NFC North Report Card: Week 8

The Bears were the only team in the division to come away with a victory on Sunday. See how they stack up to the competition.

-- Kyle Orton completed passes of more than 20 yards to three different receivers, the first time this season the Bears have accomplished that. Orton had a passer rating of 89.4, wasn't intercepted and took two sacks. Fellow rookie WR Mark Bradley had a breakout game with five catches for 88 yards, but suffered a sprained knee late in the first half and could be out for several weeks. Muhsin Muhammad had modest totals of four catches and 49 yards, but his 23-yard TD, a leaping catch as he was getting clobbered, was an outstanding individual effort. Justin Gage stepped in after Bradley was hurt and caught two passes for a season-best 47 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Thomas Jones battled for 72 yards on 22 carries until bruised ribs sidelined him in the fourth quarter. Rookie Cedric Benson provided 35 clutch yards on three carries in overtime, but the offensive line deserves much of the credit for that.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman was not having a particularly good day or even a very good season, but he came up with an interception and 22-yard TD return in overtime for the winning score. Lions QB Jeff Garcia was pressured much of the day, and even though he usually escaped, he was forced into some unwise throws, including the one that Tillman picked off. The Lions were playing without three of their top wideouts: Roy Williams, Kevin Johnson and Charles Rogers.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- For the fifth straight week, the Bears held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards, allowing 93 on 29 attempts for a 3.2-yard average. The Lions had just one run of more than nine yards, a 16-yarder by Kevin Jones, who scored the first rushing touchdown against the Bears this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- Jerry Azumah's kickoff returns were outstanding (30.5-yard average), even though he had a 44-yarder wiped out by a penalty. Bobby Wade's punt returns were a disaster. He had four yards on two tries, one of which he fumbled but recovered, and on two other punts, he let the ball bounce and roll down to the Bears' one-yard line. Although his lingering calf injury has sapped some of Brad Maynard's leg strength, he was OK, and coverage was excellent on punts and kicks. Robbie Gould hit both of his FG attempts, from 38 and 20 yards.

COACHING: B -- The Bears played it safe at the end of regulation, but prevailed in overtime, so their strategy worked out. It wasn't until overtime that Cedric Benson was allowed to touch the ball, but that worked out, too, when he busted a 25-yard run to help flip field position. Rookie QB Kyle Orton is being given more leeway to go vertical in the passing game, and he's making progress.

-- There was only one negative, but it was a big one -- the interception and 22-yard return for a touchdown that beat the Lions in overtime. QB Jeff Garcia, by his own admission, should have known better than to throw back across his body and across the field. Had it not been for that costly mistake, Garcia's numbers would have been adequate. Not gaudy, but adequate. Among Garcia's 23 completions in 35 passing attempts were a 27-yarder to WR Scottie Vines and a 20-yarder to TE Marcus Pollard. Rookie WR Mike Williams didn't help the cause, dropping three catchable passes.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- At least the Lions are consistent. They came into the seventh game of the season with the NFL's 21st-ranked running game, averaging 93.7 yards per game. They totaled 93 yards against the Bears. That included 66 yards on 18 attempts by RB Kevin Jones, who still hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game this year. The Lions have had the misfortune of playing four of their first seven games against teams with top-10 caliber defenses, and they have been outmatched.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- The absence of CB Dre' Bly (wrist surgery) took its toll. He is a playmaker and had four of the Lions' eight interceptions in the previous three games. Against Bears' rookie QB Kyle Orton, however, the Lions had no interceptions, just two sacks and were victimized by Orton's s 17 completions in 31 attempts for 230 yards and a touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- With DT Shaun Rogers out with a sprained knee, the Lions struggled to stop the Chicago running game. RB Thomas Jones hammered away for 72 yards on 22 rushes and backup Cedric Benson, a rookie, hit them with three runs for 35 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- It helped to get Pro Bowl PR/KR Eddie Drummond back on the field after missing the past two games with a hyper-extended knee. He started with kickoff returns of 28 and 34 yards before the Bears made some adjustments. The Lions had other problems, however. K Jason Hanson missed on a 47-yard field goal attempt and the Lions gave up a 40-yard PR to the Bears Jerry Azumah, who averaged 30.5 yards on five returns.

COACHING: D -- The Lions had a chance to be the top team in the NFC North -- playing at home against their chief rival in the division. At times, coach Steve Mariucci was conservative running the offense. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron didn't stop the Bears cold, but rallied the Lions defense to do a reasonable job after giving up a 99-yard scoring drive early in the game.

-- True, never-say-never Brett Favre almost willed an offense incredibly depleted by injury to one of his signature fourth-quarter comebacks. Yet it was mostly because of Favre's head-scratching miscues that the Packers were forced to try to erase a 21-7 deficit in the final 13 minutes. In a span of 11 pass plays from late in the second quarter to early in the fourth quarter, Favre had five passes intercepted, a personal high for a regular-season game. In Favre's defense, two of the picks resulted from tipped passes. However, the other three interceptions were born of poorly thrown balls. Although diminutive Antonio Chatman played big in his first start at wide receiver with a career-high eight catches for 97 yards, top receiver Donald Driver and tight end Donald Lee hurt the cause with drops on would-be touchdowns.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Life without Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, both of whom are on injured reserve, began in earnest Sunday. The results, not surprisingly, weren't any better than when the Packers had their top two running backs on the field. Tony Fisher isn't cut out as a featured back who can consistently run the football 20 to 25 times a game, and is no better than serviceable in the lead role. Sure enough, he gained only 51 yards in 17 carries. So much for getting their 30th-rated rushing attack on track against the Bengals' leaky, 27th-ranked run defense, which yielded but 76 yards on the ground.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- Bengals receiver Chad Johnson will have a tough time justifying putting a check mark under all of the others in the "No" category next to the name of the Packers' Al Harris on the famous "Who Will Cover 85 in 2005?" list. Harris didn't exclusively shadow Johnson the entire game, but when the two were matched up, Johnson managed only two catches for a grand total of 9 yards. Other than a 38-yard reception at the expense of Ahmad Carroll in the third quarter, Johnson was a non-factor, held to five catches for 62 yards despite having 13 balls thrown his way by Carson Palmer. Safeties Nick Collins and Mark Roman were disruptive with their help coverage against Johnson. However, Carroll resorted to his early-season transgressions, committing four penalties (three enforced). Nickel back Joey Thomas infuriated defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the first half, giving up a long completion on third down and then drawing a hand-to-the-face penalty that bailed the Bengals out of a failed third-down play. Thomas promptly was benched in favor of rookie Mike Hawkins. As a team, the Packers allowed the Bengals to convert seven of eight third-down situations in the first half.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- The Packers preserved their top-10 league ranking by again refusing to let the opponent's featured back run the slightest bit wild. Rudi Johnson got his wish with more carries, but he mustered but 72 yards on those 22 touches for a pedestrian per-rush average of 3.3 yards. Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams (in Week 3) remains the only back to chalk up a 100-yard day against the Packers. Cincinnati backup Chris Perry, however, had the longest -- and possibly the biggest -- run of the game with a 17-yard burst on a toss play around left end that enabled the Bengals to eat up some valuable time and gain more favorable field position before they punted the ball back to the Packers with only a minute to play. Cincinnati was held to 95 rushing yards, marking the fourth time the Packers haven't given up an aggregate 100 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Perhaps the best news of the day was Ryan Longwell didn't have to come out to attempt a field goal and undoubtedly wonder what type of hold he would get from neophyte B.J. Sander, whose struggles in that realm possibly cost the Packers a couple victories. Sander was adequate with his three punts, averaging 41.7 yards. Running back ReShard Lee gave the lethargic kickoff-return unit a boost by returning four for an average of 25.8 yards -- nearly a full 7 yards more than the Packers' 31st-rated average the first six games. Antonio Chatman seemingly had an extra spring in his step while making his first pro start at receiver, as he returned four punts for an average of 9.8 yards, bolstered by a season-high 18-yard gain in the third quarter.

COACHING: B -- For a change, another close defeat can't be pinned on lapses made on the sideline or from the coaching box. Mike Sherman and his staff had their hands tied coming into this game without the services of six of their top 10 players at the skilled positions of running back, wide receiver and tight end. That the Packers were within 28 yards and an inadvertent, game-ending illegal-forward pass by Brett Favre of forcing overtime against the heavily favored Bengals on the road spoke well of how the coaches had their undermanned team prepared to fight to the finish. Jim Bates' defense made a handful of costly mistakes in pass coverage, but otherwise kept the score within reach by not allowing the Bengals to score points off any of the first four of Favre's five interceptions. Now that the team is staring at a 1-6 record, the challenge becomes greater for Sherman and Co. to keep their mostly youthful contingent of players from calling it quits with a second half of the season yet to play.

-- The Vikings had a season-low 171 yards through the air; only the second time this season they have fallen below the 200-yard mark. Daunte Culpepper was 3-for-4 for 28 yards and had been sacked twice when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee on the final play of the first quarter. Brad Johnson completed 13 of 28 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown over the final three quarters. Neither quarterback had an interception, and they were sacked a combined four times as the Panthers blitzed throughout the game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Vikings fell behind early, and as a result ended up running the ball only 18 times for a 4.6-yard average. The team rushed for 82 yards with Mewelde Moore and Brad Johnson -- yes, Brad Johnson -- tying for the lead with 30 yards on the ground. The Vikings' longest run of the day was Daunte Culpepper's 18-yard scramble that ended with him being helped off the field with a knee injury.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Assigned to cover Carolina receiver Steve Smith throughout the afternoon, Fred Smoot decided to talk trash before the game. Smith made him pay. The receiver caught 11 passes for a team-record 210 yards and a touchdown. Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns as the Vikings, and Smoot in particular, looked lost anytime the ball was in the air.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- With the way its passing game was looking, Carolina had no real need to establish the run. The Panthers did gain 111 yards on the ground, but that was only an average of 2.8 yards per carry. The Vikings continued to stick with their base 3-4 look and big nose tackle Pat Williams continues to be a standout. Pro Bowl end/tackle Kevin Williams, however, continues to look out of shape and it's clear his conditioning, or lack of it, remains an issue.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- A week after hitting a game-winning 56-yard field goal to beat the Green Bay Packers on the final play, kicker Paul Edinger missed his only attempt from 33 yards. Koren Robinson and Troy Williamson split kickoff returns duties after Robinson left because of a concussion. Together, they combined for an average of 19.4 yards on seven returns. Mewelde Moore had one punt return and a fair catch on another as Carolina only punted twice.

COACHING: D -- The decision to have Fred Smoot cover Steve Smith is reason enough for this grade. The interesting thing was after making a few key halftime adjustments against Green Bay, the Vikings made few, if any in Carolina. Why they didn't abandon the Smoot-on-Smith plan and let Antoine Winfield also cover the receiver was hard to understand. Smoot also probably didn't receive enough safety help. Offensively, the Vikings often looked lost against Carolina's blitzing scheme.

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