NFC North standings
Green Bay Packers: 10-3
Detroit Lions: 9-4
Minnesota Vikings: 6-7
Chicago Bears: 5-8
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 43-37 home win against the Atlanta Falcons
After dominating the Falcons for the first half of Monday Night Football, the Packers barely survived a persistent comeback and just could not seem to finish Atlanta off. This game looked like it was going to be a blowout at halftime with the Packers up 31-7 after putting up 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. However, the Falcons came out of the break swinging, and their offense looked the like the Falcons offense of old. In particular, receiver Julio Jones had his way in the second half and finished with 11 receptions for 259 yards and a touchdown despite leaving the game early with an injury.
After a 17-3 second-half run, the Falcons pulled within 10 points with about 10 minutes left in the game. With the Falcons in run-stopping mode, Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson effectively sealed the game with a 60-yard touchdown bomb to give the Packers a 16-point cushion. The Falcons heroically managed to pull the game within a touchdown again by the final whistle, but the deficit was just too big in the end.
Aaron Rodgers - He is just really good. I thought his best play of the night was a scramble for a first down on the Packers' final drive, which enabled them to finish the game in the victory formation.
Eddie Lacy and James Starks - The Packers used a one-two punch running attack on Monday that they really haven't utilized much this season. Lacy and Starks both ran well, combining for 217 total yards and three touchdowns. They were especially effective in running down the clock on the final few drives.
Offensive line - A big part of the Packers' running success on Monday was the offensive line blowing open running lanes for the backs. They also kept Rodgers pretty clean on the night, giving up only one sack and three quarterback hits.
Pass defense - The Packers secondary did a pretty good job in the first half against a talented bunch of receivers, but looked helpless in the second half. Julio Jones did most of the damage, but Roddy White and Harry Douglas picked up where he left off after he left the game late with an injury. Only a desperate tip by cornerback Davon House kept Julio from a second score in the fourth quarter.
Finishing - Aaron Rodgers and the offense bailed out the Packers' defense, as they seemed incapable of putting the Falcons away and forced Green Bay into a late-game shootout. In a situation where one stop meant a Packers win, the defense could not get the job done.
Next week: At the Buffalo Bills (7-6)
Last week: 30-24 home win in overtime against the New York Jets
In the race for the "not last in the NFC North" title, the Vikings are making a strong case. Sure, they only beat the Jets and needed overtime to do that, but they have now won two in a row and four of their last six based primarily on defense and special teams. On Sunday, the game started at a frenetic pace, with both teams scoring via their defense on their opponent's first drive. The Vikings started things off by returning a Geno Smith interception for a touchdown, and the Jets responded by bringing down Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone for a safety and then scoring on the ensuing drive on a 35-yard touchdown reception by ex-Viking Percy Harvin.
After that, the game settled into a pattern of the Jets moving the ball before settling for field goals and the Vikings inconsistently connecting on big plays. The Jets tied the game with a field goal with 23 seconds remaining, and Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed what would have been the game-winning kick as time expired. The Vikings finished the game with an 87-yard touchdown catch and run by Jarius Wright on their first drive in overtime.
Everson Griffen - Griffen continues to flourish in his first year as a full-time starter. He found Geno Smith once for a sack on Sunday -- bringing his total to 12 on the year -- in addition to three tackles and two quarterback hurries. Pro Football Focus has him rated as one of only two 4-3 defensive ends with rushing and passing grades above eight on the year. Plus, he did a hilarious interview after the game on Sunday where he provided some play-by-play commentary on Jarius Wright's game-winning touchdown. Move over Brady Quinn.
Bend but don't break - The Vikings defense struggled to stop the Jets, which put up over 400 yards of offense, but did manage to get stops when it mattered. They forced five field goals, and the Jets went 0-for-5 in the red zone.
Charles Johnson - The young receiver remains Bridgewater's favorite pass catcher with eight targets, his first 100-yard game and a touchdown against the Jets. He would have had an additional score, but he fumbled on the goal line and fullback Jerome Felton scooped up the ball for the touchdown. He has a lot of growing to do, but is showing increasing promise.
Rushing attack - Think the Vikings miss Adrian Peterson? With Peterson still on hiatus and rookie Jerick McKinnon still out with injuries -- for the year, we now know -- the Vikings again turned to old reliable Matt Asiata with predictable results. Asiata plodded for 54 yards on 19 carries. As the Vikings try to take pressure off of Bridgewater and their passing game, they desperately need to get something going on the ground.
Next week: At the Detroit Lions (9-4)
Last week: 41-28 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys
Losing by 13 points certainly does not look good, but it still does not tell the full story of how badly the Cowboys beat the Bears on Thursday Night Football. Going into the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were up 35-7 before the Bears put up three garbage-time touchdowns -- or, as Bears fans are calling it, an "almost comeback." In reality, the Cowboys dominated the Bears in every phase of the game for a complete win against a bad team.
Alshon Jeffery - After battling injuries at the beginning of the season, Jeffery is starting to look like the receiver he showed flashes of last year. He brought down 6-of-9 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown on Thursday.
Injuries - The injury bug continues to bite the Bears. This week, shortly after making a fantastic bobbling catch, Brandon Marshall caught a ball over the middle only to receive a knee to the back. He broke several ribs, was sent to the hospital and is done for the season.
Defensive line - Pro Football Focus called this game one of the most dominating performances by an offensive line they have seen. I agree. Running back DeMarco Murray had ample running lanes while Tony Romo leisurely picked out targets without pressure.
Next week: At home against the New Orleans Saints (5-8)