By Tom Pollin
Black and Blue Division Snow Miser (@tjpollin)
Just as practically no one alive knows what it feels like to see the Chicago Cubs win a World Series, memories are getting foggy about the last time the Lions defeated the Packers in the state of Wisconsin.
At a snowy Lambeau Field, the Lions looked like they were ready to break through for that first victory since 1991 when they jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Too many mistakes allowed the Packers to come back strong though and finish the night all alone in first place in the NFC North after a 27-20 victory.
Earlier in the day the Minnesota Vikings rode a dominant first quarter by Adrian Peterson and two Jay Cutler interceptions to a 21-14 victory over the Bears. The loss dropped the Bears to the No. 6 seed in the NFC, one game ahead of the 7-6 Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Vikings for the final NFC Wild Card Playoff spot.
The 2012 NFL season has reached the home stretch with only three weeks remaining to decide playoff positioning. Here are five things we learned from the Week 14 action in the NFC North.
1. The Packers waited for the inevitable Lions mistakes.
The Lions drove 80-yards for a touchdown on their first possession and began the second quarter with another touchdown to put them ahead 14-0. From that point they began to play the Packers right back into the game.
The Lions were called for excessive celebrating after the touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler. Because of that penalty the Packers ended up with excellent field position on their following possession and took advantage, finishing the drive with a 49-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
On the Lions' next possession, Matthew Stafford dropped back and had the ball slip out of his hand. Packers defensive end Mike Daniels scooped the ball up and returned the fumble 43-yards for a touchdown. Two straight possessions and the Packers were back in a game that the Lions had been dominating to that point.
A listing of Lions mistakes wouldn't be complete without the inevitable Ndamukong Suh brain cramp. A stop on third and six turned into a Green Bay first down after Suh pushed Aaron Rodgers to the ground two steps after an incomplete pass.
Rodgers made the Lions pay at the end of the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run to put the Packers in front 17-14.
2. Matthew Stafford hasn't been this bad since his rookie season.
If he continues at this pace Stafford will finish this season with a Passer Rating that's nearly 15 points lower than what he achieved in 2011.
He finished with a 74.7 Passer Rating against the Packers and could only manage a Ponderian 5.34 Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
Somehow Calvin Johnson still managed a sixth straight game with over 100-yards receiving, finishing with 10 catches for 118-yards.
Where the Lions missed their chance to keep control of the game was when they moved away from their running game after jumping out to their two touchdown lead.
Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell were running strong and both contributed to the first two Detroit scoring drives but were given few opportunities in the second half.
For the Packers, Rodgers didn't have an effective day throwing the ball, partly because of the constant pressure from the Lions, but the Packers stayed with the run all game and finished with a 5.6-yards per carry average as a reward for the effort.
3. In Minnesota, the Vikings started playing from the opening kickoff.
The Bears didn’t start playing until the second quarter. By that time Adrian Peterson had gained 106-yards on 13 carries, an 8.15-yards per carry average, and two touchdowns.
The Bears reacted at the beginning of the game like they were unaware that Peterson was the Vikings’ only reliable weapon on offense. He carried five times in the Vikings’ six plays on their first touchdown drive. On the Vikings’ second possession, after Josh Robinson returned a Jay Cutler pass interception to the Bears’ 5-yard line, Peterson carried the ball three straight times for another touchdown.
After the first quarter the Bears held Peterson to 48-yards on 18 carries, a 2.67-yards per carry average. Ponder was never a force in the passing game. He threw for only 91-yards, after accounting for sack yardage he averaged 4.3 Real Passing Yards per Attempt and finished with a 53.8 Offensive Passer Rating. Those numbers would make Ponder a starter in Arizona but won’t ease the Vikings’ struggle to snag one of the Wild Card playoff spots.
By the end of the game the Bears had surpassed the Vikings in nearly every category on the stat sheet, except for the final score. The 14 first quarter points turned into an insurmountable deficit for the Bears to recover from.
4. No turnovers, no points for the Bears.
But both of Jay Cutler’s interceptions led to points for the Vikings. The one by Josh Robinson in the first quarter put the Vikings in business at the Bears’ 5-yard line. Safety Harrison Smith stepped up for the second interception and ran it back 56-yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
The Bears’ ability all season to create turnovers and convert those turnovers into points masked a lot of issues on offense and pushed them to a 7-1 record to start the season.
For most of the season the Bears have been the No. 1 team in two Quality Stats categories that measure efficiency on offense and defense, Scoreability and Bendability. Going into the game against the Vikings they were No. 2 in both stats.
Against the Vikings, even though the Bears gained 438 total yards they only scored 14 points, an average of 31.3-yards per point scored or 219.1 yards for each touchdown. That Scoreability output doesn't even get them on the field with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Monday morning papers will be filled with opinions about who's to blame on the Bears for their loss to the Vikings, Cutler, Mike Tice, Lovie Smith and the driver of the team bus for not losing his way. The truth is there's enough blame to go around. The Bears haven't found enough octane in this offense to kick-start a Model T Ford.
5. The latest playoff scenarios for the NFC North after Week 14.
Which look pretty good right now if you're the Packers. The division is close to losing its second playoff team though.
|Seed||Team||Record||Div Record||Conf Record||Opp's Record||Opp's Win %||Best Remaining Opp|
|3||Packers|| 9-4|| 4-0||7-3 ||19-20 ||.487 || Bears|
|6||Bears||8-5 ||2-2 || 5-4||17-22 ||.436 || Packers|
|9||Vikings|| 7-6|| 3-2||5-5 || 26-11-1|| .684|| Texans/Packers|
|14||Lions||4-9 ||0-5 ||3-6 ||23-16 || .590|| Falcons|
First the obvious scenario, the Lions are mathematically eliminated. They're four games behind for the last Wild Card spot with three games left.
The Packers still have an excellent shot at the No. 2 NFC seed. The San Francisco 49ers are 9-3-1 and still have games against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, both on the road.
The Packers visit Soldier Field to play the slumping Bears next weekend before finishing against the Titans and Vikings.
The Bears have the easiest road to, at minimum, hang onto the No. 6 seed and a playoff spot. Their challenge will be to find a way to beat the Packers next weekend. If they can do that they play winnable games against the Arizona Cardinals and Lions to close out the regular season.
If the Vikings can play their way past the also 7-6 Redskins and Cowboys their spot will be well earned. The have to face the Rams and Texans on the road before hosting the Packers at home to finish the season.
At this time, unless the Packers undergo a complete collapse, they're in. The Bears need to right the ship next week because of their weak position in tiebreaker scenarios and the Vikings need to find another weapon on offense besides Adrian Peterson or their remaining schedule will be too much for them to handle.
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