NFC North standings
Green Bay Packers: 8-3
Detroit Lions: 7-4
Chicago Bears: 5-6
Minnesota Vikings: 4-7
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 24-21 win at the Minnesota Vikings
The Lions came so close to holding on to their narrow grasp of the NFC North on Sunday thanks to the Vikings nearly pulling off an upset against the Packers. Alas, Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy led the Packers' offense to a grinding win that was a far cry from their last two laughers.
The Vikings defense started the game off on a very positive note, holding the Packers to punts on their first two possessions. However, the Vikings offense could not capitalize and returned the favor with two punts of their own. The Packers finally got on the board on their next possession after a methodical drive orchestrated by Rodgers. The Vikings answered with a touchdown drive of their own after benefiting from a defensive holding call that wiped out a Teddy Bridgewater interception. After holding the Packers on their next drive, Bridgewater threw another interception, and this one was not negated by a penalty. The Packers used the short field to march to another touchdown, while the Vikings were limited to a field goal after a five-minute drive to end the half down 14-10.
In the second half, the Packers nursed their lead primarily through a ground attack by Lacy. Lacy was effective enough to allow the Pack to control the clock for over 18 minutes in the second half, which limited the Vikings to only four possessions. On those possessions, the Vikings managed only another field goal and a touchdown with a two-point conversion with a little over three minutes remaining. The Packers matched these scores with two drives that took a combined 10:19 off the clock and added 10 points to their lead. On the Packers' final drive, they took over possession at their own 20-yard line with 3:23 left to play. The Pack proceeded to run Lacy five consecutive times, securing two first downs and ending the Vikings' comeback bid.
Eddie Lacy - I just gushed about him above, but Lacy was brilliant on Sunday, especially in the second half. Lacy ran for 125 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and caught two balls for 13 more yards and another touchdown. Pro Football Focus gave him a +6.0 grade on the day and the game ball. Well-earned.
Aaron Rodgers - Rodgers' performance in Minnesota was much more understated than in the last two weeks, but he still notched a great effort. He was efficient, going 19-for-29 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and did enough for the win. A great example: Rodgers scrambled three times on Sunday for two first downs.
Micah Hyde - The free safety had an all-around performance on Sunday, contributing four tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and an interception.
James Starks - In his change-of-pace role, Starks was a non-factor against the Vikings. He fumbled and lost 4 yards on his only carry of the game and did not catch his only target in the passing game. Starks showed some flashes earlier in the season with Lacy dealing with injuries, but he will have to improve if he wants to get more work in the future.
Pocket containment - The Packers put decent pressure on Bridgewater, but struggled to actually bring him down with only two sacks on the day. While pressure is normally a good thing, the Packers lost containment in these situations, resulting in scrambling lanes for the normally immobile Bridgewater. As a result, Bridgewater scrambled five times for 32 yards -- a career high -- and had two successful scrambles that kept the Vikings' last touchdown drive alive.
Next week: At home against the New England Patriots (9-2)
Last week: 21-13 win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bears narrowly outlasted Lovie Smith, Josh McCown and the Buccaneers among nasty conditions on Sunday afternoon. After a McCown interception on the Bucs' first drive, the game was all Tampa Bay in the first half. Despite starting near midfield on two drives, Chicago did not put up any first-half points thanks to a Jay Cutler fumble and a missed Robbie Gould field goal. For their part, the Buccaneers jumped to a 10-point first-half lead thanks to a Mike Evans touchdown reception from McCown and a 32-yard field goal by Patrick Murray.
The Bears righted the ship in the third quarter by rattling off 21 unanswered points with a touchdown reception by Alshon Jeffery and two Matt Forte touchdown runs. The Bears defense contributed by forcing three consecutive turnovers, giving Chicago the ball in the red zone on back-to-back drives. While the Bears offense stalled in the fourth quarter, the defense held strong and allowed only an additional field goal despite the Bucs gaining possession on the Bears' 45-yard line with three minutes remaining.
Stephen Paea - Pro Football Focus credited Paea with an incredible 10 pressures in addition to two sacks and a +5.7 grade. That pressure was a big part of the Bears forcing four turnovers on Sunday, as McCown was under fire all game.
Jay Cutler - I might just name the Bears' "Lowlights" section "Cutler Country" or something since he spends so much time here. Cutler's biggest accomplishment on Sunday was only committing one turnover, as the Buccaneers did all the work for the Bears. Cutler had an inefficient passing day, going only 17-for-27 despite the fact that he attempted only three passes of greater than 10 yards.
Bears fans - The "Superfans" are restless. To say that Cutler and company are on a short leash would be an understatement. There was nearly a riot at Soldier Field when the Bears fell behind to Lovie Smith's Bucs early in the game.
Next week: At the Detroit Lions (7-4) on Thanksgiving
Last week: 24-21 loss at home against the Green Bay Packers
Charles Johnson - The second-year receiver's arrow appears to be pointing up thanks primarily to the trust Bridgewater evidently places in him. Johnson caught three balls for 52 yards and a score against the Packers one week after setting his career high in receiving yards with 87. In the past two weeks, Bridgewater has targeted Johnson 18 times. He only caught half of those targets, so he obviously still has some growing to do.
Pass defense - The Vikings "limited" Rodgers and the Packers' high-powered passing offense to 209 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson did a great job covering receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and effectively took away the Packers' vertical passing game. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Packers' short passing attack and running game more than picked up the slack.
Jerick McKinnon - McKinnon continues to disappoint as a feature back. He carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards -- a measly 3.6 average -- and was generally outshone by former practice squad running back Joe Banyard. McKinnon needs to show some flashes or he will lose his touches to Banyard and the newly signed Ben Tate.
Pass rush - While the Vikings have one of the best pass rushes in the league, they found Rodgers only once on Sunday and applied minimal pressure.
Next week: At home against the Carolina Panthers (3-7-1)