By Tom Pollin
CHFF's Black & Blue Beast (@tjpollin)
Remember the saying, “that’s why you play the games"? This week in the NFC North confirms it. Jim Harbaugh had a 7-2 record in road games since taking over as head coach of the 49ers. Leslie Frazier’s record against winning teams was 1-11. That’s why it was obvious to all that the Vikings would dominate the 49ers at the Metrodome 24-13. Wasn’t it?
At the same time, the Detroit Lions were taking on the team ranked No. 32 in the Quality Stats Power Rankings two weeks into the season. The Titans had been so bad statistically across the board that they were fortunate there weren’t more teams in the NFL to finish behind. The Titans out-ran the Lions 44-41.
The Bears beat the St. Louie (thank you replacement referee) Rams 23-6. The Bears’ offense struggled for the second straight week but their defense dominated.
With the Packers still to play the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday night here’s what we can take from this weekend’s games.
1. The Vikings derailed the 49ers’ Super Bowl express.
At least for one week they did. The 49ers are still one of the best teams in the NFL and will be a prime Super Bowl contender in January but the Vikings jumped on them early and never gave up their advantage.
Neither Christian Ponder nor Alex Smith threw the ball effectively but Ponder was slightly better. Both attempted 35 passes. Smith was 24 of 35 for 204 yards, 5.0 Real Yards per Attempt, 1 TD, 1 INT and an 81.1 Offensive Passer Rating.
Ponder finished 21 of 35 for 198 yards, 5.7 Real Passing Yards per Attempt, 2 TD’s and a 94.7 Offensive Passer Rating.
What Ponder did do was, again, come through with big plays when the Vikings needed them. On fourth and 1 on the 49ers’ one yard line Ponder got a pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown and 7-0 lead.
Ponder put the Vikings up 14-3 with a 23-yard touchdown run, the first rushing touchdown given up this season by the tough 49ers defensive front. In the fourth quarter Ponder sealed the victory with another touchdown pass, this time two yards, to Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings were also able to exploit the one area of the 49ers’ offense that looked vulnerable heading into the game. The 49ers were No. 26 in preventing Negative Pass Plays. The Vikings sacked Smith three times, once by Jared Allen, his first sack of the season, and picked off his pass to Michael Crabtree at the Vikings’ 32 yard line with 3:30 left in the game.
After two tight games against teams that are in rebuilding modes the Vikings picked up a big signature win against a team that had just plowed through two of the NFC North’s best teams in the first two weeks of the season.
The Minnesota Vikings are now on their opponent’s radars as a team that can’t be taken lightly when they show up to play.
2. The Lions and Titans pile on the points.
The Music City Miracle this game wasn’t, it was closer to Music City Madness. The Titans held the lead most of the game and were ahead 20-16 as the game entered the fourth quarter when the game broke out into an up and down the field track meet in a near record scoring binge.
Both quarterbacks probably had to ice their throwing arms down after recording 42 attempts each. Stafford finished with a 102.2 Offensive Passer Rating before injuring his leg trying to catch Alterraun Verner during his 72-yard fumble return touchdown.
Shaun Hill came in to finish the game and threw 13 times for 10 yards and 2 TD’s in the final 1:16 of regulation time. His first touchdown pass came with 20-seconds left and his second, after an onside kick recovery, was a 46-yard “Hail Mary” that Titus Young pulled in with no time on the clock.
The Lions ran 92 plays to the Titans’ 61 on Sunday, out-gained the Titans 583 to 437-net yards and held an almost 13-minute time of possession advantage but the Titans scored on a 65-yard punt return, a 105-yard kickoff return and a 72-yard fumble return for touchdowns to make the difference.
One positive for the Lions is it looks like they finally found a running game with Mikel Leshoure playing the entire game at running back. LeShoure rushed for 100-yards and a touchdown in 26 carries in his regular season debut.
3. Failures bring the Lions down in overtime.
The replacement officials are charged with a failure to understand where they were on the field. Jake Locker completed a 24-yard pass to the Lions’ 32 with Stephan Tulloch called for a personal foul on a helmet-to-helmet hit.
The pass completion was reversed to incomplete on review but the personal foul was marked off from the wrong spot on the field. The referee enforced the penalty from the Lions’ 44 not the Titans’ 44 yard line. The Titans were awarded 27 yards on the personal foul and were set up with a first down on the Detroit 29.
The Titans continued their drive to the Lions’ eight before kicking a 26 yard field goal for a 44-41 lead. Then came the brain seizure by Jim Schwartz.
With Shaun Hill still at quarterback, the Lions drove to the Titans’ 7 yard line where they faced fourth and 1. Hill took the snap and went nowhere as the Titans pulled him down to end the game.
First Schwartz failure, kick the field goal and fight it out in sudden-death from that point forward. Problem with that was the Lions’ defense inability to stop the Titans during the game and to that point in overtime.
Second failure, if the Lions wanted to go for it, LaShoure had just become the Lions’ first running back since Billy Sims in 1980 to gain 100-yards in his debut game. He was running strong while averaging 3.8-yards per carry and likely would have picked up the one yard they needed in that situation.
Third failure, not telling center Dominic Raiola that he wasn’t supposed to snap the ball. Schwartz had called for a hard count to try and draw the Titans offside and pick up a fresh set of downs.
Those three fails earns Jim Schwartz the first weekly Division Dunce of the Day award. Jim, you’re on the road, in overtime and you’ve already surrendered a field goal to put your team in a “must score” situation. Fourth and 1 on the Titans’ 7 yard line is not the time or place to get cute.
If you play football, either by kicking the field goal and then their butts on the next possession or plant the ball in the gut of your big, powerful back, you’re likely flying back to Detroit while enjoying your 2-1 record. You didn’t do that and that’s why you lost.
4. The Bears’ defense rocked Sam Bradford’s world.
Sam Bradford’s standings in Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Real Quarterback Rating and Offensive Passer Rating is going to come closer to matching his dismal 2011 season than his promising 2010 rookie year.
In the meantime, the No. 1 Defensive Hog Index Ranking will stay securely locked in a “Bear” hug for another week.
Bradford was held to 18 completions in 35 attempts for 152-yards, a minuscule 2.5 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, 2 INT’s and an Offensive Passer Rating of 39.2.
The Bears’ 5 foot, 8 inch cornerback Tim Jennings had another outstanding game against the Rams with an interception, giving him four in three games this season, and a tipped pass to safety Major Wright who returned it 45-yards for a touchdown.
For the third straight week the Bears’ front four kept constant pressure on the quarterback. The Bears had six sacks against Bradford and hurried him constantly all game. Fortunately for the Bears, their defense seems to be rounding into a championship caliber unit because their offense still has a long way to go.
Jay Cutler and the offense did as much as they needed to keep the game under control while the defense teed off on Bradford. Cutler finished with a 5.2 Real Passing Yard per Attempt average and a 58.9 Offensive Passer Rating.
Cutler’s numbers suffered a bit from drops by his receivers but his accuracy is still far from where it was when he was leading the offense during their five game win streak last season. Next week the Bears will be playing the Cowboys. If Cutler is going to locate that accuracy, Dallas would be a good place to do it.
5. NFC North week three game balls.
Christian Ponder, Vikings – So much for the “he’s put those numbers up against weak competition” argument. Ponder threw two touchdown passes and scored a rushing touchdown himself against the same 49ers defense that shut down Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. No one will be taking him or the Vikings for granted after Sunday’s win.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings – On a fourth and goal play at the 49ers’ 1 yard line, Rudolph latched onto a floating desperation pass by Ponder to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead. In the fourth quarter he caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to stretch their lead to 24-13.
Shaun Hill, Lions – Put up 14-points in the final 1:16 of the fourth quarter, after coming into the game cold in relief of Matthew Stafford, to send the game into overtime.
Israel Idonije, Bears – Led the Bears’ defensive line effort to keep pressure on Sam Bradford with 2.5 sacks. With his effort at defensive end opposite Julius Peppers the Bears’ front four kept the Rams’ offense under control all afternoon. Honorable mentions go to defensive linemen Amobi Okoye, Henry Melton and Shea McClellin.
One more game for the NFC North this weekend when the Packers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. A win by the Packers ties them for the division lead with the Vikings and Bears at 2-1.