NFC North standings
Detroit Lions: 2-1
Chicago Bears: 2-1
Minnesota Vikings: 1-2
Green Bay Packers: 1-2
Last week: 27-19 win at the New York Jets on Monday Night Football
For the second week in a row, the Bears pulled out a victory despite being bested in nearly every statistical category. The Jets offense put up nearly twice as many yards as the Bears and averaged nearly 2 yards more per offensive play. However, the Bears again forced opportune turnovers and capitalized on their opponent's mistakes.
The Bears instantly jumped out to a lead in Week 3 by intercepting Jets quarterback Geno Smith's first pass of the game and returning it for a touchdown. On the next Bears drive, the Jets forced a punt only to muff the return and set up the Bears' second early score. Although the Jets did mount a comeback and moved the ball with ease against a depleted Bears defense, this trend continued and they continually shot themselves in the foot with inopportune penalties, sacks and turnovers. Smith threw one interception in the end zone, and four other lengthy drives stalled in Bears territory, necessitating field goals rather than touchdowns. The banged-up Bears epitomized a "bend but don't break" defense.
Fortunate calls - The Bears benefited from several calls on Monday Night Football that drastically changed the outcome of the game. The first came on the Bears' second offensive drive. From the Jets' 40-yard line, Jay Cutler threw up a jump ball to receiver Alshon Jeffery near the goal line. Although the resulting contact was mainly from Jeffery, who was trying to prevent an interception, the officials instead penalized Jets cornerback Darrin Walls for defensive pass interference. This gave the Bears first-and-goal and set them up to take an early 14-0 lead. The second fortunate call came at the end of the second quarter, when Jets linebacker David Harris sacked Jay Cutler and forced a fumble. Fellow linebacker Demario Davis scooped up the ball and trotted to an easy score. However, the officials missed the clear fumble and blew the play dead, giving the Jets the ball but not the points.
Kyle Fuller - Three weeks into the season, Fuller is already living up to his first-round expectations. After solid performances in the first two weeks of the season, Fuller blew up the stat sheet on Monday night with seven tackles, two forced fumbles, two pass deflections and an interception. If you watched the game, you heard Jon Gruden gushing about how Fuller was involved in every play, and for once I agree with him. Fuller has a nose for the ball and is obviously a quick study in the Charles Tillman school of forcing fumbles via vicious uppercut punches.
Running game - For the second week in a row, I am calling out the Bears' running game. After three weeks, the Bears are dead last in the league with a mere 64 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Even those numbers are deceptively inflated by Cutler scrambles and Jeffery end-arounds. In Week 3, the Bears' offensive line lost the fight in the trenches on seemingly every run, resulting in Matt Forte being unable to gain any momentum prior to initial contact.
Brandon Marshall - Working on an injured ankle, Brandon Marshall all but disappeared on Monday night. The Jets held him without a catch until the fourth quarter, when he brought down a single reception for 6 yards. The disappointing thing for Marshall is that this low productivity was not the result of decreased targets, as Cutler looked his way six times. Bum ankle or not, bringing in one of six targets hurts the team.
Next week: At home against the Green Bay Packers (1-2)
Last week: 20-9 loss at the New Orleans Saints
The biggest story emerging from the Vikings' Week 3 loss to the Saints is the first NFL action for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater entered the game in the second quarter after Matt Cassel left with a broken foot. With the Vikings already down 13-3, Bridgewater led the offense the length of the field before settling for a field goal on his first NFL drive.
After their early deficit, the Vikings responded with field goals on three of their next four drives. While these field goals pulled them within four points of the Saints, their failure to find the end zone ended up being the difference in the game. The Saints finally pulled away midway through the fourth quarter when an 18-yard touchdown reception by Marques Colston capped a 12-play, 90-yard drive. The Vikings' last drive, their only one of the fourth quarter, was plagued by penalties and stalled in their own territory. The Saints finished the game with a nearly 7-minute clock-killing drive where the Vikings defense was unable to force New Orleans off the field despite putting them in third-down situations three separate times.
Teddy Bridgewater - The Bridgewater era begins. Sure, Teddy's stat line for the week does not exactly impress. He was 12-for-20 for 150 yards and ran for another 27 without scoring any touchdowns. But he also took care of the ball and moved the Vikings offense while under pressure, something most rookie quarterbacks struggle with. He faced pressure on 48 percent of his throws but converted 75 percent of those attempts (per Pro Football Focus) and was not afraid to tuck the ball and run if the pocket collapsed. We will know more about his NFL prospects when he gets his first career start in Week 4.
Anthony Barr - May as well make this a clean rookie sweep for the Vikings this week. First-round pick Anthony Barr again had a solid game and showed why the Vikings spent the ninth overall pick on him in the 2014 NFL Draft. Barr was especially effective rushing the passer, as he pressured the quarterback three times, batted one ball and collected his first professional sack.
Efficiency - The Vikings struggled with efficiency on both sides of the ball against the Saints. On offense, the team converted just 40 percent of their third downs and went 0-for-2 in the red zone, settling for field goals each time. In contrast, the defense allowed the Saints to convert 69 percent of their third-down attempts, and the Saints scored touchdowns on two of their three red-zone trips.
Next man up - For the second week in a row, the Vikings showed how weak they are without Adrian Peterson. Their offense was sluggish, as the running game produced a meager 2.7 yards per carry. This in turn placed more pressure on their underwhelming passing attack, helmed by a rookie taking his first NFL snaps. The offense was unable to sustain drives, which led to a six-minute disparity in time of possession in favor of the Saints. While the Vikings defense held the high-powered Saints offense in check much of the day, more was needed from the depleted Vikings offense. Things look even bleaker next week, as the team may be without tight end Kyle Rudolph, as well as Cassel and Peterson.
Next week: At home against the Atlanta Falcons (2-1)
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions
Next week: At the Chicago Bears (2-1)