NFC North Report Card: Week 17

The Bears had the division locked up and their rested starters accordingly in the season finale. Despite wins in Green Bay and Minnesota each club will have a new head coach next year, while Detroit will also be looking for someone to lead the team. See how the Bears stack up to the competition.

BEARS REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
-- Without starting QB Rex Grossman and Pro Bowl WR Muhsin Muhammad, both of whom were rested, not much was expected from the passing offense, and not much was produced. Third-stringer Jeff Blake, who had thrown just one pass before the finale, looked sharp in mop-up duty, and WR Justin Gage took advantage of being the go-to guy with six catches for 67 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Thomas Jones got his 1,300-yard season with 62 yards on 12 carries, and rookie Cedric Benson finally returned from a sprained knee to add 35 yards on nine carries. Adrian Peterson was his usual reliable self with 35 yards on eight carries, and the Bears totaled 154 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- With several starters being rested and all the first team gone by halftime, the Bears were easy pickings for the Vikings' No. 1 offense, which played the entire game. The Bears had no interceptions or sacks.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Vikings couldn't run on the Bears' first team in the first quarter, but they trampled the Bears' backups, punctuated by Michael Bennett's 61-yard run in the final minutes that gave the Vikings 149 yards on 18 attempts for an 8.3-yard average.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- P Brad Maynard threw better than he kicked, completing an 18-yard pass from punt formation but averaging just 29.2 net yards because his deliberate approach on one kick resulted in a block. PK Robbie Gould would have had a career-best 52-yard field goal, but Roberto Garza was flagged for holding, wiping it out.

COACHING: B -- The important thing is to be healthy for the playoffs, and the Bears rested just about anyone who had much more than a hangnail. Time will tell if Grossman needed game reps more than rest.

LIONS REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus
-- If this was QB Joey Harrington's final game with the Lions, he will be leaving with at least a little pizzazz. Harrington started fast with two first-quarter touchdown passes and, although he cooled off somewhat in the second half, he finished with 17 completions in 33 attempts for 212 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.1. TE Marcus Pollard and WR Roy Williams both played well. Scottie Vines had four receptions but seemed slow coming out of his break on three throws that went incomplete.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- RB Kevin Jones, who was frustrated by injuries and a lack of carries early in the season, had one of his better games of the season, and the Lions moved the ball reasonably well. Jones got more help than usual from the offensive line and finished with 78 yards on 18 carries. Overall, the Lions gained 105 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Steelers were having so much success running the ball that QB Ben Roethlisberger only threw 16 passes. He was intercepted twice -- once each by CB Andre Goodman and S Bracy Walker -- but was sacked only once. It was probably the least physical game the Lions defensive backs had played all season.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Lions were victims of circumstance in the final game of the season, playing without three of their top four linebackers -- MLB Earl Holmes, SLB Boss Bailey and OLB Teddy Lehman, all of whom finished the season on injured reserve. Steelers RB Willie Parker had a field day with 135 yards on 26 carries, and Jerome Bettis scored three touchdowns in what was believed to have been his final regular-season game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-minus -- It was a dark day for the Lions' usually reliable special teams. They gave up an 81-yard punt return touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead just 1:17 into the game, a 63-yard kickoff return to set up the Steelers' second touchdown and a 14-7 lead, and Eddie Drummond's fumbled punt return set up the Steelers' third touchdown of the game. P Nick Harris performed well, as he has all year, with two punts inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line.

COACHING: C-plus -- For the most part, the Lions played with intensity despite the fact it was a meaningless game. The game plan was solid, but the Lions lacked the defensive depth to stop the Steelers, and the special teams had an uncharacteristic bad day.

PACKERS REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus
-- If Sunday's game indeed was Brett Favre's last as a player, he went out on a satisfactory, if not high, note. His expertly placed 9-yard fade pass to Antonio Chatman on third-and-goal in the third quarter not only ended Favre's career-worst drought of four games without a touchdown throw, it regained the lead for the Packers for keeps at 20-14. Favre, save for his only interception on CB Jimmy Williams' diving grab of a low throw in the fourth quarter, was generally on the mark in piling up 259 yards through the air. As usual, he turned to Donald Driver for six catches that amounted to a lofty 118 yards. Half of Driver's yardage total came on the team's longest pass play of the season on a downfield heave from Favre late in the third quarter. Late-season pickup Rod Gardner may have justified an invitation back next season with a nifty 33-yard catch-and-run early in the game, though he couldn't come up with a couple of deep throws from Favre.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Once late-season savior Samkon Gado suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 19 at Baltimore, little was expected of the running game the last two games. Sure enough, the remaining healthy tandem of Tony Fisher and rookie Noah Herron had little production to speak of. After gaining only 65 yards in the Christmas Day loss to Chicago, the Packers mustered but 68 on Sunday, averaging a sickly 2.1 yards per carry. Nevertheless, Herron proved to be a workhorse in running the football a career-high 23 times for 61 yards. He exhibited good burst in getting out to the perimeter on an 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, aided by tackles Mark Tauscher and Kevin Barry sealing off Seattle's pursuers.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- Thanks in part to Matt Hasselbeck playing only the first half in an otherwise meaningless game for Seattle, the Packers solidified their ranking as the NFL's best team defending the pass this season. They limited the combination of Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace to just 174 yards through the air, which was reduced to a more meager 147 net yards because of losses from four sacks. After giving Wallace some early confidence in a long touchdown drive to open the second half, the Packers clamped down and harassed the untested backup. CB Al Harris made a nice break on a badly thrown ball to Peter Warrick on an out route and grabbed only his third interception of the season to set up the offense deep in Seattle territory for a go-ahead touchdown. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (two) and Cullen Jenkins (one) busted through the Seahawks' patchwork offensive line for three sacks later in the second half. The only blemish during that time was CB Ahmad Carroll whiffing on a would-be tackle of Warrick on a short pass play that turned into a 33-yard gain.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- As was the case with Hasselbeck, the defense was off the hook once Shaun Alexander was relegated to the visiting sideline for the final two quarters. In the first half, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren served up a heavy dose of Alexander (20 carries) to ensure that he would get the single-season league record for touchdowns and this season's distinction as the NFL rushing champion. Alexander had to work for both, averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry. His longest run was 12 yards, which he attained twice, the latter of which resulted in a crucial fumble on a hit by S Marviel Underwood inside the Packers' 10-yard line late in the first half. The Seahawks finished with 98 yards on the ground, the first time in nine games Green Bay didn't yield triple digits.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- At least kicker Ryan Longwell perhaps concluded his record-setting career in Green Bay on a positive note after enduring a dismal season. Longwell connected on all three of his field-goal attempts, none longer than 32 yards, and tallied 11 points. It's only the third time he reached double figures in the scoring category this season, in which he totaled a personal-low 90 points, breaking a noted streak of eight straight years with at least 100 points. Punter Ryan Flinn had a comedown after a promising debut as the replacement for an injured B.J. Sander the previous week. Flinn averaged only 32.7 yards on three kicks, including a 21-yard shank in the third quarter. Antonio Chatman went backward on punt returns, averaging minus-1.7 yards, while Carroll lost his job on kickoff returns after turning the ball over on a fumble in the second quarter.

COACHING: A -- Little did Mike Sherman know it would be his last hurrah after six seasons at the helm. Before Ted Thompson pulled the plug Monday, Sherman was able to walk off the Lambeau Field turf with his head held high for a change. The players didn't have their bags packed and their minds set on making a quick getaway after the season-ending game, a testament to Sherman and his staff that they had the team prepared sufficiently to make the best of those final three hours and come out with a rare victory. Sherman did it up right in giving Favre, who's contemplating retirement, a proper sendoff by replacing him with rookie Aaron Rodgers in the final minute and allowing Favre to come off to a standing ovation.

VIKINGS REPORT CARD VS. BEARS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus
-- Brad Johnson threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns and once again avoided tossing an interception. The offensive line also played well, holding an opponent without a sack for only the second time this season. Nate Burleson, who was expected to be the Vikings' No. 1 receiver this season but battled injuries and had problems getting on the field because of the team's five-receiver mix, had a season-high six catches for 66 yards. First-round pick Troy Williamson also saw his most snaps of the season and had two catches for 12 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Michael Bennett, who will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, gained 61 of his 82 yards on a fourth-quarter touchdown run. That nearly doubled what had been the Vikings' longest rush of the season -- a 31-yarder by Bennett. While either Bennett or Mewelde Moore usually got the majority of carries in a game, the two actually split the rushing load Sunday. Both had six attempts. Moore ran for 57 yards as the Vikings gained 149 on the ground.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Bears starter Rex Grossman didn't play a snap, leaving Kyle Orton and Jeff Blake to run the Bears offense. This didn't exactly prove a major challenge to the defense, as Chicago accounted for 121 yards through the air. The Vikings did not get an interception for the second time in three games after having at least one for six consecutive weeks.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Chicago's 154 rushing yards were the most surrendered by the Vikings since the 285 Atlanta gained on the ground in Week 4. It could have been worse. Thomas Jones had gone for 62 yards on 12 carries (5.2 average), including a long of 35 yards, before being taking a spot on the sideline.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Paul Edinger hit both of his field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder in the second quarter. The Vikings tried Williamson as a kick returner, something he had done early in the season. Williamson averaged 23.5 yards on two returns.

COACHING: B -- Playing what turned out to be their final game for Mike Tice, the coach urged his players to "have fun." That assignment was much easier because the Bears rested many regulars. Chicago already had clinched the NFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the conference, giving the Bears no reason to risk injury and turning the game into one that had a preseason feel. That made in-game coaching moves almost a non-factor.


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