NFC North breakdown: Week 9

The Vikings made up ground on the Packers and Bears, but the Lions continued to win with another dramatic comeback for sole possession of first in the division.

Detroit Lions (6-2)

After last week’s come-from-behind win in London against the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions are now in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. They also hold one of the best records in the NFL – right there with the Dallas Cowboys (6-2), Arizona Cardinals (6-1), New England Patriots (6-2) and the Denver Broncos (6-1).

During last week’s game, from early on it looked as though the Atlanta Falcons would win. They were scoring frequently against the Lions’ stout defense, and the Lions were not able to score in the first half. At halftime the Falcons were winning by a score of 21-0 and looked as though they were well on their way to victory. Lucky for the Lions, though, there are two halves to every game.

Detroit got the ball after halftime and marched down the field to get its first score of the game. The offense converted on three third-downs during the drive and was finally stopped at Atlanta’s 4-yard line. That just left an easy 22-yard chip shot for Matt Prater.

It was now time for Detroit’s defense to take the field and see if the second half was any different than the first. It was. They were able to hold the Falcons to a four-and-out on the drive and never allowed the Falcons to score for the rest of the game.

The Lions would score one more time in the third quarter on a 59-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. They would start up the fourth quarter with the ball – after a Matt Ryan interception – and trailing 21-10.

The Lions scored on all three of their possessions during the fourth quarter, and due to a failed two-point conversion attempt the game came down to a 48-yard field goal by Prater. It must have been a hard moment for Detroit fans to watch as their field goal kickers have been letting them down all season, but Prater put it through as time ran out and the Lions won 22-21.

The Lions have a bye this coming week, and will focus on getting healthier – primarily star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who missed his third straight game after injuring his ankle halfway through their game against Buffalo..

Green Bay Packers (5-3)

The Packers had a scare last week in the Superdome of New Orleans, and not just because of the 44-23 beatdown the Saints put on them, but because of the injury that happened to franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers suffered a hamstring injury during the fourth quarter of the game when he scrambled up the middle of the field for 14 yards and a touchdown, he is not expected to miss any time, however, as the Packers have Week 9 off with a bye.

At the time Rodgers was injured, the game already seemed to be out of reach for the Packers as that touchdown put them at 37-23 with a little over five minutes left on the game clock.

The game was not always like that, though, and the Packers actually seemed to be the better team early in the game. The problem was that the Saints defense forced the Packers to have to settle for field goals, and when you are facing an explosive offense like the Saints, field goals usually will not be enough to win the game.

At halftime, the game was tied at 16 points apiece, and after the Packers stopped the Saints on a fourth-down attempt – during the first drive of the second half – all the momentum seemed to be on the Packers side. That quickly changed, however, as Rodgers threw a pick while in the red zone, and that was all the Saints needed.

Drew Brees did not waste any time scoring on the Saints’ next drive as he hit rookie Brandin Cooks for a 50-yard touchdown pass.

The Saints then scored on each of their remaining drives of the game, until their final drive when they fumbled the ball – trying to run out the clock – with 1:19 left to play in regulation. The Saints defense also stopped the Packers from scoring four out of their next five drives. The one scoring drive the Packers had was Rodgers’ touchdown run.

After their bye week, the Packers will take on the struggling Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are currently undefeated.

Chicago Bears (3-5)

The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Bears. After starting the season 2-1, they have lost four of their last five games, and that was capped with a 51-23 loss to the New England Patriots.

A lot of the criticism has been aimed at the Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, but when you look at the stats, Cutler is having a pretty good season. He is top 10 in the league in passing yards, completion percentage and touchdowns. The biggest problem with Cutler is what has been the problem with him for years – turnovers.

Even though Cutler is in the top 10 of so many passing categories, he has also thrown eight interceptions this year. That makes him tied for sixth in the league for interceptions.

There is an aspect of the Bears team that seems to be as much to blame as Cutler, however, and that would be their defense. Long since past are the days of the Monsters of the Midway, as Chicago’s defense has given up an average of 27.8 points a game, which puts them at 29th in the league.

This lacking defense was apparent during their game against the Patriots, as New England was seemingly able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted on offense. Tom Brady’s stat line – 30-for-35, 354 yards, five touchdowns – should be enough to prove that to anyone, especially given the fact that he was taken out during the fourth quarter because the game was so far out of hand.

The Bears will now use their Week 9 bye to try to fix the things they have been struggling with, and after the bye things won’t get any easier for them as they head to Green Bay, where the Packers are currently undefeated on the season.

Minnesota Vikings (3-5)

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their first win since Week 4, and it came on the road in Tampa Bay, where the Vikings had not won since 1997. That win, and a Bears loss, makes them now tied for last in the NFC North, but due to a better conference record the Bears are still ahead of them.

While playing Tampa Bay, Vikings fans saw improvement in areas that were lacking during their losing streak. For one, their offensive line only gave up one sack – compared to the 19 sacks they had given up in the three previous games. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, however, was still under duress for much of the game, though, as he was hurried 21 times.

The first half of the game in Tampa Bay was a snooze fest with only three total points being scored – a field goal for the Vikings as time expired in the first half.

The second half was somewhat of a different story, however, as both offenses saw more success – 23 total points scored. Three of those points came at the end of regulation from Vikings kicker Blair Walsh to send the game into overtime, after Bridgewater led the team down the field with less than two minutes to play.

In overtime, the Buccaneers won the coin toss and started with the ball. Their drive did not last very long, though, as Vikings rookie Anthony Barr had a strip, fumble recovery and a touchdown to win the game.

The Vikings are the only team in the NFC North to play a game in Week 9, and they will be facing the Washington Redskins (3-5) at TCF Bank Stadium. Both teams will be riding a much-needed win from the week before after Washington beat the then Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

This game could be tricky for the Vikings if they want to get a win as the Redskins defense is currently No. 11 in the league, only allowing 330.4 yards per game. Something that could play to the Vikings offense, however, is that Washington is allowing 111.1 rushing yards per game, where the Vikings are averaging 121.8 rushing yards a game.

Both teams will need this win in order to keep their seasons alive.

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