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Around the NFC North: Week 9

The Vikings have tied the Packers for the division lead, while the Bears at least show some signs of life. Here's what happened in week 9.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

A failed comeback and an overtime win mean the NFC North has a tie for the division lead. Here’s what went down in Week 9.

Packers fall to Panthers, 37-29

The Packers lost in Carolina on Sunday, after a comeback attempt ended late in the game when they failed to convert on fourth and goal. This marks the second straight loss for the Packers, though both came on the road against teams that were undefeated at the time.

The Packers’ offense found themselves matched up against the second best defense by DVOA, just one week after being shut down by the number one team (Denver Broncos). Once again, they struggled to move the ball, especially in the first three quarters. Carolina completely shut down the running game, as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for just 49 yards on 15 carries, with Lacy losing one fumble as well. In the passing game, Rodgers had to constantly evade pressure and was sacked five times on the day. On the fateful offensive play for the Packers, Rodgers missed a wide open Randall Cobb due to the pressure coming at him from the right side that caused him to move and not even see him.

The Packers did put together a couple of scoring drives late in the game, but they had dug themselves too deep a hole.

Defensively, the Packers gave up a number of deep passing plays, including catches of 39, 52, and 59 yards that all produced or led to touchdowns. While Cam Newton only completed 50 percent of his passes, it only took 15 completions to tally up just less than 300 yards passing.

The defensive frustration leaked over to the sidelines in the fourth quarter, when it appeared safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got into a shouting match with veteran Julius Peppers that had to be broken up by B.J. Raji.

Takeaway

Two straight losses have helped to expose what the Packers weaknesses are this season, and those weaknesses might be everything not named Aaron Rodgers. The running game has been absent and the disappearing act by Lacy this season is concerning. The receivers are struggling to gain enough separation against the top cornerbacks, and the offensive line has been giving up a lot of pressure. Defensively, they have been a mess these last two weeks, as they are really the only team to make Peyton Manning look good, while also making guys like Corey Brown, Devin Funchess, and Jerricho Cotchery look like stars.

Thankfully for the Packers, their schedule gets much easier from here on out, and there should be no concern of them making the playoffs.

Up next: As you probably know, the Packers host the Lions next weekend in the first of four straight division games.

Vikings beat Rams in OT, 21-18

The Vikings got the win against a team they could potentially be competing against for a wild card spot, but for now probably find more excitement that they have tied themselves for the division lead with the Packers.

A big game by Adrian Peterson led the way for the Vikings offense as they gave him 29 carries, finishing with 125 yards and one score. The passing game was quiet for the most part, with Teddy Bridgewater finishing with less than 150 yards and one interception. After forcing a punt on the first possession of overtime, a 26 yard punt return by Marcus Sherels and a couple of nice runs by Peterson set Blair Walsh up for the game winning field goal.

Defensively, the Vikings suspect run defense (26th in DVOA coming into the game) was able to contain Gurley and hold him under 100 yards and four yards a carry, the first team to hold him under those numbers in four games. Tavon Austin did manage some success on the ground though, and the Rams still put up 160 yards of rushing as a team.

Beyond the result of the game, the biggest note was a potentially dirty hit by LaMarcus Joyner on Bridgewater. When the Vikings quarterback went down for an obvious slide, Joyner dove and caught him in the head, causing him to leave the game and for former Lions’ quarterback Shaun Hill to replace him. Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer was understandably furious, and had a few parting shots at former bounty-gate leader and current Rams’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, saying "there’s a history" of defenses led by him taking cheap shots.

Takeaway

This win gives the Vikings their first against a team that appears to at least be a part of the playoff race, though the Rams are a game and a half back of the second wild card spot now. Peterson seems to have found his form as the season has gone on, but they still need some balance in the passing game. On defense, though they don’t rank highly by as a unit in DVOA (22nd) they have yet to give up more than 20 points this season. At the same time, that is partially a product of the offenses they have played.

The Vikings schedule gets much harder going forward, allowing us to get a better idea how much of a legitimate contender they really are.

Up next: The Vikings will travel to Oakland for a late afternoon game next Sunday.

Bears take down Chargers, 22-19

In one of the least exciting matchups in primetime football this season, a Zach Miller touchdown gave the Bears the victory as they completed their comeback in San Diego.

Jay Cutler threw for 345 yards and two scores, but had two costly turnovers as well. Alshon Jeffery led the way for the Bears receivers, reeling in ten catches for 151 yards as the two tight ends, Miller and Martellus Bennett each brought in a touchdown. Jeremy Langford got the start at running back with Matt Forte sidelined with an injury, and rushed for four yards a carry and 72 total yards.

Takeaway

I’m not sure if you can take anything away from a game between teams with two wins this season. The Bears are at least showing some signs of life which is more than can be said for the Lions, and are now 3-0 against the AFC West this season. The Bears are playing a lot of close games as well, with each of their last five games separated by three or less points, and there only double digit losses coming in games where Jimmy Clausen saw a substantial amount of playing time.

Update: The Bears travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.