By Tom Pollin
CHFF's Rain Soaked NFC North Reporter (@tjpollin)
The Houston Texans and Chicago Bears played a game on Sunday Night Football that was as sloppy as the Soldier Field turf. The Bears missed their opportunity to draw even with the Falcons for the top seed in the NFC by losing to the Texans 13-6.
That loss wasn't the worst thing that happened to the Bears though. Jay Cutler suffered a concussion on a hit by linebacker Tim Dobbins that benched him for the game's second half and puts his ability to play next Monday night against the 49ers in doubt.
In the other NFC North game this weekend, the Minnesota Vikings pulled out of their tailspin to defeat the Detroit Lions for the second time this season 34-24 in Minnesota. The loss knocks the Lions back into fourth place in the division and severely damages their playoff hopes.
Here are five things we learned from the Week 10 NFC North action.
1. The Chicago Bears have lived by the turnover and they died by the turnover.
The Bears committed three turnovers in their first three possessions against the Texans and four in the first half. Tight end Kellen Davis fumbled after a six yard reception on the first play of the game that Tim Dobbins recovered and returned to the Bears’ 28-yard line.
On the following possession, running back Michael Bush fumbled after an 11-yard gain to the Texans’ 32-yard line to convert a fourth and one situation.
The third turnover, just before the end of the first quarter, came on second and nine at the Texans’ 30-yard line when Jay Cutler threw an interception on a deep pass intended for Kellen Davis at the Texans’ six.
The final two turnovers of the quarter cost the Bears scoring opportunities that they would regret missing later in the game.
The Bears’ defense answered with two interceptions by cornerback Tim Jennings, one after the Bush fumble and his second after the Cutler interception. Those interceptions give Jennings an NFL leading eight this season after he managed only seven in his six year career prior to 2012.
The game against the Texans was the 28th time the Bears have turned the ball over four or more times under head coach Lovie Smith. They’ve won seven of those games but never against a team with a winning record. That's still the case after Sunday night.
2. The Bears failed to take advantage of available opportunities.
The Bears’ defense surrendered a 7 play, 66-yard touchdown drive to the Texans in the second quarter, other than that, they did an excellent job keeping their offense under control.
The defense held Matt Schaub to 14 completions out of 26 attempts for 95-yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s and an Offensive Passer Rating of 42.9, his second worst rating since becoming the starting quarterback for the Texans in 2007.
Arian Foster rushed for over 100-yards, finishing with 102, but was held to a 3.5-yards per carry average.
The Bears’ offense was never able to get on track all night to take advantage of the work their defense did to keep the score within reach all night.
The Cutler/Campbell quarterback combo barely eclipsed 100-yards passing and finished with a 39.2 Offensive Passer Rating.
The Bears ground game wasn’t much better. Matt Forte rushed 16 times for 39-yards, a 2.4-yards per carry average, just less than half his yards per carry average through the first nine games of the season.
They turned the ball over twice to kill scoring opportunities after driving into Houston territory. On the play before Robbie Gould’s 51-yard field goal that tied the game in the second quarter, Jay Cutler hit Brandon Marshall with what should have been a 33-yard touchdown pass that Marshall dropped.
The Bears’ final opportunity was in the third quarter after Jason Campbell hit Marshall for a 45-yard completion to the Texans’ 10. Instead of finishing the drive with a touchdown that would have tied the game at 10 going into the fourth quarter the Bears settled for a 24-yard field goal.
The Bears were never able to seriously threaten the rest of the way.
3. The Vikings 34-24 win wasn’t close as the final score indicated.
The Vikings jumped on the Lions for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and even though the Lions closed the gap to within one score twice later in the game, that was as close as the Vikings would let them get before pulling away again at the end.
Considering that Matthew Stafford threw for 329-yards and recorded a 104.2 Offensive Passer Rating and Calvin Johnson finished the game with 207 receiving yards and one touchdown, it never felt like the Lions were capable of threatening all game.
That feeling can be explained by looking at the Scoreability statistic for each team. Scoreability measures how efficiently each team was able to turn their yardage totals into points and the Vikings dominated the Lions in this area.
After dividing the Lions’ total yards by their 24 points they averaged 15.33-yards per point scored, the equivalent of gaining 107.31-yards to score seven. The Vikings averaged 11.85 yards per point scored or 82.95-yards per seven points. The Vikings made better use of their offensive production and won the game by 10-points at the end.
It’s also easy to feel in control of a football game the entire way when a team has Adrian Peterson rushing 27-times for 171-yards and a 6.3-yards per carry average. The Lions as a team only rushed for 60-yards and a 3.5-yards per carry average.
The game against the Lions was Peterson’s fourth straight where he ran for over 100-yards. His total in those games is 82 rushes for 629-yards, a 7.67-yards per carry average and five touchdowns. Incredible considering he needed to have his left knee rebuilt in December of 2011.
4. Christian Ponder’s crisis of confidence is over, for at least two weeks.
On the Vikings’ first offensive possession Christian Ponder completed a quick five yarder to begin the drive then after three Adrian Peterson runs he unloaded for a 54-yard completion to Jarius Wright down to the Lions’ one yard line, Ponder’s longest completion of the season. Two plays later he finished the drive with a three yard touchdown pass to Wright to give the Vikings a quick 7-0 lead.
Ponder tapped back into the ability that he showed during the first month of the season with 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s and a 114.2 Offensive Passer Rating for the game. With Percy Harvin sidelined with an ankle injury, Ponder connected with Wright on the first drive and targeted tight end Kyle Rudolph nine times for seven receptions and a touchdown.
Ponder gets to reflect on his Week 10 success through the Vikings bye week then has to prepare to play the Chicago Bears in Week 12.
5. Here are the latest scenarios to the NFC North playoff picture after Week 10.
The Bears had a chance to pull into a tie for the No. 1 seed in the conference after the Falcons lost for the first time this season, 31-27 on the road against the New Orleans Saints. The only consolation to their loss against the Texans is it wasn’t a conference loss.
What this loss by the Bears does is ramp up the importance of their next game against the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday Night Football. A loss there would drop the Bears out of their first round bye position and give the 49ers the advantage in an important head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Vikings put themselves back in the running for a playoff spot after improving their record to 6-4. They’re currently sitting behind the Seattle Seahawks for the last wild card spot due to their 30-20 loss to the Seahawks last week.
The pressure of their schedule doesn’t let up after the Vikings come back from their bye next week. They have to run a gauntlet of two road games against the Bears and Packers then a rematch against the Bears at home.
The Lions’ haven’t made playoff appearances in consecutive years since their run from 1993 to 1995. Their dreams of putting together another string of playoff appearances took a turn towards improbable after their loss to the Vikings.
The Lions have now lost all three of their games so far within the division, one to the Bears and a season sweep by the Viking. With the Vikings tiebreaker advantage the Lions’ loss puts them 2.5 games back for third place in the division with seven left to play.
Here is the degree of schedule difficulty breakdown with seven weeks to play for each NFC North team:
|Team||Record||Opp. Record||Opp. Win %||Quality Opponents|| |
|Bears||7-2||38-27||.585||5 of 7|| |
|Packers||6-3||37-30||.552||4 of 7|| |
|Vikings||6-4||37-16||.698||5 of 6|| |
|Lions||4-5||45-18||.714||6 of 7|| |
The Lions are back into last place in the division and have the toughest road ahead of them to climb back into the playoff picture this season. The Packers have the easiest final stretch which will make it more difficult for the Bears to hold their playoff seeding.
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