NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears offense is coming alive at the end of the season, the Lions hope to end the season on an extended winning streak against the Vikings on Sunday, and the Packers kept their playoff hopes alive by crushing the Giants. There is a lot of good going on in the NFC North if you get past the potholes of the Vikings' season.


The Bears were able to defeat their oldest rival in Week Three when they edged the Packers 20-17 at Soldier Field back when the Mike Martz offense was in its infancy.

When they face off in the rematch at Lambeau Field, the Bears will have a much more advanced attack, one that has scored a combined 78 points in back-to-back games.

That offense has been improving week by week, but it still came in to Week 16 ranked 30th in total yards, 31st in interceptions allowed, 32nd in sacks allowed, 26th in passing yards and 25th in rushing yards.

But, starting in the second quarter, it scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, not counting a one-play kneel-down at the end of the half. The offensive explosion came against the Jets, the NFL's No. 5 defense, and it was ignited by the Bears' special teams.

It all added up to 38-34 victory in an unexpected offensive shootout that moved the 11-4 Bears a step closer to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

The Bears lock that spot up if they defeat the Packers, regardless of what the Eagles do Tuesday night against the Vikings and in Week 17.

The Bears' offense hasn't gotten a lot of respect for most of the year, and for a while didn't deserve it.

"You could say that early on," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think we've been taking steps. During the course of the season, you're going to go through spells where the defense will dominate, and the offense, maybe not. Hopefully we'll keep this going."

The Bears have scored more than 30 points in three of their last five games. After a fitful start, the offense has been major contributor to the team's recent hot streak that includes seven wins in eight games since the bye.

And they've done it with an amazingly balanced offense, especially considering that "Mad" Mike Martz is calling the plays. Against the Jets, the Bears had 27 run plays and 27 pass plays. As they commit more to the run game, it seems the Bears' air attack becomes more efficient. Quarterback Jay Cutler has posted passer ratings of over 100.0 in four of the last five games.

That's why Smith said he won't lose any sleep worrying about what the Eagles do.

"We control whether we get the bye or not," the Bears' coach said. "We have a lot of reasons to be pumped up for this game. It's our rival and we're playing for that first-round bye. So for us what happens with Philly really doesn't matter a lot. We want to be in this position right here."

BY THE NUMBERS: Matt Forte continues to get stronger as the season goes along. In the last six games, he has rushed for 508 yards on just 97 carries, a 5.2-yard average. Forte rushed for 113 yards against the Jets, averaging 5.9 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard TD run. Forte also caught four passes for 56 yards.


  • QB Jay Cutler's 104.2 passer rating was his fourth of better than 100.0 in the past five games. Cutler threw three TD passes and one interception, while completing 13 of 25 passes for 215 yards.

  • WR Johnny Knox had TD catches of 40 and 26 yards, for his first two-TD game in the NFL. He had four catches for 92 yards.

  • WR Devin Hester touched the ball five times and produced 126 combined yards. He caught three passes for 48 yards, had one punt return for 38 yards and one kickoff return for 40 yards.

  • S Chris Harris' team-best fifth interception killed the Jets' final drive and preserved the Bears' 38-34 lead with 51 seconds left.

  • RB Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard TD, his team-best ninth score.


    The Lions have a chance Sunday at home against a floundering Minnesota team to finish the season with four straight wins. That seemed very unlikely at midseason and most points between.

    Yet, Nate Burleson still isn't ready to say that the Lions have turned the corner - not even after they scored 17 points in a span of 2:38 late in the fourth quarter to steal a 34-27 win from the Miami Dolphins Sunday.

    "Nah, we have to keep winning," Burleson said. "It's going to be a constant battle to improve and get to where we want to be. I am not going to say we turned the corner just yet, but it is in sight. I mean, we can see the street sign and it's a real good feeling."

    The win was the Lions third straight, their second straight on the road and their first ever in Miami. It was their first road winning streak since 2004 and their first three-game streak overall since 2007.

    They did it with quarterback Shaun Hill playing with a broken index finger on his throwing hand. They did without starting safety Louis Delmas (concussion). And they did it despite losing cornerback Chris Houston (shoulder) in the second quarter and receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) in the fourth.

    "Just because we aren't going to play for the playoffs, we were playing for ourselves, for our own pride," said rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. "We are a great team that just ended up on a bad end of a situation this year and we wanted to prove we could compete with anybody as long as we execute."

    All the hard knocks and bad breaks the Lions got early in the season has, instead of killing their spirit, has emboldened it. Where they were shooting themselves in the foot in critical situations earlier in the year, now they are making plays and forcing breaks.

    Against the Dolphins, they picked off two passes from quarterback Chad Henne in the final four minutes, including a game-winning pick-six by middle linebacker DeAndre Levy.

    "It's just maturity," said Burleson, explaining why the Lions are now finding ways to win games instead of lose them. "It's like a little kid who touches the stove once and burns his hand. He learns not to touch the stove anymore. Early in the season we kept touching the stove and burning ourselves late in games.

    "We're starting to learn now. We can't implode. We can't be surprised to be winning games. We can't panic and freak out and kill ourselves with penalties and mistakes. We're not doing that now. We're almost to the other side now. We're not that team that makes dumb mistakes anymore."

    UNDER THE RADAR: How about this for an all-hands-on-deck effort? The Lions top three tacklers were Bobby Carpenter (9), Vasher (8) and Lawrence Jackson (7). The Lions finished the game with a rookie safety (Amari Spievey), two corners who weren't on the team's original roster (Vasher and Tye Hill) and veteran C.C. Brown. Prince Miller and Eric King, two other players not on the opening day roster, played in the nickel and dime packages.


  • RB Jahvid Best hasn't been able to do much because of lingering turf toe issues, but he took a pass in the flat Sunday and found himself all alone. He darted 53 yards virtually untouched for a pivotal touchdown.

  • QB Shaun Hill, despite throwing a lot of wobbly passes into the wind, was 14 for 26, 222 yards and two touchdowns (the other a 20-yarder to Brandon Pettigrew).

  • CB Nathan Vasher not only had an interception, but he made the tackle of the day. The Dolphins were out of timeouts and had the ball at the Lions 28 with 19 seconds left. Instead of throwing into the end zone, Henne threw short to RB Ronnie Brown. Vasher upended him in bounds and the clock ran out.

  • TE Brandon Pettigrew had four catches for 74 yards, giving him 703 yards, the most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season in Lions history.

  • DT Ndamukong Suh registered his ninth sack of the season. That's the third most ever by a Lions defensive tackle and it is 1.5 sacks shy of the NFL record for rookies.


    The Packers have lost only one regular-season finale the past 16 years.

    That lone defeat cost them dearly. Instead of securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, Green Bay stumbled 42-17 on the road against the New York Jets in 2002 and promptly lost in lopsided fashion a week later at home to the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card matchup.

    For the Packers of this season, losing their final regular-season game against the rival Chicago Bears on Sunday isn't an option.

    "Everybody knows what the score is," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're at nine wins, and we must get to 10 wins to get in the tournament."

    The Packers (9-6) strengthened their push to crash the postseason by pummeling the New York Giants 45-17 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

    "We knew the magnitude of this game," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "We knew it was either win and keep going or we would be watching the playoffs from home. No one was ready to give that up just yet."

    In a mismatch of teams' contending for a berth in the playoffs, Green Bay exploded for 515 yards - its most in seven years - and forced six turnovers.

    "I don't know if you can play much better than that on offense. Forty-five points says a lot," McCarthy said. "We score 45 points, especially with our defense, we expect to win significantly."

    Aaron Rodgers showed no ill effects from missing a game for the first time in his three years as a starter because of his second concussion this season.

    Rodgers was 25-of-37 for 404 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. His most prolific regular-season performance included an 80-yard scoring throw to Jordy Nelson.

    "It was like a week off late in the season for my body," Rodgers said of missing the 31-27 loss at New England on Dec. 19. "I felt all (last) week a lot of energy. My arm felt like it was live."

    Another effort close to what Rodgers pulled off Sunday, and a third straight 4,000-yard season (he needs 307) as well as the coveted playoff spot could be in the cards when the Packers host the Bears.

    Green Bay is assured of a wild-card spot with a victory. Its season will be over, however, if the NFC North champion Bears complete the sweep of the season series for the first time since 2007.

    "This has been an up-and-down year," Rodgers said. "A lot of things have happened both positively and negatively that we might not have expected, but we go into the last game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win, and that's all we can ask for right now."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 15 — Touchdowns scored by the Packers off 30 takeaways this season. The 50 percent touchdown-conversion rate is the best in the league. Green Bay turned three of its season-high six takeaways Sunday into touchdowns.


  • WR Greg Jennings had game highs of seven catches and 142 receiving yards in the 45-17 rout of the New York Giants on Sunday. Jennings attained the 5,000-yard benchmark for his career, becoming the fourth fastest to do so in team history in just 74 regular-season games. Jennings has 5,125 receiving yards.

  • CB Tramon Williams boosted his case to be selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time with an early interception Sunday, one of four the Packers had against Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Williams leads Green Bay with a career-high six interceptions.

  • DE Cullen Jenkins missed a third straight game because of a calf strain. The team has been pointing toward getting Jenkins back in time for Sunday's huge regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears. Jenkins ranks second on the team with seven sacks.

  • OLB Frank Zombo was out for the second straight week because of a knee sprain. The rookie, who had started six consecutive games on the right side before being injured, is hopeful of being ready for Sunday.

  • LB Robert Francois made his starting debut Sunday. Francois, who had been working as a backup on the inside for most of the season, made the start on the outside in Zombo's absence. Francois and Erik Walden, who started at the spot in the previous game, split the snaps there Sunday.

  • FB Korey Hall aggravated a knee sprain in Sunday's game and didn't return. Hall has been banged up for much of the season and didn't have the starting assignment for the third straight game.

  • S Atari Bigby suffered a groin strain and also didn't finish the game. Bigby was being used in a rotation with Charlie Peprah at the spot alongside Nick Collins before he was injured.

  • Viking Update Top Stories