Three teams in the NFC North faced off against three teams in the AFC South this week with varying results. Let's take a look at the big stories from another Sunday in the Black and Blue Division.
The Green Bay Packers fall to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts
How the mighty have fallen. The Green Bay Packers traveled to Indianapolis to face rookie QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and lost 30-27 as Luck engineered a game winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Not only did the Packers lose the game, but they also suffered injuries to key players running back Cedric Benson, defensive lineman BJ Raji and tight end Jermichael Finley. The Packers offense erupted to a 21-3 lead at half time, but the defense was over matched in the second half as the Colts put up 22 unanswered points before the offense finally scored again in the 4th quarter.
Luck drove the Colts down the field late in the fourth and completed a pass to Reggie Wayne for the go ahead score with 35 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
The Packers are now two games back of the Vikings and Bears with a record of 2-3, a far cry from their 15-1 regular season from last year. The Packers offense has yet to score more than 28 points in a game this season, and the defense isn't able to keep opponents out of the end zone. The Pack has to find a way to get their passing offense rolling if they expect to have a shot at the NFC North title this season.
The Chicago Bears play Jekyll and Hyde with the Jacksonville Jaguars
When you look at the box score, the Bears destroyed the Jags 41-3 on Sunday in Jacksonville, but in the first half of the game the Bears looked more than uninspired.
The Bears had one decent drive of 77 yards in the first half that led to a field goal, and four other drives for a total of 89 yards resulting in three punts and an interception. The half time speech from head coach Lovie Smith must have worked as the Bears came to play on both sides of the ball in the second half with 2 defensive interceptions for touchdowns and three offensive TD's.
The Bears have been winning games with their ball hawking defense (four defensive TD's in the last two games), but the offense has struggled at best in previous games. In the second half, Cutler finally seems to have found his rhythm with his receivers, and his line is finally providing him enough protection to complete passes.
The Bears were able to overcome a horrible first half against the Jags, but going into the bye next week they have to get the offense clicking for all four quarters if they expect to compete for the NFC division title.
The Minnesota Vikings take care of business against the Tennessee Titans
Last year the Vikings where at the bottom of the NFL with a 3-13 record, but this year the Vikings have quickly become not only a factor in the NFC North, but they are sitting a top the standings at 4-1 tied with the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings hosted the Tennessee Titans at Mall of America Field on Sunday and they made it look easy as they defeated the Titans 30-7. Christian Ponder and the Minnesota offense leaned heavily on Percy Harvin and the Titans defense had little answer as Percy caught 8 passes for 108 yards and a TD and carried the ball twice for 8 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.
Adrian Peterson continued to run the ball effectively with 17 carries for 88 yards, but he was used little late in the game as the Vikings had the game firmly in hand. Christian Ponder had another solid game but he did throw two interceptions in the game. The first was at the end of the first half, and the second was early in the second half, but the defense bailed him out by holding the Jag's to a three and out and a punt.
The Vikings defense has quietly become a force to be reckoned with. Over four drives at the end of the second, and through the entire third quarters the Jags had three drives that resulted in -14 yards, 0 yards and -1 yards, all resulting in punts (not counting the kneel down at the end of the half). The only real damage from the Jags was done in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were largely in prevent mode.
Late season divisional games are becoming more and more important
The NFL schedule makers have stacked the late schedule with divisional games across much of the NFC North. The Packers have 5 division games in their last 7, the Bears have 3, the Lions have three and the Vikings have 5.
With the large number of divisional matchups late in the season, injuries could certainly play a huge roll in determining the winner of the division. Last year, the injury to Bears QB Jay Cutler knocked the Bears out of the playoffs, and a late injury to any key NFC North player could do the same this year.
With the Packers training room stacked full after this weeks game against the Colts, the Pack has to hope that they can get healthy and stay healthy if they expect to make a run at the title.
Vikings rookie Harrison Smith learns a valuable lesson
Early in the game against the Titans, rookie safety Harrison Smith was making a big impact for the Minnesota Vikings with several great tackles and a fumble recovery, but after CD Antwoine Winfield intercepted Hasselbeck in the first quarter Harrison made the major rookie mistake of pushing an official out of the way in the ensuing scrum.
Harrison was immediately ejected from the game and penalized for the infraction. He will almost certainly be fined by the NFL this week as well.
Smith has been an absolute bright spot for the Vikings defense, and he plays with fire and passion, but he took it too far today. Hopefully the rookie will learn from his mistake and keep his emotions in check in the future. Luckily for the Vikings the mistake happened against the Titans, and the Viking's defense certainly didn't miss a beat.