in the season. Gone are the Josh McCown days of limiting turnovers and offensive efficiency in favor of frantically trying to keep pace with the opponent. Neither team took care of the ball well, with the Bears giving up 3 turnovers, 2 for touchdowns, and the Browns coughing up 2 interceptions.
Thanks in large part to the Bears' turnovers and the ensuing points, the Browns led for much of the game and entered the fourth quarter poised for an upset. Unfortunately, the Bears rattled off 3 consecutive touchdown drives to take the lead and ice the game. How good were things going for the Bears in the fourth quarter? Michael Bush broke a 43-yard touchdown run. That good.
Matt Forte - Amid all the quarterback uncertainty, Forte has been a consistent producer all season. In this game, he quietly ground out 127 yards on 24 carries. He is the glue that holds the offense together.
Alshon Jeffery - Once Cutler remembered that Jeffery existed, the Bears offense started to click. Coincidence? Jeffery brought in all 5 of his targets for 72 yards and another ridiculous jump-ball touchdown. Jeffery was the seventh receiver taken in the 2012 draft, but he appears to be the early favorite to lead that draft class. His 104 catches and 1,632 receiving yards are just behind Tennessee receiver Kendall Wright's 149 receptions and 1,633 yards, and his 10 touchdowns lead the pack.
Jay Cutler - The standard media line after the Bears win on Sunday revolved around Cutler's triumphant return from injury. Although he did improve throughout the game, Cutler's return was far from that of a conquering hero. In the first half, he was pretty bad with numerous overthrows and an eye for only Brandon Marshall. He nearly knocked the Bears out of the game early with 2 interceptions, one of which the Browns brought back for a score. Later in the game, his touchdown chuck to Jeffery should have actually been picked off, but the Browns misjudged the ball and Jeffery did the rest.
Pass rush - The Bears did not sack Browns quarterback Jason Campbell on Sunday and did not even record a single hurry from the edges. Pro Football Focus highlights Shea McClellin in particular for ineffective play and grades him at -9.2 for pass rushing on the season.
Next week: At the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 37-36 win at the Dallas Cowboys
As of Sunday morning, the Packers' playoff hopes rested on winning out and hoping the Lions dropped a game down the stretch. Entering the second half, those hopes seemed slim, as the Cowboys led 26-3. Fortunately for the Packers' faithful, quarterback Matt Flynn guided the Green Bay offense to a 34-point second half to beat the Cowboys in dramatic fashion. The Lions also lost, but I don't want to get into that.
It's hard to know how much of this comeback was due to the Packers playing well or the Cowboys imploding. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo absolutely gifted the Packers 2 interceptions in the second half and was woefully inaccurate late in the game (which sounds similar to another baby-faced signal caller I know). Regardless, the bottom line is that the Packers' playoff hopes remain alive and they hold their own destiny in their hands. If they win out, including the season finale in Chicago, they will remain on top of the NFC North once again.
Matt Flynn - After a couple of rough outings, Flynn went 26 for 39 for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns on Sunday. He showed poise leading the comeback and his touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in particular showed a flash of why the career backup earned a huge payday two seasons ago.
Eddie Lacy - Lacy's 60-yard rumble in the third quarter was the catalyst for the Packers comeback. He also capped the comeback with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to put the Packers on top with 1:31 left in the game.
Pass defense - This might seem like a funny highlight since Romo threw for 358 yards, but he also threw 48 times. Of those 48 attempts, the Packers defended 10 of them and intercepted 2 more (and nearly intercepted a third that was overturned on a questionable call). Romo put up quantity numbers, but not efficient numbers.
Run defense - I am baffled as to why the Cowboys didn't run the ball more on Sunday (and I am not alone). The Pack don't have a great run defense, and running back DeMarco Murray was running with authority. He only received 18 carries on the day but gashed the Packers for 134 yards and a score. With a huge first-half lead, the Cowboys should have ground down the clock against the weak Packers run defense, and yet they only gave Murray 5 carries after halftime.
Next week: At home against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
Last week: 48-30 win against the Philadelphia Eagles
This game seemed boring after the Vikings' crazy Week 14 contest against the Baltimore Ravens. The Vikings got on the board first midway through the first quarter on a 57-yard bomb to Greg Jennings and never lost the lead. The Vikings offense was surprisingly efficient, even without their top two running backs, and compiled 370 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per passing attempt and going 8 for 13 on third down. That was a recipe for success and allowed the Vikings to knock off the surging Eagles.
Game plan - The Vikings' game plan was fairly simple on Sunday: establish the run or bust and then hope for the best on third down. Third-string running back Matt Asiata carried the ball 30 times for 51 yards (1.7 average) and 3 touchdowns. His previous number of carries in his two-year career? Three. His low average didn't matter. The Vikings used Asiata's blue-collar running game to control the clock for 36 minutes, and Matt Cassel was efficient enough to keep drives going on third downs.
Greg Jennings - It is evident that Jennings is most valuable to this team with Cassel under center. After being ignored by the myriad of other Vikings signal callers this year, Jennings is finishing the year strong receiving from Cassel. Sunday was easily his best game of the year, with 11 catches for 163 yards and a score.
Pass defense - Thanks to the Vikings' early lead, the Eagles put the ball in the air a ton on Sunday. The result was quarterback Nick Foles going 30 for 48 for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Vikings did manage 1 interception but only defended 1 other pass despite the front four getting substantial pressure on Foles. Luckily for the Vikings, the offense was up to the task of keeping pace with the Eagles' high-powered offense.
Next week: At the Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)