Around the NFC North

The Vikings were the only team in the NFC North not to lose on Sunday. They didn't play, but the Bears, Packers and Lions are all struggling for answers after some ugly performances for the active NFC North teams on Sunday.


While the Cardinals were rolling to a 34-7 lead Sunday at sunny and unseasonably warm Soldier Field, it was eerily similar to the Bears' 45-10 loss to the Bengals in Week 7.

The Bears had a too-little, too-late rally to wind up 41-21 losers to Arizona, and they dropped to 4-4, three games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.

After the first blowout loss, the defenseless Bears could claim it was an aberration, but when it happens twice in three games, it's dangerously close to becoming a trend. The Bears' only victory in the past four games was over the 1-7 Cleveland Browns.

"For this to work, we have to believe it's going to work, and we have to have a sense of urgency, (but) we don't have that right now," said defensive end Alex Brown, who had the Bears' only sack and also forced a fumble. "I don't know what the (heck) is wrong, but we have to change it.

"It's the eighth game of the season, and I know a lot people like to think we're better than 4-4, but (heck), our record is 4-4, so that's where we are. If we want to have any aspirations of going further or making it to the playoffs and stuff like that, then we've got to play a (heck) of a lot better."

Two weeks ago, the Bengals scored on their first seven possessions as wide receiver Chad Ochocinco caught everything thrown his way, piling up 10 receptions, 118 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinals scored on their first six possessions Sunday, and their Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald appeared to be wide open whenever they needed a completion. Fitzgerald wound up with nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Arizona reached the end zone on its first four possessions and then settled for field goals on its next two to grab a 34-7 lead before the halfway mark of the third quarter.

That inability to defend the pass doesn't bode well for a team treading water and facing the Eagles, Vikings and Packers in three of four games after a trip Thursday to San Francisco.

In their last two losses, the Bears have allowed the Bengals' Carson Palmer and the Cardinals' Kurt Warner to throw five touchdown passes each. Palmer put up a passer rating of 146.7; Warner's was 135.9.

Even worse for the Bears, their best cornerback, Charles Tillman, left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, as did rookie strong safety Al Afalava.

TRENDING: TE Greg Olsen hasn't put up eye-catching numbers in most categories this season, with 27 receptions for 286 yards, but he's already caught six touchdown passes, all in the past six games, including three in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals.

BY THE NUMBERS: In their last two losses, the Bears' defense has been destroyed through the air and on the ground. Sunday they were gouged for 438 total yards, including 320 by halftime. Not only did Kurt Warner throw for five touchdowns and post a passer rating of 135.9, but the NFL's least productive running attack piled up 182 yards on the ground. Two weeks ago, the Bengals gashed the Bears for 448 total yards, including 215 on the ground.


If the Lions take a lead Sunday at Minnesota, here's guessing the Vikings won't be too worried. The Lions took a 10-0 lead against them Sept. 20 and still lost, 27-13. They took a 17-0 lead at Seattle on Sunday and still lost, 32-20.

With the Lions, no lead is safe, and everybody knows it. They blew a 17-0 first-quarter lead and lost to Tampa Bay last year as they suffered the NFL's first 0-16 season.

"They weren't very good last year, and I think that played a role in guys having the confidence that we had," Seattle wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "It could be that we're playing Detroit, and I think everybody had that confidence. Can we have that same confidence when we get down to a good team, that we're still going to come back and win?"

The Lions hardly could have asked for a better start Sunday. They forced turnovers on the Seahawks' first two offensive plays, then stuffed the Seahawks on fourth-and-1. With two touchdowns and a field goal, they silenced Qwest Field, one of the loudest stadiums and most difficult places to play in the NFL.

But then rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford started throwing interceptions, and the defense let Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck get hot. Stafford threw five picks, the first two deep in Seattle territory, the last returned 61 yards for a touchdown with 22 seconds left.

"It's frustrating," said Stafford, who went 22-for-42 for 203 yards and two touchdowns. "Didn't play well. Just made some poor throws, really. I was aggressive sometimes, but if I make a good throw in those situations, maybe we're coming out with a touchdown instead of picks. But obviously I can't turn the ball over like that."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the interceptions weren't all on Stafford.

"It's not just one person," Schwartz said. "This is all around. The turnovers are on our whole offense. The turnovers, Matt made some decisions that I'm sure he'd like to have back, but it's not all him. There's other breakdowns along the way, whether it's catching a ball, whether it's protecting, all those different things."

Hasselbeck became the latest quarterback to look good against the Lions, finishing 39-for-51 for 329 yards and a touchdown, completing 15 consecutive passes at one point. The Seahawks were 7-for-15 on third down.

Brett Favre must be licking his chops for yet another shot at the Lions.

"We tried to blitz," Schwartz said. "We had a hard time getting that done, and we tried coverage. We can't allow 50 percent conversions on third down."

LINEUP WATCH: Rookie Derrick Williams didn't have a pass thrown to him Sunday, but he played the third wide receiver role instead of veteran Dennis Northcutt, who dropped three passes in the previous game against St. Louis.

"We were working a little different package, but Derrick was in our third wide receiver package today," Schwartz said. "Derrick had done some good things. We wanted to get him on the field and make some plays."

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 - Consecutive games the Lions have lost at the Metrodome. The Lions have lost 14 of their last 15 games against the Vikings overall.


The most difficult part of the Packers' schedule looms in the second half of the season. That might spell a lot more trouble for a bumbling team that can't beat anyone in the current NFL landscape.

A week removed from losing to their former quarterback Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings a second time this fall, Green Bay suffered a bigger humiliation Sunday. It collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost 38-28 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the last team to win a game in 2009.

"This one definitely hurt," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

McCarthy insinuated that he has no better than an "average" club on his hands, in line with the 4-4 record it has at the halfway point.

The Packers, for all intents and purposes, kissed their NFC North title aspirations goodbye when Favre and the Vikings completed the season sweep Nov. 1 at Lambeau Field.

The division lead for Minnesota (7-1) over the Packers, who are tied with the Chicago Bears for second, widened further after what transpired in Tampa, Fla. Green Bay essentially trails the Vikings, who possess the head-to-head tiebreaker, by four games with eight to play.

By coughing up a 28-17 lead in the final 11 1/2 minutes to the previously 0-7 Bucs, the Packers are behind the 8-ball for postseason possibilities in the NFC.

Their season could hinge on what happens the next two weeks in back-to-back home games against the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers, both of whom, like the Packers, may be jockeying for the conference's two wild-card spots by season's end.

Then again, the Packers don't appear to be playoff-worthy. They continue to be gluttons for allowing big plays on defense and special teams and, worse yet, are no closer to resolving their pass-protection issues.

Aaron Rodgers, who threw a season-high three interceptions Sunday, was sacked six times for the second straight game, hiking his league-worst total to 37.

"We have some recurring problems that we have not cleaned up yet," McCarthy lamented.

LINEUP WATCH: The Packers turned back the clock by going with left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher in the same game Sunday for the first time since Tauscher sustained a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee Dec. 7 last year.

However, that familiar combination going back to the players' rookie seasons in 2000 didn't last long. Tauscher, who was making his 2009 debut after being re-signed last month, suffered an injury to the same knee early in the second half when someone rolled up on the back of the leg. Tauscher didn't return. Allen Barbre, whose inconsistent play at right tackle earlier in the season prompted the return of Tauscher, took over for the rest of the game.

Clifton managed to play all but one series Sunday. He had been out for four of the previous five games because of a recurring ankle sprain.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8,208 - Career rushing yards by Ahman Green, the Packers' all-time record by the slimmest of margins. Green ran for 45 yards Sunday, which enabled him to eclipse Jim Taylor's 43-year-old standard of 8,207 yards. Green returned to Green Bay as a free agent three weeks ago after he had bolted for the Houston Texans in free agency following the 2006 season, only 45 yards behind Taylor for the club record.


  • LB Aaron Kampman suffered a head injury in the second half of the 38-28 loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was held out the rest of the game for precautionary reasons. Kampman might have suffered a concussion, though nothing was conclusive after the game.

  • C Jason Spitz was placed on injured reserve Saturday. Spitz was done in by a chronic injury to his lower back, which had kept him from contributing on offense the previous three games. Scott Wells, the incumbent starter whom Spitz beat out in the preseason, made his sixth straight start at center Sunday and will retain the job going forward.

  • TE Jermichael Finley missed his second straight game because of a knee sprain. Finley was making progress in his rehab work last week, and he could be back practicing this week and pushing to play Sunday.

  • WR Jordy Nelson also is a possibility to be cleared for a return to the field this week and suit up for the next game. A knee sprain has kept him out the last three games.

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