NFC North Report Card

The division race is still stacked up with two games separating four teams, but realistically it appears to be a two-team race between the Packers and Vikings.

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Four of the Bears' five turnovers were committed by rookie quarterback Craig Krenzel, who lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions. He was also sacked four times. Of Krenzel's 145 net passing yards, 43 came on a meaningless pass to David Terrell as time expired in the first half and 60 came on the inconsequential fourth-quarter touchdown drive that ended with 1:37 left in the game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Thomas Jones returned to the starting lineup, but his presence failed to make much of a difference. The offensive line didn't do much of a job opening holes early, and the Bears were so far down by halftime that there wasn't much point in running the ball.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Bears allowed Peyton Manning only 211 passing yards, but he still fired four touchdown passes, was not sacked and was barely touched. Rookie Nathan Vasher collected his team-best fourth interception.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- Bears tacklers slipped off Edgerrin James as if he were a greased pig. Other times, James was untouched by the time he reached the secondary. The end result was a disaster: 204 rushing yards for James and 275 for the Colts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Paul Edinger had a 51-yard field goal on his only attempt and P Brad Maynard had another good outing, but there were no big plays from the return teams.

COACHING: F -- The Craig Krenzel experiment has run its course, and it's time to head in a different direction if this team has any intention of competing with good teams.

PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- After completing four of his first six passes and helping the Lions to a 14-0 lead, QB Joey Harrington couldn't get a consistent drive going for the Lions. And, once again, he didn't get a lot of help from his teammates. Rookie WR Roy Williams dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone and Vikings DE Lance Johnstone had three sacks -- two against LT Jeff Backus and one against RT Stockar McDougle. Harrington completed 12 of 19 passes but had only 91 yards of passing offense.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The only encouraging sign in the Lions offense came in the running game, which showed signs of improvement for a second consecutive week, with rookie RB Kevin Jones getting 19 carries for 100 yards. Overall, the Lions gained 146 yards rushing, their best in the first 10 games. The negative part was that the Lions ran Jones only four times in the second half, and he gained only five yards.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper had just one long play -- a 61-yard pass to Kelly Campbell, who was allowed to get up off the turf and continue running by Lions CB Fernando Bryant. Aside from that, Culpepper worked short, underneath routes as part of 17- and 13-play scoring drives that the Lions couldn't stop. Somewhere in those 30 plays they needed a big play, but they didn't get it.

RUN DEFENSE: B -- All things considered, the Lions did a solid job of stopping the run. They held RBs Michael Bennett (30 yards in 11 carries) and Onterrio Smith (27 yards in 8 tries) under control but were hurt a couple of times by Culpepper's escapes from the pocket.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- After a couple of subpar performances (in part because of injuries), coach Bill Priefer has the Lions' special teams tuned up and purring along nicely. Eddie Drummond scored on a 92-yard kickoff return to start the game and, although the Vikings contained him fairly well the rest of the game, the Lions did a good job in punt and kick coverages. K Jason Hanson also booted a 48-yard field goal.

COACHING: D -- With a 19-7 lead midway in the third quarter, there was no way the Lions should have lost to a Minnesota team that was on a three-game losing streak. There were no major blunders, but the Lions again made no significant second-half adjustments. The Vikings stopped their running game in the second half and the Lions had no response, and they couldn't stop Culpepper's short passing game.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- When the chips were down Brett Favre was his usual magnificent self. He directed a 41-yard, two-minute drill in textbook fashion to set up the winning field goal. Wide receivers Donald Driver and Javon Walker combined for 18 catches and didn't have a drop. As usual, the pass protection was superb. No sacks. Favre threw two interceptions in the second half, one on an underthrown ball to Walker on a deep post.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The loss of Ahman Green (5-15) early with a rib injury was a damaging blow. Free agent Walter Williams (6-42) looked surprisingly good with a shifty style before he had to leave with an ankle injury. That left the burden on Tony Fisher (7-14), who is OK as a third-down back but isn't cut out for heavy-duty action. The Packers probably would have used FB Nick Luchey at tailback, but he didn't return after the first series because of a dislocated shoulder.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The pass rush came alive in the second half when Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila registered two sacks. Both stopped Texans scoring threats. The only big play was a 49-yard pass to Andre Johnson on third-and-3 when two defensive backs, Al Harris and Michael Hawthorne, collided in the secondary. That enabled Johnson to turn up field on a shallow crossing route. Harris covered Johnson all over the field and held up well. David Carr hit 13 of 26 for 164.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Domanick Davis isn't a very good back, so the degree of difficulty wasn't great. However, Davis still was able to gain just 65 yards in 21 carries. LB Na'il Diggs had a terrific game, his best of the season. He showed tremendous strength, aggressiveness and range against the run. DT Cletidus Hunt also came alive by making some plays off penetration.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Ryan Longwell missed from 49 early but then hit from 23, 39 and 46. His final kick as time expired proved to be the difference. Longwell is one of the game's great kickers. This was his seventh game-winner in an eight-year career. Punter Bryan Barker had his second straight dreadful game. Coverage against little J.J. Moses wasn't very good. Antonio Chatman had a 20-yard punt return in the second half that was a key play.

COACHING: B -- Mike Sherman brought his team to Houston a day early because of superstition as much as anything else. His teams are 5-1 when he leaves on Friday. Sherman, who continued calling the plays, saw the offense pile up 473 yards but score just 16 points. That was a problem the team had earlier in the season. The Packers won it with a crisp two-minute drill. Few teams run it as well as the Packers.

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- After the Lions recorded a safety to take a 19-7 lead in the third quarter, QB Daunte Culpepper huddled the offensive players together on the sideline and challenged them to start acting like the best offense in the league. Then Culpepper went out and basically willed the Vikings to victory. On the 17-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that made it 19-15, Culpepper was 7-for-10 passing, including a 7-yard pass to Nate Burleson on third-and-3 and a 6-yard touchdown to Burleson on third-and-goal. On the game-winning drive one possession later, Culpepper completed a 14-yard pass to RB Moe Williams on third-and-12 at the Lions 15. Culpepper did throw an interception in the first half, but it basically was as good as a punt.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Vikings' NFL record of games with a rushing average of at least 4.0 yards per play was snapped at 19. They averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, with Culpepper leading the way with 35 yards on 11 carries. Michael Bennett had only 30 yards on 11 carries, a 2.7-yard average. Onterrio Smith had just 27 yards on eight carries (3.4) and was tackled for a safety on a simple off-tackle play from the 1. Backup RT Adam Goldberg, who replaced the injured Nat Dorsey (sprained right shoulder), missed the block that led to the safety. It came on his second play of the game. The Vikings, however, had some tough runs in crucial situations. During the second-half comeback, Culpepper ran for 11 yards on third-and-5 and one yard on third-and-1. Williams ran for 11 yards on third-and-2 and punched in a touchdown run from the 1.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Lions QB Joey Harrington passed for only 91 yards and sealed Detroit's loss when his pass was intercepted by CB Antoine Winfield with 1:49 left in the game. DE Lance Johnstone had three sacks, all on third down. The first held the Lions to a 48-yard field goal, the second kept the Lions out of field goal range and the third came with less than five minutes left in the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- We'll mix the F grade of the first half with the A from the second half and split the difference. In the first half, the Vikings gave up 128 yards rushing to a team that hadn't rushed for more than 81 in a game all season. But in the second half, the Vikings held the Lions to 18 yards rushing on six carries. Kevin Jones ran for 95 yards on 15 carries in the first half but only five yards on four carries in the second.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- All of the screaming and yelling by special teams coach Rusty Tillman after last week's poor performance in Green Bay went for naught when Lions return man Eddie Drummond retuned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings needed 3 1/2 quarters to climb out of the hole that TD created. The special teams improved later in the game. P Darren Bennett boomed a 62-yard punt following a safety. Drummond was stopped for only a 12-yard return, giving the Lions the ball at their 30. Drummond returned kickoffs only 19 and 33 yards following the Vikings' two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The 33-yarder to the Detroit 39 was moved back to the Lions 24 because of a stupid late hit penalty on Detroit's Kelvin Pritchett, who bulled over K Jose Cortez after the whistle.

COACHING: C -- Coach Mike Tice came dangerously close to losing a game that could have wrecked his season and ultimately cost him his job at season's end. Kickoff coverage remains an embarrassing problem that Tillman can't seem to correct. The run defense was terrible in the first half but excellent in the second half after defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell tweaked some gap assignments and put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan caught the Lions napping with a 61-yard pass to Kelly Campbell on the Vikings' first offensive play of the game. Linehan weathered what essentially were five games without WR Randy Moss, who is expected to return this week from a strained right hamstring. The Vikings were 2-3 in those games.

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