NFC North Report Card: Week 16

Despite getting off to a 1-4 start, the Green Bay Packers won the division for the third consecutive year. The Vikings are still in a position to earn a wildcard spot, while the Bears have guaranteed themselves a last place finish for the first time since 2000.

BEARS REPORT CARD VS. LIONS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
-- Chad Hutchinson played well when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and appeared to throw the game-winning TD pass to Bernard Berrian. However, that play was taken away by the officials. Hutchinson averaged 3.4 yards per pass, and that's simply awful. WR David Terrell was flagged for two more offensive pass interference calls against Detroit.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Normally, 124 net yards of rushing would not resemble anything close to a B grade, but the Bears ran well late in the game and Thomas Jones finished with 109 yards. Jones got key yards on the scoring drive in the fourth quarter and appeared to give the Lions problem with his speed and finishing power.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Bears defense punished Joey Harrington throughout the game. With the Bears trailing 16-0 in the third quarter, LB Lance Briggs picked off a Harrington pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. That play woke up the Bears from one of their sleepiest efforts of the season and eventually put them in position to win.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bears have learned what the rest of the league is also starting to find out: Lions rookie RB Kevin Jones is a tough runner. Jones ran for 123 yards on 25 carries and scored the first touchdown of the game, on a one-yard run in the second quarter. Jones should be a great runner for years to come.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Bears held up their end by not violating the first commandment of special-teams coverage -- they did not give up any big plays on punt or kickoff returns. R.W. McQuarters had an outstanding punt return in the third quarter that appeared to set up the Bears in Detroit territory (at the 35), but it was wiped out by an illegal-block-in-the-back penalty. While Jason Hanson connected on 4 of 4 FG attempts for the Lions, Bears kicker Paul Edinger did not get a chance at a field goal.

COACHING: C-plus -- The Bears were horrendous in the first half, coach Lovie Smith let his players hear about it in the locker room and they played much better in the second half. However, you have to wonder about the game plan and the preparation because the team was so pitiful in the first 30 minutes. Also, Smith chose to play the stoic after referee Terry McAulay ruled that Bernard Berrian did not control the football in the end zone when the rookie appeared to catch a game-winning TD pass in the final two minutes. If Smith had spewed some uncharacteristic venom, it would not have changed the call but it would have impressed his players, his coaches and long-suffering Bears fans.

LIONS REPORT CARD VS. BEARS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
-- The Lions managed only 12 yards passing in the second half, but you can't throw the blame entirely on QB Joey Harrington for this one. The team had an unofficial six dropped passes, including three in a row by rookie WR Roy Williams in the second half. Harrington's biggest blunder was a bad one, however. With a pass rusher in his face he made a bad throw that Bears LB Lance Briggs intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Rookie RB Kevin Jones posted his fourth 100-yard game in the Lions' last six outings, with 25 rushes for 123 yards and a touchdown. On a 33-yard run in the final quarter he went the final eight yards pushing or dragging three Chicago defenders. Harrington, not known as a running QB, gained 26 yards on five carries and made two first-down runs.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Lions couldn't get the Bears off the field in the fourth quarter and -- except for the questionable officiating decision that denied the Bears a touchdown with 1:27 to play -- it might have cost them the game. Oddly enough, two of their DBs -- CB Dre' Bly and FS Brock Marion -- played perhaps their best games of the season, and the Lions still had trouble stopping QB Chad Hutchinson.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bears didn't get a lot of big plays, but they kept running Thomas Jones and nicking away at the Lions defense. Jones finished with 109 yards on 22 carries. They looked better than the 25th-ranked rushing offense against the Lions.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- K Jason Hanson remained on his late season hot streak. He was 4-for-4 on field goals of 31, 39, 34 and 40 yards and, in addition, put two kickoffs too deep in the end zone to be returned. P Nick Harris dropped three punts inside the 20, KOR Reggie Swinton had a 43-yard return and the coverage teams did a solid job. LS Don Muhlbach, the goat of last week's one-point loss to Minnesota when he misfired on the attempted extra point at the end of the game, had all of his snaps on the money.

COACHING: C-plus -- As Steve Mariucci said, you never look down your nose at a win. Give him credit for getting a win despite a second-half performance that was as flat as a team could play. Mariucci apparently is delegating play-calling duties to QBs coach Greg Olson. And defensive coordinator Dick Jauron isn't getting a whole lot out of a defense that struggled to get off the field against the worst offensive team in the NFL in the second half.

PACKERS REPORT CARD. VS. VIKINGS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
-- Favre hit 30 of 43 for 365 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 109.2. He led two decisive drives totaling 156 yards and 10 points in the last eight minutes. Chris Claiborne made a great interception and return for a 15-yard touchdown, but it didn't deter Favre one iota. Donald Driver (11-162) killed the underneath coverage and Javon Walker had a big second half (5-90). The protection was spotty.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- The Packers hit the Vikings with 200 or more yards in the last two meetings but settled for 102 and a 3.0 average this time. NT Spencer Johnson kept coming off C Grey Ruegamer and had 10 tackles. DT Kevin Williams proved very hard to move. Ahman Green (19-64) had a long of just 10 as LBs Chris Claiborne and E.J. Henderson closed ferociously from the side.

PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- The good news was that Randy Moss made just one play all day against CB Al Harris, a 12-yard touchdown pass in the corner in which Moss might have pushed off. Moss went into one of his loafing jags for most of the game. Otherwise, the coverage was pathetic. A missed tackle by Ahmad Carroll turned a 9-yard curl route to Nate Burleson into a 68-yard touchdown. A screen pass to Michael Bennett turned into a 38-yard touchdown when Nick Barnett missed the tackle and the pursuit was appallingly late to arrive.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Vikings gained 131 in 24 carries. The long was a 25-yard gain on a naked pitch by Bennett, who took advantage of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. "KGB" was fooled completely on the play. Aaron Kampman and Grady Jackson made most of the tackles whereas Cletidus Hunt and Gbaja-Biamila had awful outings. The linebacker play was hit or miss.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Ryan Longwell made field goals of 42 and 29 yards. The 29-yarder came as time expired and won the game. His kickoffs averaged 4.0 hang time as well. P Bryan Barker punted three times and had one of his best performances of the season. Antonio Chatman brought back a kickoff 59 yards. Minnesota's Kelly Campbell had a 55-yarder.

COACHING: B -- The defense was positively horrendous in the first half when the Vikings averaged 13.4 yards per play. In the second half, coordinator Bob Slowik went to a Cover 2 scheme on almost every play and got the game settled down. Mike Sherman went for it on a pair of fourth downs and produced two touchdowns. Sherman tried two challenges and was unsuccessful each time.

VIKINGS REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
-- QB Daunte Culpepper had a career-high 151.3 passer rating, three touchdowns and 16 completions in 23 attempts. RB Michael Bennett looked explosive on a 38-yard touchdown catch. WR Nate Burleson also looked faster than ever when he turned a crossing route into a 68-yard touchdown. The pass protection was as good as it has been in weeks. Culpepper wasn't sacked.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Michael Bennett started for the second consecutive game and showed some burst. He finished with 92 yards rushing on 17 carries (5.4). RB Onterrio Smith was a game-day inactive. He didn't practice all week because of flu-like symptoms. Overall, the Vikings averaged 5.5 yards per carry, rushing for 131 on 24 carries.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Except for LB Chris Claiborne's excellent snag of a Brett Favre pass and 15-yard return for a touchdown, the pass defense was atrocious. The Packers converted 8 of 16 third downs, most of them with Favre carving up clueless defensive backs. Favre directed touchdown drives of 80 and 76 yards in the final eight minutes. LB E.J. Henderson was in position to break up a touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal from the 3 but was looking back and never saw Favre's pass. On the drive that led to the last-second, game-winning field goal, Favre threw to a hot spot when he was blitzed by safety Brian Russell. Javon Walker caught the pass in front of CB Terrance Shaw and ran 31 yards to the Vikings 7-yard line.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- After giving up a combined 467 yards rushing in the previous two losses to the Packers, the Vikings clamped down and allowed only 102 on 34 carries (3.0). Ahman Green had only 64 on 19 carries (3.4), but he did have a 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal. DT Kevin Williams hit him solidly at the 2, but Green was able to squirt into the end zone because no other Viking was able to deliver a second blow.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- It was a solid performance except for one glaring exception: A 59-yard kickoff return by Antonio Chatman late in the second quarter enabled the Packers to kick a field goal to move within 21-17 as the first half ended. P Darren Bennett had three punts that were downed inside the 20. Kelly Campbell averaged 36.7 yards on three kickoff returns.

COACHING: D -- The defense just isn't doing what it's supposed to do. Part of that is a lack of talent at safety and a lack of experience at linebacker. But coaching is part of it, too. Offensively, the Vikings stalled at the worst possible time, holding the ball for just 1:13 late in the game before punting the ball away and giving Favre possession at his 13 with 1:35 left and two timeouts. Part of the reason the offense stalled is penalties. The Vikings committed back-to-back penalties on their last possession. They had nine for 78 yards for the game. That's a sign of a lack of discipline.


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