Updated NFC North Report Card: Week 15

The Bears are the only team in the division to come up with a victory, which puts them in great position to clinch the title on Christmas day at Lambeau Field.

BEARS REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS
PASS OFFENSE: D
- Rex Grossman's numbers (9-of-16 for 93 yards) were far from spectacular, but they were a significant upgrade over Kyle Orton, who was yanked after completing 2 of 10 passes in the first half for 12 yards. Grossman provided a second-half spark when the Bears were clinging to a 6-3 lead, leading two scoring drives in the third quarter. Muhsin Muhammad caught three passes for 40 yards and drew a 25-yard pass interference penalty.

RUSH OFFENSE: C - Thomas Jones struggled for 91 yards on 27 carries and scored his personal-best eighth touchdown of the season. WR Bernard Berrian picked up 37 yards on an early end-around that set up the first field goal and pushed the Bears' rushing total to 128 yards on 32 attempts for a 4.0-yard average.

PASS DEFENSE: A - Falcons QB Michael Vick was picked off twice, sacked twice and completed just 13 of 32 passes for 122 yards and a passer rating of 25.8. The Bears' second-string safeties and strong-side linebacker allowed Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler just two catches for 14 yards, and the secondary delivered several rattling shots that broke up possible receptions.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus - Atlanta RB Warrick Dunn picked up 81 yards on 17 carries (4.8-yard average), but 46 of the yards came on two carries. QB Michael Vick was "held" to 35 yards on six rushes but was contained for much of the evening. T.J. Duckett managed minus-2 yards on eight carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - PK Robbie Gould hit 3 of 4 field goal attempts, missing wide right from 44 yards but hitting from 29, 35 and 39. His kickoffs and the Bears' coverage held the Falcons to an average of just 16.2 yards per kickoff return. Brad Maynard's seven punts weren't long - he averaged 33 yards per kick - but the Falcons had zero return yards. Bernard Berrian, in his first game replacing Bobby Wade as the punt returner, picked up 30 yards on two attempts.

COACHING: A - The defense kept Vick under wraps by occasionally playing a five-man front. More importantly, coaches finally made the switch to Rex Grossman at quarterback, and it provided a much-needed spark.

VIKINGS REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
PASS OFFENSE: C-minus
- Brad Johnson threw more interceptions (two) in Sunday's loss than he had during the Vikings' six-game winning streak. His 38.6 passer rating easily was his lowest of the season. Both of Johnson's interceptions came inside the red zone and the first, a shovel pass attempt to Koren Robinson, was the type of ill-advised mistake the quarterback simply did not make during the winning streak. Johnson's protection also was suspect at times, especially after center Melvin Fowler went out in the third quarter. No Viking had more than 34 receiving yards.

RUSH OFFENSE: D - The Vikings' run game was virtually nonexistent Sunday. Michael Bennett was held to 43 yards on 11 carries and Johnson was second with 6 yards on one scramble. Mewelde Moore, apparently healthy enough to play, received only two carries and gained 5 yards. Moore, who has battled a variety of injuries this season, has a total of four carries in the past three games for a total of minus-1 yard. Falling behind limited the Vikings' ability to run.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus - Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was held to 149 passing yards as this area held up its end of the bargain. The Vikings were gouged for a 50-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller on the opening drive of the game - the Steelers got a field goal - but overall the yardage total was among the lowest the Vikings have surrendered this season. The Vikings, however, were unable to intercept Roethlisberger, who stayed away from any risky throws. That ended the Vikings' six-game streak with an interception.

RUSH DEFENSE: C - Pittsburgh accounted for 142 yards on the ground and got its only touchdown on a 3-yard scramble by Roethlisberger in the second quarter. The rushing total - Willie Parker led the way with 81 yards on 14 carries - was the most the Vikings have surrendered since a Week 4 loss at Atlanta. Parker gained 49 of his yards on one play, when a couple of Vikings messed up their assignments in the third quarter. That led to a Steelers field goal.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D - Paul Edinger's blocked field goal and Ciatrick Fason's muff of a punt in the third quarter were among this unit's shortcomings. Both plays happened in the third quarter and proved to be crucial factors in the momentum shifting to Pittsburgh. Throw in Antwaan Randle El's 72-yard punt return that set up the Steelers' only touchdown and it was a forgettable day for this unit.

COACHING: C - The Vikings had beaten only one team with a record above .500 during their six-game winning streak, so Sunday's game against the Steelers was considered a true test for Mike Tice's team. The Vikings failed. The offense and special teams both let the Vikings down. The Vikings were unable to establish anything offensively against the Steelers' top-10 defense. The defense was the only bright spot on a tough day.

LIONS REPORT CARD vs. BENGALS
PASS OFFENSE: C-minus
- Starter Jeff Garcia was benched for the fourth quarter, though the Lions' offensive problems weren't all his fault. He completed 13 of 21 pass attempts for 138 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times and never got the offense moving consistently. Joey Harrington came off the bench to complete a 69-yard scoring drive with a 35-yard pass to Charles Rogers.

RUSH OFFENSE: D-minus - Except for a 19-yard run by Artose Pinner early in the game, the Lions' ground game was virtually nonexistent, which goes a long way toward explaining their 12-minute deficit in time of possession. They ran the ball 17 times and gained 59 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: D-minus - The Lions were totally overmatched by Bengals QB Carlson Palmer and his receivers, Chad Johnson in particular. Palmer was sacked twice and intercepted twice but it didn't interfere with his production - 28-of-39 passing for 274 yards and three TDs. Johnson gave Lions Pro Bowl CB Dre' Bly a lesson in humility with 11 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus - The run defense was every bit as incapable as the pass defense. Playing without three of their four best linebackers, the Lions couldn't stop Bengals RB Rudi Johnson. Johnson carried 24 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He got 33 yards on one run but kept chipping away at the Lions defense, helping the Bengals to 36 minutes, 11 seconds in time of possession.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus - The Lions fumbled two kickoffs in the first quarter (they only lost one of them) and that pretty well set the tone of what was to happen in the game. The Lions' coverage teams did an adequate job, PK Jason Hanson kicked a 45-yard field goal and P Nick Harris was solid on three punts. With Eddie Drummond out with a knee injury, the return game was subpar.

COACHING: C-minus - With only one starting LB available, interim coach Dick Jauron was playing defense with one hand tied behind his back. There was no way the Lions could match the Bengals personnel and the coaching didn't do a lot to help them overcome the deficit.

PACKERS REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
PASSING OFFENSE: F
-- Five turnovers from the quarterback position! Well, at least they're not all Brett Favre's fault, though he didn't deviate from his familiar script before taking the rest of the night off late in the third quarter. Two more carelessly thrown deep balls into multiple coverage on back-to-back series led to 10 points for Baltimore in the second quarter, spearheading the 48-3 rout. In what turned out to be Favre's last gasp to prevent his first three-game stretch without a touchdown pass, receivers Robert Ferguson and Donald Driver gave up on going for throws into traffic in the end zone. Thus, Favre was left with a 34.3 passer rating, third worst of his career, on 14-of-29 accuracy for 144 yards. Meanwhile, heir apparent Aaron Rodgers can only hope better days are ahead in his pro career. Rodgers turned the ball over three times (two fumbles, one interception) in his first four possessions, undone by an offensive line that couldn't resist the Ravens' unyielding pressure. Rodgers was sacked three times. His saving grace was converting two fourth-down plays with pinpoint throws to Antonio Chatman and David Martin to move the offense inside the Baltimore 10. However, Rodgers stooped to Favre's level and flung a pass into triple coverage in the end zone, resulting in the easy pick.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Let it be said there is a USA Today Sports Weekly cover jinx as well. In the same week rookie Samkon Gado received top billing on newsstands, he was felled by a potentially serious knee injury. Gado had been having his way with the Ravens' well-regarded run defense, ripping off 45 yards in his first six carries. He was on pace to eclipse the franchise rookie record of 171 yards he established only a week earlier before succumbing to a torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee late in the first quarter. That left Tony Fisher and another unheralded newcomer, Noah Herron, to carry the load the rest of the night. Herron had most of the work in the second half and produced just 27 yards in eight carries, though he had a nice run of 17 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- One of two conclusions could be drawn from the domination the Ravens exerted through the air. Either previously maligned Kyle Boller is on his way to being the second coming of Johnny Unitas in Baltimore, or the Packers' formerly No. 1-ranked pass defense was exposed as a fraud. The latter seems more plausible. The Packers had benefited greatly the previous three games from facing the mediocre trio of Philadelphia's Mike McMahon, Chicago's Kyle Orton and Detroit's Jeff Garcia, who combined for all of 271 yards. The law of averages regarding bad quarterbacks not staying that way against a defense that's been suspect all along caught up with Green Bay. Boller racked up 253 yards on 19-of-27 throwing in only three quarters of work. It was a familiar recipe for disaster for the Packers: lack of effective pressure up front, blown coverage and missed tackles by members of the secondary and getting overrun by a tight end. Todd Heap picked up Boller nicely with nine receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The second-half swoon continued for the Packers, who surrendered 100-plus yards on the ground for the seventh straight game. This time, they were gashed for a season-high 182 yards. They resuscitated Jamal Lewis from his mostly lifeless season in the process. Lewis nearly averaged 5 yards per carry as he totaled 105 yards in 22 rushing attempts. His two biggest runs were born of lackadaisical efforts by young players in the secondary. Blitzing cornerback Ahmad Carroll allowed Lewis to run by out of the backfield for a 17-yard pickup to start a 75-yard drive in the first quarter, which culminated with the Packers' inability to snuff out a direct snap to receiver Mark Clayton and his 11-yard touchdown run. Then, in the third quarter, rookie safety Nick Collins whiffed on a tackle of Lewis at the line of scrimmage, touching off a 20-yard gain.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- A 57-yard kickoff return by Carroll midway through the first quarter - the longest of the season for the league's worst-rated unit - spared a failing grade. Otherwise, the usual, dismal suspects reared their ugly heads again. B.J. Sams proved his high value as a punt returner, turning his first opportunity into a 49-yard pickup. Missed tackles by Mike Hawkins and Marviel Underwood sprung Sams loose, however. Punter B.J. Sander, who was unwittingly leveled by hard-hitting Ed Reed on Sams' big return, struggled for the third straight game in frigid, blustery conditions. He averaged just 35.8 yards in four kicks. His net average was a sickly 22.5 yards, a season low. Ryan Longwell, meanwhile, was limited to a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter. With just 74 points, he's all but assured of having his eight-year streak of 100-point seasons ended.

COACHING: F -- When a team comes out of the locker room to start the game flat and disgracefully stays that way for 60 minutes of game action, it doesn't reflect well on the coaching staff. Mike Sherman and his assistants were able to keep the team competitive for all but one, no more than two games until Monday, when the players evidently decided to get a head start on their off-season. All the while, Sherman didn't react with appropriate, fiery emotion to the implosion going on around him. If the man in charge doesn't seem to care, why should the guys under him?


Bear Report Top Stories