NFC North Tour: No Champs at 3-0

The undefeated Vikings aren't satisfied with how they are playing; the Bears' run game is going nowhere; the Lions have to keep their celebration short after finally winning.

Vikings: Undefeated, room to improve

While the Vikings are 3-0 for the first time since Brad Childress took over in 2006, that doesn't mean the coach doesn't see plenty of room for improvement.

A day after Brett Favre's last-second heave into the end zone found Greg Lewis and gave the Vikings a 27-24 victory over San Francisco, Childress gave a rather honest assessment of where he feels things stand with his team.

"All of us are aware at 3-0 they don't crown any champions at the end of September," Childress said. "Everything is a work in progress and our guys have great resolve. Did we plan to be here (at 3-0)? Yeah, we did. But there are no guarantees. There's a ton of things that we need to clean up offensively, defensively and special-teams wise. Our guys are amenable to that. It's a long season but they want to get it right. As long as they have that mentality, we're going to remain a good football team."

The Vikings' next test will be a tough one as they play host to the Green Bay Packers next Monday night.

The Vikings' NFC North rivals are 2-1 after beating St. Louis on Sunday. While the Vikings-Packers rivalry is one of the league's best, this game will be that much bigger with Vikings quarterback Brett Favre facing his former team for the first time.

Childress will need to keep his team focused and also clean up some of the mistakes that were made against the 49ers. The Vikings had a blocked field goal returned 59 yards for a touchdown to end the first half and took nine penalties for 52 yards among other things.

"There's just numbers of things that you can clean up that you thought you had clean," Childress said. "You know it's about going back and repping them and doing them over and doing them the way we expect (them) to be seen. Whether it's a route run or a defense played or how we're approaching a kick coverage. But the positives outweigh the negatives, by far. Again, it's a good thing to be 3-0, but it's also important that we have perspective and that's my job as a coach to keep perspective."

Extra point

The Vikings' big-name weapons have struggled a little through three games.

— Running back Adrian Peterson was held below 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive game. Peterson gained 85 yards on 19 carries and did not score a touchdown in a game for the first time this season. Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry but that was a bit deceiving because he gained 35 yards on a first-quarter carry. Take out that gain, and he had 50 yards on 18 carries. That's an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

— Fellow running back Chester Taylor has only 17 rushing attempts this season but remains an important part of the offense. That is because Taylor continues to play in third-down situations and in the 2-minute drill and remains a primary receiving option out of the backfield. In fact, Taylor's 15 receptions lead the Vikings through three games. His catches have gone for 103 yards with a long of 30.

— Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a pass on Sunday against San Francisco and has only six catches for 49 yards through the first three games. That is a surprise considering how much Brett Favre likes to throw to his tight end.

— Receiver Bernard Berrian is third on the Vikings with 10 receptions but he also had a couple of drops on Sunday, including one that could have gone for substantial yardage. Berrian was sidelined for much of the preseason by a hamstring injury and did not catch a pass in the opener. Since then he has been thrown to 15 times. A team-leading six passes were directed his way in Week 2 against Detroit and he caught all of them. On Sunday, he had nine passes thrown to him and caught four of them for 56 yards. He is averaging only 10.2 yards per catch after averaging an NFL-leading 20.1 yards per catch last season.

Bears: Running in muck


Bears RB Matt Forge
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Lack of production from the run game continues to be a much-discussed topic, but coach Lovie Smith managed to find a glimmer of hope after the ground attack picked up just 85 yards on 28 carries for a 3.0-yard average.

"We talk a lot about it, (and) it's improving," Smith said. "We got some production from it. We still need to take another step, but we're still committed to it by the number of rushes that we have. I really like the way we kept the balance with run and the pass."

While the Bears ran 28 times and threw 27 passes, they netted 233 yards through the air, almost three times as much yardage as they got on the ground.

Matt Forte rushed for 66 yards on 21 carries, a 3.1-yard average and a long run of 11 yards. And the Seahawks played without their two best linebackers, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill. But even those modest totals represented season bests for Forte in every category but attempts.

Critics have focused on a rebuilt offensive line that has three new starters and was supposed to be an upgrade over last year's mediocre unit. But the results haven't been very impressive. Right tackle Chris Williams, a first-round pick who missed most of his rookie season last year after back surgery, was flagged twice for false starts at Qwest Field.

Free-agent left guard Frank Omiyale was called once for a false start. A common criticism is that he has not played as well as last year's 16-game starter Josh Beekman, who was relegated to the bench in the preseason, even though Omiyale did nothing to win the job.

But Smith insists that the group is improving.

"I think the line has jelled, and we did make progress," Smith said after the 25-19 victory over the Seahawks. "That's all I'm looking for is making progress each week. Our running game improved over the Pittsburgh game (in Week Two), and that's a step in the right direction. We'll take another step.

"I see signs of us getting back to where we need to be in the running game."

The Bears' coach must have better vision than most team observers.

Extra point

No group other than rented mules got more abuse than the Bears wide receivers in the off-season and throughout training camp and the preseason.

But that maligned group has put up some pretty impressive numbers through the first three weeks of the season. The improvement over last season has been monumental. The current wide receiver corps has 35 receptions for 514 yards, an average of 11.7 catches per game for 171.3 yards. Last season Bears wide receivers caught 7.9 passes per game for an average of 105.3 yards.

Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are tied for the team lead with 13 receptions. Hester leads the Bears with 187 receiving, while Bennett is second with 168. Rookie Johnny Knox is third on the Bears with 159 receiving yards on nine receptions, and he a Hester are tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns.

Anyone who still doesn't believe Hester is a bona fide No. 1 receiver hasn't been paying attention.

He's had at least four catches in each of the first three games, and on four of his five catches against the Seahawks, Hester made adjustments on balls that were not well thrown. Hester has always had soft hands, elite speed and rare make-you-miss ability. Add his work ethic, which has always been exemplary, and quarterback Jay Cutler, and you've got the recipe for a 1,000-yard receiver.

Lions: Don't get carried away

Act like you've been there before, even if you haven't. That was the theme after the Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak, tied for second-worst in NFL history, with a 19-14 victory over Washington.

Coach Jim Schwartz allowed some celebration. He sent the players back onto the field to thank the fans who remained after the game. But he didn't want anyone to get carried away, starting with himself. He didn't indulge in any adult beverages after the game.

"I didn't have one drop," Schwartz said. "I couldn't. I was doing NBC last night. I think there's been some tragic events when people have had a few before they've gone on. I think I've learned from some of the people who have gone before me on that."

Schwartz had to remain under control to remain consistent with his message.

"We've got to get to the point where we expect to win, when winning doesn't involve ticker-tape parades and popping champagne unless it's at the end of the season," Schwartz said.

"I know this was a big game. This was a significant win in this organization, for this franchise, for the players. It was my first win. But I think the important part of that was just putting it behind us."

The Lions play Sunday at Chicago.

"Now the players can worry about doing their jobs and playing, and we can worry about the Chicago Bears this week rather than worrying about the Bears and all the baggage from the last couple years.

"It's hard for me to have that kind of message to the team and then be running around like a fool after the game when we're 1-2."

Extra point

The Lions' rushing attack has ranked in the bottom three of the NFL each of the past three years, but running back Kevin Smith sees progress and potential.

"I really don't like to say stuff to you all, because you all blow it out of proportion, but I really do feel like we could have a top-five rushing offense in the league," Smith told reporters. "And I'm speaking generally.

"That's how much pride I have in myself. I feel like I can be a top-five back, anywhere in the top five. Our offensive line has the same type of confidence. Now it's about us going out every week and being consistent and getting better."

In the opener at New Orleans, Smith averaged a career-low 1.3 yards per carry, with 20 yards on 15 carries. He called it probably the worst performance of his young career.

But the next game against Minnesota, he rushed for 83 yards on 24 carries. And against Washington, he rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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