Somebody will win the NFC North because the NFL rules say so, but it certainly didn't appear that any of the three teams in contention for that particular honor on Sunday were very interested in taking it. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions began their days with matching 6-4 records, with the Lions holding the advantage due to a season sweep over Chicago. The Packers had a 5-5 record, exacerbated by a three-game losing streak that could be blamed equally on Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone and a defense that can't seem to stop anyone these days. And the Minnesota Vikings, who came into this weekend with a 2-8 record and no shot at anything beyond an early draft pick, may have been the most impressive team in the division Sunday -- a division that saw no wins among its entrants despite the fact that there was an interdivision game.
That game was a 26-26 tie between the Vikings and Packers. Green Bay switched from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien to backup-backup quarterback Matt Flynn in the third quarter after Tolzien proved ineffective, and though the Packers scored on Flynn's first five drives, they couldn't get anything done when it counted the most. Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh and Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby traded field goals in the extra quarter, and it's believed that this was the first instance of a two-field goal overtime in NFL history.
Green Bay wasted performances from Flynn (21-of-36, 218 yards, one TD) and rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for 110 yards on 25 carries, because their defense had absolutely no answer for Minnesota's rushing attack -- especially in overtime. And it wasn't just Adrian Peterson (who racked up 146 yards on 32 carries); it was also Toby Gerhart, with 91 yards on just eight attempts. Even with Minnesota running it over and over and quarterback Christian Ponder's ineffectiveness so pronounced, the Packers could not quiet what Peterson and Gerhart were doing.
|NFL ties since 1974|
|(Note: The NFL adopted "sudden-death" overtime in the regular season 1974.)|
Still, that tie wasn't quite like kissing one's sister for Green Bay, because the Bears and Lions each fell to 6-5 with losses that had the teams scratching their heads and searching their souls.
Chicago went to St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome and was physically dominated by a Rams team that's been doing an impressive amount of that to its opponents of late. St. Louis has outscored its last two foes 80-29, and spanked the Bears to the tune of a 42-21 win. Why was this so? Start with the 258 rushing yards Chicago allowed, compared to the 80 yards it gained on the ground. That embarrassment started early, when receiver Tavon Austin sped past pretty much the entire Chicago defense with 1:30 elapsed in the first quarter for a 65-yard touchdown run. Zac Stacy added a one-yard running score less than a minute later, after Bears back Matt Forte coughed up a fumble that was recovered by St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis at the Chicago 7-yard line.
"It's not the only reason why we got beat today," Bears coach Marc Trestman said after the game, when asked how an already leaky front seven could be exposed to that degree. "We had too many penalties, we turned the ball over and they got a quick touchdown early on ... they got a fast start on offense, so there are a lot of reasons why you lose, and we didn't do a good job of stopping the run, obviously."
Obviously. And Chicago's problems don't seem like the kind that will somehow be solved with the return of quarterback Jay Cutler -- backup Josh McCown has performed serviceably when asked, and he completed 36-of-47 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns on this day. But he also threw a pick and added to Chicago's two lost fumbles. Overall there wasn't enough to counter the Rams' impressive front seven and dominant ground attack.
For the Lions, it was a bit of the same old, same old. Throughout his career, quarterback Matthew Stafford has alternated between amazing throws to his own players and bewildering tosses to the opposition. It was very much the same story in Detroit's 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not all of Stafford's four interceptions were his fault, but he also had Calvin Johnson on his side, and Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis was injured in the first half, which left Johnson in what would seem to be a matchup advantage. Johnson finished with seven catches on 14 targets for 115 yards, but he didn't make it into the end zone -- Stafford threw his three touchdown passes to Nate Burleson, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew instead.
The Bucs, who started the season 0-8 and have won three straight games, were able to outlast Detroit because they were simply more efficient. Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon completed 14-of-21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and his most important stat -- no interceptions. Glennon, a third-round rookie, has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just four picks on the season.
The Packers and Lions will have little time to think about their Sunday shenanigans -- they play each other in the early Thanksgiving Day game. The Bears travel to Minnesota to play next Sunday -- meaning that for at least this next game week, the NFC North will keep its oddities in-house.