By Tom Pollin
CHFF's NFC North Beat Reporter
A season after the Packers rolled through the NFL with a 15-1 record they kept realistic postseason hopes alive by edging out the Saints 28-27 when Garrett Hartley hooked a potential game-winning field goal outside the left upright.
In Detroit, the Vikings rode two special teams touchdowns and just enough offense to keep them in control of what became a 20-13 victory.
The Bears get their chance to match the Vikings for the NFC North Division lead on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys.
Until that drama unfolds, here are five things we learned from Week 4.
1. Both the Packers and Saints were fighting for their playoff lives.
Since the 2002 season when the NFL realigned and updated the playoff format, only 14.7 percent of teams that began their season 1-3 made the playoffs. In NFL history only one team has made the playoffs after an 0-4 start, the 1992 San Diego Chargers. Drew Brees will now have to see if he’s the equal of the Chargers’ Stan Humphries to recreate that feat.
It wasn’t clean but it was a hard fought game with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees both playing up to their reputations. Brees threw for 446-yards, a 7.7 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, 3 TD’s and a 101.3 Offensive Passer Rating.
Rodgers threw for a 7.8 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, 4 TD’s and a 119.9 Offensive Passer Rating. He also recorded a Fourth Quarter Comeback for the first time since 2009, the fourth of his career.
2. The Packers edged the Saints in Scoreability.
In a game where the Packers were outgained by the Saints 471 to 421 total yards the Packers did the better job of turning their yards into points.
Scoreability measures how effectively a team has turned its total yards into points on the scoreboard. Take a team’s total yards and divide that number by how many points they scored, whether on offense, defense or special teams. So far in the 2012 season teams that win this statistic also win their game 77.1 percent of the time.
The Saints and Packers played a fairly even game statistically when measured by total yardage but the Packers made the most of their yards. They averaged 15.04-yards for every point scored, or the equivalent of driving 105.28-yards for every touchdown plus extra point scored.
In most games that wouldn’t be near good enough to win but the Saints averaged 17.56-yards for every point, the equivalent of needing to drive 122.92-yards for every touchdown plus extra point.
In a game decided by one point, being slightly more efficient in turning their yardage into points put the Packers over the top.
3. The Lions were undone by special teams for the second straight week.
If it weren’t for their special teams issues the Detroit Lions could be sitting at 3-1 as they head into their bye week.
Matthew Stafford finished with an Offensive Passer Rating of 92.7 but couldn’t get the ball downfield to Calvin Johnson who only caught five passes for 54-yards. Stafford’s Real Passing Yards per Attempt average was 5.1, well below his 7.21 Real Passing Yards per Attempt season average going into the game.
Christian Ponder had a game more reminiscent of his 2011 rookie season than the performance he’s given so far in 2012. He threw for 111-yards, no touchdowns, a 3.6 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and a 71.2 Offensive Passer Rating.
Where the Vikings’ advantage shows up in this game is again, in Scoreability.
Because of the game opening 105-yard kickoff return by Harvin and the 77-yard punt return touchdown by Marcus Sherels, the Vikings averaged 11.35-yards per point, or driving the equivalent of 79.45-yards for every touchdown plus extra point.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings’ defense made the Lions feel like they were fighting through waist-deep mud to put points on the board. The Lions averaged 26.23-yards per point scored or the same as needing to drive 183.61 yards for every touchdown plus extra point.
The Lions found themselves having to drive an entire football field more than the Vikings to score the same seven points. That’s only a good thing if you're the type of person who enjoys repeatedly hitting your thumb with a sledgehammer because it feels so good when you stop.
4. The Bears are in good position on Monday night to keep pace with the Vikings.
To recap information from Friday’s NFC Week 4 Preview, according to information pulled from Spreadapedia, the incredibly detailed database of football information and trends available to Cold, Hard Football Facts Insiders, since the 2000 season the Cowboys are 4-5 on Monday Night Football and 1-8 on Monday night against the spread, and 1-7 ATS when favored on Monday night by -3.5 points or less.
The main issue for the Bears will be if they can get themselves untangled enough on offense to match their championship caliber defense. If they can do that they’re 7-2 on Monday Night Football under Lovie Smith, 4-2 on the road. A lot of numbers line up in their favor on paper but as many fans have seen on a weekly basis, the games aren’t played on paper.
5. Week four NFC North game balls.
Aaron Rodgers – He put together a game that was more reminiscent of last season than any he’s played in 2012. He finished the game with a 7.8 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and an Offensive Passer Rating of 119.9. Rodgers also put together a fourth quarter comeback, the fourth of his career and first since the 2009 season.
Jordy Nelson, Packers – Stepped up when wide receiver had to leave the game with a groin injury in the second quarter. Led the Packers with 8 catches for 93-yards and fought his way into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
Percy Harvin, Vikings – Opened the game with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to give the Vikings a lead they would never relinquish. He also rushed three times for 12 yards and caught three passes for 22 yards. Just another game for the Vikings’ all-round threat.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings – If Peterson keeps running the rest of the season the way he has in the first four games there won’t be enough operating rooms in existence to accommodate all the running backs looking for reconstructive knee surgery.
Peterson rushed 21 times for 102-yards against the Lions, his first 100-yard rushing effort since Week 7 of 2011 against Green Bay.