October 20, 2017

Bears 27, Packers 20: At Last

For the past 20 years the Green Bay Packers have dominated the Chicago Bears primarily because Green Bay’s quarterbacks have been Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers whereas the Bears quarterbacks have been Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, (pause and catch your breath.  OK, start again.) Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, Rex Grossman, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Jason Campbell and Josh McCown.

But on Monday night the Bears beat the Packers, 27-20, in Green Bay because, for the first time since Johnny Carson retired, Chicago actually had a better quarterback and, just as surprisingly, a better plan.

Bears quarterback Josh McCown played terrifically, if not brilliantly, subbing for the injured Jay Cutler and was far superior to Packers signal caller Seneca Wallace.  Wallace, of course, was only playing because Aaron Rodgers was injured on the first series of the game after leading Green Bay down the field like a hot knife through knackwurst, effortlessly carving up the Bears’ defense before getting hurt on a sack by Bears defensive end Shea McLellin.

So in came Wallace, who was bad.  And the Bears topped the Packers for the first time since 2010 because, as an organization, they had put two capable quarterbacks on the roster while the Pack only had one.

Duh, right?  But amazing.  For frickin’ once the Bears had an organizational view, a game plan, field execution and a quarterback that, all told, were better than those of the Packers.

And it took all that to win by a touchdown.

The Bears got lucky.  Maybe that’s what we should have said first.  If Rodgers’ left (non-throwing) shoulder doesn’t go places it wasn’t intended to the Packers beat the Bears almost certainly, no matter how well McCown, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery played because Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in football and the Bears’ defense is about as reliable as a Nicolas Cage movie.  Sure, it can surprise you but wait for it to show up on Netflix.

But Rodgers went down on a clean play and the Bears, who have known nothing but injuries this season, were finally in line to catch a break so stick that in your Winnebago and back off for a second, OK?

The Packers have had a ton of injuries, too, maybe even more than the Bears, but the NFL is largely about weathering injuries and making sure you have a decent quarterback and the Bears might actually have two of them.

McCown finished 21-of-42 for 272 yards and two touchdown passes: a 21-yarder on an acrobatic catch by Brandon Marshall in the first quarter on a ballsy throw just as McCown was about to be sacked, and another on a six-yard strike to Jeffery in the fourth.  And, just as importantly, McCown was not intercepted in this game, aiming low and away, putting his passes where only his receivers or the grass could touch them.  He was accurate and refused to be intimidated by the circumstances (he’s 34, after all) and thus let the Bears’ coaching staff stick with a game plan that looked very much like it probably would have if Cutler – or Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees – had been playing.

The Bears threw the ball on their first six offensive plays and only turned to the run not because they had to, which is probably what everyone expected from the very beginning, but when they wanted to.  This, in Bearsland, is revolutionary offensive stuff.

The exemplification of this attitude and execution came in the fourth quarter.  The Bears got the ball at their own 11-yard line with 9:48 to play and held the ball for the next nine minutes, perambulating down Lambeau’s green way with urgency, purpose, focus, attitude, serenity and success, resulting in a Robbie Gould 27-yard field goal that put the Bears up 27-20 and left the Packers in a bad spot, with little time.

The key play on this final Bears drive came early on and, if the Bears do end up making the playoffs, could be a season-definer.  It was fourth-and-one from their own 32 and Chicago went for it.  Forte ran left, was hit behind the line of scrimmage, but then punished his way for a three-yard gain and a first down.  Somewhere George Halas was smiling.  Vince Lombardi probably was, too.

The Bears are now 5-3, same as the Packers, and own the tiebreaker over the Pack as they get ready for the NFC North’s other 5-3 team, the Detroit Lions, at Soldier Field.  The word is that Cutler will be back from his groin injury for the Lions game but, with the way McCown has played over the last six quarters, the Bears can let Cutler take a little bit more time.  This is not to say that Chicago has a quarterback controversy.  Don’t be silly.  If McCown has another great game then it might be time to get silly, but not now.  But the victory over the Packers, and McCown’s charming competence, give the Bears a little breathing room.  If keeping Jay out another week lets him get back to 100% then do it.  That’s what Josh McCown is for.

The Bears still have a lot of bricks to lay.  They gave up 199 yards rushing to the Packers and can’t really be criticized for their tackling because they didn’t really tackle at all.  Running on the Bears is easier than farting in a cornfield and strong safety Chris Conte is the smelliest kernel in Chicago.

Mr. Conte was serviceable, promising, and sometimes pretty darn good in his first two seasons but, at the ripe old age of 24, seems to have lost a step, his grip and probably his starting job.  Bears fans have clamored for years to move All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman to safety and Conte is, regrettably, only providing more ammunition for this argument.  Move Tillman to safety and put the capable Zack Bowman in at corner.  Or, if you’re of the mind (understandably so) that you don’t make a great player learn a new position, then simply put Conte on the bench and bring in Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters or Sean Cattouse.  Or go shopping.

The Bears’ special teams remain an adventure.  Adam Podlesh averaged only 35 yards a punt and had one punt blocked and Devin Hester had no long returns.  Special teams in Chicago used to be quite special.  Now they’re a broken pencil.

But who gives a fly’s eye?!  Really!  We beat the stinkin’ Packers!  Yes, Rodgers was hurt and yes, if both teams were at full strength – which never happens in the NFL – the Packers probably are better.  But stop giving me that look, damn you, and hand me a Schlitz, light my cigarette, play some Clash on the jukebox and let us love this damn thing!

Bears 27, Packers 20.  Rejoice.  Revel.  Relax.  Repeat.

49ers 45, Packers 31

The second game on the playoff schedule had the Green Bay Packers heading out to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.  The Packers were coming off a 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings and the 49ers had a first round bye.  The 49ers won the toss and elected to receive.  Return man LaMichael James fielded the kick at the five and returned it 23 yards to the 28.  A nine-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and two carries by running back Frank Gore moved them to the 47.  On second and six, quarterback Craig Kaepernick looked for tight end Vernon Davis and the pass was picked off by cornerback Sam Shields and returned for a 52-yard touchdown.  Kicker Mason Crosby made the point after and the Packers took an early 7-0 lead.

From their 20, the 49ers went to work again.  Short runs by Gore and Kaepernick set up a third and two at the 28.  A defensive holding call gave them five yards and a first down.  On third and ten from the 33, Kaepernick rolled to his left and lofted a pass to Gore.  The play went for 45 yards and Gore was finally dragged down at the Packer 22.  On third and eight from the 20, Kaepernick took things into his own hands and ran up the left side for a 20-yard touchdown.  Kicker David Akers made the point after and the game was tied at seven with nine minutes to go in the first quarter.

The teams traded punts and with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter, the Packers got the ball at their 20.  Three carries by running back DuJuan Harris got ten yards and a first down.  On third and five from the 38, quarterback Aaron Rodgers let one go down-field and the pass was caught at the San Francisco 18 by wide receiver James Jones.  Harris took the ball right up the middle on the next play and the Packers went up 13-7.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers now led 14-7.

With 11:43 remaining in the second quarter, the 49ers started their next drive from their 20.  Kaepernick hooked up with Crabtree on first down for a gain of 15.  They got to midfield and were forced to punt.  Punter Andy Lee got off a high punt and return man Jeremy Ross muffed the ball at the nine-yard line.  It was recovered by 49er safety C.J. Spillman.  That set the 49ers up nicely.  On third and goal from the 12, Kaepernick found Crabtree across the middle for the touchdown.  Akers made the point after and the game was tied at 14 with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter.

A holding call on the kickoff return moved the Packers back to their seven-yard line.  On third and seven from the 26, Rodgers looked for wide receiver Jordy Nelson and the pass was picked off by cornerback Tarell Brown at the San Francisco 13.  He returned it to the Packer 48 and the 49ers were in business again.  Some good running by Gore and James got them down to the 25.  On third and nine from the 24, Kaepernick scrambled down to the nine for a first down.  After his impressive run, he was flagged 15 yards for taunting.  They still had a first down, but the ball was moved back to the 24.  On second and six, Kaepernick put one up the left side to Crabtree for a 20-yard touchdown.  Akers made the point after and the 49ers now led 21-14 with 5:26 to go in the first half.

Starting at their 20 again, Rodgers scrambled for a nine-yard gain and Harris ran up the middle for three yards and a first down.  Then, Rodgers completed a pass to tight end Jermichael Finley for a gain of 19.  Harris ran off right tackle for a gain of three and safety Dashon Goldson came in late with a brutal helmet to helmet hit.  That cost him 15 yards and the Packers got a first down at the San Francisco 31.  Three plays later, Rodgers looked for Jones in the end zone and found him for a 20-yard touchdown.  The extra point was good and the game was tied at 21 with 2:33 to go in the half.

Two scrambles by Kaepernick netted 22 yards and had his team moving in the right direction.  On third and ten from the 42, he took off again for 18 more yards and a first down at the Packer 40.  They got as far as the 18 when they were faced with a fourth and one.  With time running short, Akers was called on for a 36-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the 49ers took a 24-21 lead into the locker room.

The second half started with each team unable to move the ball very well.  With just under 12 minutes to go in the third quarter, the Packers took over at their 11.  Two completions to wide receiver Greg Jennings gave them a first down at the 43.  Then, two completions to Nelson got them into San Francisco territory.  A carry by wide receiver Randall Cobb went for 19 yards and a first down at the 22.  The drive stalled at the 13 and Crosby snuck the ball just inside the right upright for a 31-yard field goal.  That knotted the game at 24 with 8:25 to go in the third quarter.

Starting at their 20, Kaepernick hooked up with Crabtree again for gains of 18 and six yards.  Then he totally caught the Packers off guard.  From the shotgun, he took the snap and bolted up the right side for a 56-yard touchdown.  Some good down-field blocking helped him out too.  Still, I knew Kaepernick was fast, but, I didn’t know he was THAT fast!  He left the Packer secondary in the dust.  Akers made the extra point and the 49ers now led 31-24 with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter.

That long run seemed to ignite the 49er defense.  They allowed the Packers only 21 yards on their next drive and forced a punt.  Punter Tim Masthay got off a good one that was fair caught by Ted Ginn at the seven-yard line.  Two carries by Gore and a 16-yard completion to Crabtree made it first down at the 31.  Another holding call on the Packers gave them another first down at the 39.  On second and eight from the 41, Davis caught a pass for a gain of 44 and they were knocking on the door again.  Gore ran straight up the middle and was brought down at the two.  He finished the drive on the next play with a two-yard touchdown run.  Akers made another point after and the 49ers went up 38-24 with just one quarter to go.

The Packers went from their 11 to their 49 and on third and five, Rodgers saw Jennings behind the secondary on the left side.  The ball hit his hands and fell incomplete.  That was a killer for them.  If he had been able to catch that pass, he may have scored and the Packers would have been right back in the game.  Instead, it led to another punt.

The 49ers took over at their seven and some more carries by Gore and Kaepernick had them moving again.  The Packer defense was getting worn down and frustrated.  It seemed like after every play, players had to be separated.  There were no personal fouls called, but it was obvious these teams do not like each other.  Some more tough running by Gore brought the 49ers down to the Packer 27.  A holding call moved them back ten yards.  A four-yard run by Kaepernick and a 14-yard pass to Crabtree made it fourth and one at the 18.  On fourth down, defensive tackle B.J. Raji jumped offside and that gave the 49ers a first down at the 13.  Gore ran up the middle for 11 and on second and goal from the two, running back Anthony Dixon finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.  Akers made his final extra point attempt of the night and the 49ers now had a commanding 45-24 lead with 3:34 to go in the game.  Rodgers would hook up with Jennings for a three-yard score, but it was too little too late.  Final score: 49ers 45 Packers 31.

For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 39 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  James Jones led the team in receptions with four and receiving yards with 87 and a touchdown.  DuJuan Harris had only 11 carries in this game and ended up with 53 yards and a touchdown.  As a team, the Packers rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Brad Jones led the team with nine solo tackles.

For the 49ers, it was a great night for Colin Kaepernick as he completed 17 of 31 for 263 yards, two touchdowns through the air and two more on the ground.  His lone bad spot was an interception early in the game that was returned for a touchdown.  Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 119 and two touchdowns.  Kaepernick paved the way on the ground with a quarterback rushing record of 181 yards and two touchdowns.  Frank Gore also had a good night with 119 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Gore also caught two passes for 48 yards.  As a team, the 49ers rushed for 323 yards on 43 carries.  They out-gained the Packers in total yards 579-352.  Defensively, linebacker Patrick Willis led the team with seven solo tackles, one sack and a tackle for a loss.

Up next for the 49ers will be the winner of the Seahawks-Falcons game.  If the Falcons win, the 49ers will travel to Atlanta.  If the Seahawks win, they’ll head to San Francisco.  The Falcons and Seahawks are the early game today followed by the Texans and Patriots.  I’ll return with recaps of those games later today.  Until then, take it easy and enjoy the games.

 

 

 

 

Packers 24, Vikings 10

With the Minnesota Vikings defeating the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the regular season, that meant they would face off again in the first round of the playoffs.  So, on a cold night in Green Bay, the Packers and Vikings took the field and met for the third time this season.  Kicker Mason Crosby booted the ball five yards deep in the end zone and return man Marcus Sherels returned it to the Viking 32.

Starting quarterback Christian Ponder missed most of practice all week and tried to give it a go in warmups before the game.  He was unable to go and that meant Joe Webb would be the starter.  Like everyone expected, running back Adrian Peterson was a huge part of the game plan.  Two carries netted seven yards and on third and 3 from the 39, Webb took off up the right side for a 17 yard gain.  Just like that, the Vikings were in Packer territory.  Three more runs by Peterson moved the ball to the 18, but they would only get as far as the 15 and have to settle for a field goal attempt.  Kicker Blair Walsh made it from 33 yards out and the Vikings had an early 3-0 lead with nine and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

That was all the scoring there was in the first quarter until with six minutes to go, the Packers started their next drive from their 18.  Running back DuJuan Harris got things started with two runs for eight yards.  On third and two, running back Ryan Grant got the call and gained two yards.  However, the Vikings were flagged for a neutral zone infraction and that gave the Packers a first down at the 31.  A short scramble by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a 16-yard pass to Harris moved the ball to the Packer 49.  From there, Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley for ten yards and Harris for 12 more.  On second and 11 from the 25, Rodgers found Grant on a screen pass that went for 16 yards.  That made it first and goal at the nine and Harris ran up the middle for an apparent touchdown.  He was ruled down at the one, but the Packers challenged the play.  After review, it was ruled that he broke the plane and the call was reversed.  Kicker Mason Crosby made the point after and the Packers led 7-3 as the first quarter came to an end.

After the teams traded punts, the Packers got the ball at their 27 with a little under eight and a half minutes to go in the second quarter.  Passes to tight end Tom Crabtree and wide receiver James Jones moved the Packers to the Viking 39.  On fourth and five from the 34, Rodgers threw a short pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings who took it all the way down to the two-yard line.  An incomplete pass to Finley and two unsuccessful runs by fullback John Kuhn put the Packers in a fourth and goal situation from the one.  Instead of trying again, Packer head coach Mike McCarthy opted to go for the easy field goal.  The 20-yard attempt was good and the Packers increased their lead to 10-3 with 3:25 to go in the first half.

The Vikings had a quick three and out and the Packers took over at their 38 with just under two minutes to go.  Deep passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings gave the Packers a first and goal at the three-yard line.  This time, there would be no easy field goal attempt.  Kuhn ran off right guard for a Packer touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers now led 17-3 with 38 seconds to go in the first half.  The Vikings couldn’t do much with the ball with the little time that was remaining and the first half ended on an incomplete pass intended for wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.

Starting at their 20, the Packers went right to work.  Two runs by Harris and a nine-yard pass to Jones gave them a first down at the 37.  Another pass to Jones and two more to Harris quickly put them at the Viking 20.  The drive stalled at the 14 and Crosby was once again called on for a field goal attempt.  But, there would be no field goal attempt this time.  The Vikings were flagged for 12 men on the field and that gave the Packers a first down at the nine.  From the nine, Rodgers found Kuhn across the middle.  Kuhn bounced off a couple of Vikings and landed in the end zone for another Packer touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers now had a commanding 24-3 lead.

Try as they might, the Vikings just didn’t have the ability to come back from such a deficit.  What followed the touchdown by Kuhn was a whole lot of nothing.  The Packers ran the ball and took time off the clock.  However, there would be one more touchdown.  With four minutes to go in the game, wide receiver Michael Jenkins got loose and was wide open on the right sideline.  Webb spotted him and hit him in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.  Walsh made the point after and the Vikings now trailed 24-10 with a little over three minutes to go.  The Packers ran six plays and punted the ball back to the Vikings with 19 seconds to go.  Needless to say, that’s not enough time to score twice.  Final score: Packers 24 Vikings 10.

For the Vikings, Joe Webb completed 11 of 30 for 180 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble.  He also had 68 yards rushing on seven carries.  Michael Jenkins and tight end Kyle Rudolph tied for the lead in receptions with three apiece.  Jenkins had the most receiving yards with 96 and one touchdown.  Adrian Peterson ended up with 99 yards on 22 carries and the Packers did a good job of not letting him get loose.  All totaled, the Vikings had 167 yards rushing on 29 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Chad Greenway led the Vikings with ten solo tackles.

For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 33 for 274 yards and one touchdown.  He spread the ball around to ten different receivers and DuJuan Harris led the team in receptions with five.  Greg Jennings was the leader in receiving yards with 61.  Harris had the most rushing yards with 47 on 17 carries and one touchdown.  As a team, the Packers had just 76 yards on 31 carries.  Defensively, cornerback Sam Shields led the Packers with five solo tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.

With that win, the Packers head out to the Bay Area to take on the San Francisco 49ers next Saturday.  They met in week one in Green Bay and the 49ers came away with a 30-22 win.  A lot has changed since then.  In that game, the “replacement refs” threw 18 flags for 143 yards.  Something tells me that won’t happen this time and it should be a close game.

 

Giants 37, Packers 20

After defeating the Atlanta Falcons at home last week, the New York Giants made it to the next round of the playoffs and headed up to to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion, Green Bay Packers.

The Giants got the ball first and started at their own 20.  Quarterback Eli Manning completed passes to wide receivers Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz that moved the ball to the Packer 42.  A short run by running back Ahmad Bradshaw and a 13-yard pass to tight end Travis Beckum got the Giants a first down at the Packer 18.  They would get as far as the 13 and kicker Lawrence Tynes made a 31-yard field goal to give the Giants an early 3-0 lead with eight and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

Packer kick returner Randall Cobb returned the kick to the Packer 21. On the return, it looked like he fumbled, but the replay showed his knee was down.  Two passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finley and a pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings got them to the  Giant 31.  The drive would stall at the 29 and kicker Mason Crosby made a 47-yard field goal to tie the game at three with five and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

On third and 11 from their own 19, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks caught a pass for 15 yards to move the ball to the 34.  Manning found Nicks again on the very next play.  Nicks caught the pass, bounced off some Packer defenders and ran the rest of the way for a 66-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 10-3 lead.

The kickoff by Tynes went out of bounds and the Packers got good field position at their own 40.  Some running by Rodgers and running back Ryan Grant moved the ball to the Giant 49.  An 11-yard pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson gave them another first down at the 38.  From the 38, wide receiver Greg Jennings caught a six-yard pass and appeared to fumble.  Replay showed the play over and over again and it sure looked like the ball was coming out before his knee was down.  But the replay official didn’t see it that way and ruled Jennings was down.  An offside penalty on the Giants and a 16-yard pass to wide receiver James Jones got the Packers another first down at the 11.  On second and seven from the eight, Rodgers found fullback John Kuhn for a touchdown and that knotted the score at ten.

With momentum in their favor, the Packers tried an onside kick.  It was recovered by the Giants and they had good field position at the packer 41-yard line.  A pass to Beckum and a nine-yard run by Bradshaw moved the ball to the 21.  That was as far as the Giants would go and a 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked.  The Giants couldn’t capitalize on the good field position and the score remained tied at ten.

After a punt by the Packers, the Giants moved the ball through the air from their own 20 to the Packer 34.  On second and five from the 34, Manning looked for Nicks, but the pass was picked off by safety Morgan Burnett at the 13.  He returned it 12 yards to the Packer 25.

On third and seven from the 28, Rodgers found Jennings for a gain of ten and a first down.  From the 38, Kuhn ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  Safety Antrel Rolle picked it up and returned it nine yards to the Packer 34.  Once again, the Giants couldn’t get the ball into the end zone and settled for a 23-yard field goal to put them up 13-10 with just under two minutes to go in the first half.

The Packers couldn’t get anything going and punted.  The Giants took over with 41 seconds remaining.  A nine-yard catch and a 23-yard run by Bradshaw gave the Giants a chance to try a long field goal from the Packer 37 before halftime.  But the kicking unit stayed on the sideline.  Manning took the snap and launched a bomb to the left side of the end zone where it was caught by Nicks for a 37-yard touchdown to end the half.  At halftime the Giants had the momentum and a 20-10 lead.

Another touch-back got the Packers the ball at their own 20.  A 14-yard pass to Jennings and a 15-yard scramble by Rodgers got the Packers to their 49.  A 16-yard pass to wide receiver Donald Driver moved them into Giant territory.  On first and ten from the 30, defensive end Osi Umenyiora sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Deon Grant.  However, the Giants couldn’t capitalize on the turnover and punted.

Passes to Driver and running back James Starks got the Packers to midfield.  Starks got the call on the next two plays and the Packers found themselves in Giant territory again.  On third and five from the 17, Rodgers fired a pass to Finley across the middle.  Finley couldn’t hang on to it and Crosby was called on for  a 35-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Packers now trailed 20-13.

The Giants punted on their next possession and the Packers once again moved the ball into Giant territory.  But, on fourth and five from the Giant 39, Rodgers was sacked by linebacker Michael Boley for a loss of six yards.  Clinging to a seven-point lead, the Giants knew they had to get a drive going and get some more points.  Passes to Cruz and Manningham and a defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the Packer 28.  Another pass to Cruz put the ball at the 17.  Runs by Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs inched the Giants a little deeper into Packer territory.  But on third and five from the 12, Manning was sacked by linebacker Brad Jones.  Tynes made his 35-yard field goal attempt and the Giants now led 23-13 with just under eight minutes to go in the game.

On second and five from the 34, Rodgers found Grant for a gain of ten. Grant was hit by safety Kenny Phillips and the ball was picked up and returned to the Packer four-yard line by linebacker Chase Blackburn.  On first and goal, Manning hooked up with Manningham for a four-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 30-13 lead with 6:48 to go in the game.

Facing a 17-point deficit, Rodgers knew he had to get his team going.  On third and ten from the 24, a pass to Driver fell incomplete.  However, a roughing the passer penalty was called on Umenyiora and that gave the Packers a first down at the 39.  A pass to Cobb for 21 and a 16-yard scramble by Rodgers got them down to the Giant 24.  On second and two from the 16, Driver caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-20 with 4:45 to go.

An onside kick by Crosby was recovered at the 50 by Cruz and the Giants knew a couple of first downs would get them a win and a trip to San Francisco.  On third and 11, Manning found Cruz wide open for a gain of 17.  Bradshaw ran up the left side for 24 yards to give the Giants a first and goal at the ten.  On second and 14, Jacobs ran up the right side for a touchdown and that gave the Giants a commanding 37-20 lead with 2:36 to go.  One last desperate attempt by Rodgers was picked off by Grant and the Giants came away with a huge playoff win on the road.

For the Giants, Eli Manning completed 21 of 33 for 330 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.  Hakeem Nicks caught two touchdown passes and he and Victor Cruz combined for 12 catches for 239 yards.  Brandon Jacobs ran for a touchdown and he and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 95 yards on 21 carries.  Defensively, the Giants forced four turnovers, allowed 25 first downs and 388 total yards.  They sacked Rodgers four times and Michael Boley led the team with eight solo tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss and one pass defensed.

For the Packers, it was an uncharacteristic day for them as the receivers dropped passes throughout the game and they fumbled the ball away three times.  Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 46 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  He spread the ball around to nine different receivers and Donald Driver led the team with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.  Rodgers also led the team in rushing with 66 yards on seven carries.  Grant and Starks combined for 77 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, the Packers allowed 19 first downs, 420 total yards, forced only one turnover and sacked Manning only once.  Safety Charlie Peprah led the team with nine solo tackles and one tackle for a loss.

The Giants will be heading out to San Francisco to take on the 49ers on Sunday at 6:30 eastern time.  They met in week ten at San Francisco and the 49ers came away with a  27-20 victory.  As I mentioned in my Saints-49ers article, they met in the playoffs in 2003 and the 49ers came back from 24 points down and won 39-38.  Will the upcoming meeting be just as exciting?  Time will tell.

 

 

The Nightmare Continues…

The Oakland Raiders headed east again to take on the Green Bay Packers.  The Raiders were coming off a 34-14 blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins and the Packers were coming off a 38-35 win over the New York Giants.

Going into this game, I thought maybe there was a chance for the Raiders to get an upset.  The Packers tend to give up lots of yards and their defense had a hard time against the Giants.  But, any chance of that happening was diffused almost immediately as the Raiders looked out of sync and undisciplined for the second straight week.  Dropped balls, false starts, offside penalties and turnovers put the Raiders in a hole that they would never climb out of.

But, like I said last week, I’m back to do my usual play-by-play format.  This could be painful.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive.  Quarterback Carson Palmer guided the Raiders into Packer territory, but on second and six from the Packer 43, he was flushed out of the pocket and put up a duck that was intercepted by linebacker D.J. Smith.  He returned it to the Packer 48.  After an offside penalty on defensive end Lamarr Houston, running back Ryan Grant took the hand-off and ran up the left side for a 47-yard touchdown.  Kicker Mason Crosby made the point after and it was 7-0 with 12 minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got as far as the Packer 48 on their next drive when left tackle Jared Veldheer was called for holding.  A false start penalty, a short run and an incomplete pass to Michael Bush set up a third and 25 at the Raider 37.  On third down, Palmer went looking for wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and hit him right in the hands at the 50.  Heyward-Bey dropped the ball and the Raiders were forced to punt again.

The Packers started at their own 20 and got some more help from the Raiders as defensive tackle Tommy Kelly promptly jumped offside on second and ten at the 20.  From the 25, Rodgers spread the ball around to four different receivers and moved the ball to the Raider four-yard line.  On first and goal from the four, Rodgers found tight end Ryan Taylor standing all by his lonesome in the end zone.  Crosby made the point after and it was now 14-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

After another Raider punt, the Packers took over at their own 26.  Rodgers continued to spread the ball around to wide receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb.  A seven-yard run by running back Brandon Saine and a 12-yard run by Grant put the ball at the Raider 10.  But a clipping penalty moved the ball back ten yards.  Two seven-yard completions to Saine set up a third and six, but they couldn’t make the third down conversion and settled for a 34-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 13 minutes to go in the second quarter.

Another obligatory three and out by the Raiders gave the Packers the ball at their own 16.  It was from here that a few more weapons in the Packer arsenal were introduced.  Enter wide receivers Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson.  Rodgers hit Nelson for a gain of 13 on first down and also found Driver for gains of six and 22 yards.  A six-yard run by Grant moved the ball to the Raider 37.  On first down from the 37, Rodgers put up a bomb for Nelson and the baffled Raider secondary allowed him to catch it for another Packer touchdown.  That made it 24-0 with nine minutes to go in the second quarter.

The Packers weren’t done yet as Carson Palmer was picked off by cornerback Charles Woodson at the Raider 22 to give the Packers excellent field position.  A sack by Tommy Kelly moved the Packers back six yards and Grant was stopped for no gain on second down.  But, on third and 16, safety Michael Mitchell was flagged for pass interference and that gave the Packers a first and goal at the six.  Grant took the ball straight up the middle for another Packer touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and it was now 31-0 with seven minutes to go in the half.

After ANOTHER three and out and a horrible fake punt attempt by the Raiders, the Packers once again had great field position at the Raider 28.  A 19-yard pass to Driver moved the ball to the eight.  On third and goal from the four, Mitchell intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for tight end Jermichael Finley.  It truly was a nice play by Mitchell and it stopped the bleeding for a little while.

Palmer gathered the troops together and the Raiders had one more shot to put some points on the board before halftime.  Completions to tight end Kevin Boss and some running by Palmer put the ball at the Packer 41.  A 16-yard pass to Heyward-Bey and another completion to Boss gave the Raiders a first down at the 14.  But with 48 seconds to go, Palmer went looking for Boss again in the end zone and the ball was picked off by linebacker Rob Francois.  The half ended and the Packers had a commanding 31-0 lead.

A 50-yard kickoff return by Cobb gave the Packers good field position to start out the second half.  Rodgers went right to work and found Driver for 19 and wide receiver Greg Jennings for eight more.  Jennings was injured during the play and would not return.  On third and two from the 11, Rodgers was sacked by linebacker Rolando McClain for a loss of nine.  Crosby came on and made a 38-yard field goal and the Packers increased their lead to 34-0 with 12 minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders got the ball at their own 20 again and Palmer completed passes to Bush and fullback Marcel Reece to put the ball at the 50.  Some more runs by Bush and a 34-yard completion to Heyward-Bey moved the ball to the Packer four.  On second and goal from the two, Bush powered his way into the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  It’s a miracle!  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and that made it 34-7 with eight minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Packers started at their own 20 and on third and 19, Rodgers saw Cobb standing by himself at the 37.  Rodgers thought Cobb looked lonely with no Raiders around to keep him company, so he threw the ball to him and he caught it for a first down.  Some good runs by Grant and fullback John Kuhn moved the ball to the Raider 31.  But, that was as far as they would get and Crosby made a 49-yard field goal to make it 37-7 with three minutes to go.

This is where things got thoroughly disgusting.  The Raiders got the ball again at their 20 and on first down, Palmer completed a pass to Reece.  He was hit by Rob Francois and the ball came out and bounced backward toward Palmer.  Palmer pounced on the ball and it somehow squirted through his hands.  The opportunistic Packers recovered it and linebacker Erik Walden ran it in for another Packer touchdown.  The point after was blocked by defensive end Desmond Bryant and the Packers led 43-7 with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter.

Guess what the Raiders did next?  Yup. They started at their own 20 again.  Care to go two for two? What do you think they did next?  Did they get a first down?  Did they fumble, throw another interception or go three and out?  If you guessed three and out, you got it right!  Congratulations!  You have just won a case of Genesee Cream Ale!

Rodgers decided he had enough and quarterback Matt Flynn came into the game.  The Packers took over at the Raider 41 and on third and five from the 36, a pass intended for Nelson fell incomplete.  But, what would a Raider game be without a personal foul?  Linebacker Quentin Groves was called for roughing the passer and that moved the ball to the 21.  They would get as far as the 13 and Crosby was called on once again.  He made a 31-yard field goal to make it 46-7 with almost an entire quarter to go.

The Raiders started their next “drive” at their own 11 and got as far as the 28 when Shane Lechler punted the ball away again.  This time, he hit a 71-yard punt that was downed at the one.  On third and five from the six, McClain burst through the line and sacked Flynn for a safety.  It was good to see somebody hadn’t given up with the score being so lopsided.  That made it 46-9.

With 11 minutes to go in the game, the Raiders took over at their 23.  Some more running by Bush and a couple of completions to wide receiver Louis Murphy moved the ball to the Packer six.  On first and goal from the six, Palmer found Boss for a Raider touchdown.  Wow!  That makes two touchdowns in the same game.  Impressive.  Janikowski made the point after and that made the final score 46-16.  There you go.  I managed to write what happened in this game without puking my guts out.

Caron Palmer completed 24 of 42 for 245 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.  Darrius Heyward-Bey led the Raiders in receiving with five catches for 78 yards.  Michael Bush led the team in rushing with 78 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  As a team, the Raiders had 117 yards rushing.  Linebacker Rolando McClain led the Raiders with seven tackles and two sacks.  The Raiders had a total of four sacks and one interception.  They were also penalized 11 times for 89 yards.  Most of them were false starts and offside penalties.  Every time Rodgers did a loud “HUT,” a Raider would promptly jump offside.

For the Packers, it was business as usual as Aaron Rodgers sliced up the Raider secondary.  He completed 17 of 30 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Jordy Nelson led the team with three catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.  Grant and Kuhn combined for 131 yards on 20 carries and the Packers rushed for 136 yards as a team.  Linebacker D.J. Smith led the Packers with seven solo tackles and an interception.

The Raiders have been outscored the last two weeks by a score of 80-30.  It’s tough to win games when your offense turns the ball over five times and your defense has more holes in it than a pack of Swiss cheese.   It’s also very tough to win when you have 14 players on the injury list and are short-handed at receiver.  A while back, they had a four and one road record and people were picking them to win the division and go deep into the playoffs.  That’s not the case anymore.  As I wrote that, I was reminded of a song by the Beatles.  It goes something like “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.  Now it looks as if they’re here to stay.  Oh, I believe in Yesterday.”

Well, believe it or not, there still is some time to right the ship with two of the next three games at home.  But if they want to win those games, they better play a hell of a lot better than they played against Miami and Green Bay.  They also need some help from other teams if they want to catch Denver.  Wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford should be back next week against Detroit.  The word on running back Darren McFadden is still “wait and see.”  If he can’t go, hopefully Taiwan Jones can make it back and we’ll see some speed in the backfield.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

Dan, Still the Man

The Miami Dolphins are terrible.  Let’s talk about it.

For the second straight week, south Florida’s flopping fish punted away a fourth quarter lead and lost, dropping their record to 0-7 and causing people to high-five while watching “The Cove.”

For Leatherheads of my generation it’s a bit jarring that Tony Sparano’s team is, at best, the fifth most-skilled football squad in Florida because we 40-somethings grew up watching Dolphins teams that were slick, tanned and very good.  From Don Shula’s first season as head coach in Miami in 1970 through his last season in 1995 Flipper was quite proud as the aquatic mammals reached the playoffs 16 times, played in five Super Bowls, won two Lombardi Trophies, compiled the NFL’s only completely perfect season and provided young men with hundreds of bronzed, comely cheerleaders to dream about during cold Midwestern nights.

Since Shula left, the ocean’s favorite citizens have stunk like tuna left in a dirty toilet and struggled like a bottlenose with a cleat stuck in its blowhole, reaching the postseason just six times (and not since 2008) and never playing in a conference title game.  The departure of Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, certainly has contributed to Miami’s malaise but the reason the Dolphins are on my mind – besides the fact that the Chicago Bears have been in a bye week – is that Miami’s second most-famous Dolphin continues to arise in gridiron debates.

Dan Marino – the greatest quarterback ever not named Johnny Unitas – retired from the Dolphins after the 1999 season and swam off into the sunset holding nearly every possible, meaningful NFL passing record.  When Dan called it quits it seemed as if his records of 61,361 career yards and 420 touchdowns would never be equaled and possibly not even approached.  Then, along came Brett Favre who, as a Green Bay Packer, New York Jet, Minnesota Viking and cheeky monkey just kept going and going and going and eclipsed both of those marks.

One of Marino’s other seemingly unreachable records, 48 TD passes in a season (1984) also fell, first to Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts who chucked 49 TD’s in 2004 and then to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots who racked up 50 in 2007.

Now, about the only notable record Marino still holds, besides best hair even after wearing a helmet, is most yards in a single season – 5,084 in 1984.  But even that record might not last much longer.  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came just 15 yards short of equaling that record three years ago.  This year Brees is once again preparing to knock Dan out of the box as he’s on pace to smash Dan’s mark by throwing for 5,492 yards.  And he’s not alone.  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is projected to throw for 5,408 yards and if Brady keeps it up he’ll throw for 5,392 yards while also growing another dimple.

Will they do it?

Rodgers is the best player in the NFL right now but he has several factors working against him.  One is that he plays in Green Bay which is known for two things: good football and ice.  Mr. Rodgers plays three of his final four games at friendly but frigid Lambeau Field a place that isn’t kind to airborne footballs in December in January.  And if it’s possible to break Marino’s mark while playing games in Arctic conditions (the only one of Green Bay’s final four games not in Wisconsin is in weather-relevant Kansas City) don’t you think Mr. Favre would have done it?  It also works against Aaron that the Packers are so good.  The Pack will almost certainly have sewn up a playoff spot, and possibly top seed in the NFC, with one or two games to go.  So as much as a gamer as Rodgers is it’s hard to imagine Mike McCarthy sending him out there to chuck it at his current rate of more than 30 times a game exposing him to injury if the games are essentially meaningless.

Brady has similar obstacles.  Of his final four games, two will be played in Foxboro, Massachusetts which is as meteorologically sinister as Green Bay.  Brady’s other two games during the season’s final quarter will be in Denver and Washington.  It’s just not easy to throw when Jack Frost and Snowzilla are nipping at your fingers.  Plus, like the Packers, the Patriots will also likely have clinched their fate before the final game though that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick will take his foot off the gas because the Patriots don’t do that, God love ‘em.  Maybe what can really do Brady in is if Wes Welker’s hands fall off.

Drew Brees has the best shot.  He’s more than halfway there already and from now through the end of the season the Saints play exactly one game outside.  As Kurt Warner apologists can attest to but won’t, it’s a little easier to rack up pinball-like pass stats when you’re in the cozy confines of a dome which is a big reason Brees – though certainly skilled and rigorous – has put up Arena-like numbers for so long.

Marino, obviously, played a great many games in Miami which isn’t weather-hell either except for the occasional hurricane.  But by my count, Dan played only 25 dome games during his 17-year career.  What would his numbers be if he had played half of his 242 career games under a roof?  What would Favre’s be?

Perhaps Brees’ best game this season came a couple of Sundays ago when he directed a nearly-perfect offensive assault on the Colts, compiling five TD’s, 325 yards and a 144.9 passer rating as the Saints prevailed by an embarrassing score of 62-7.  New Orleans’ 62 points were the most scored by an NFL team since January 15, 2000 when the Jacksonville Jaguars stampeded to a victory by the exact some score, 62-7, over…Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins.  It would prove to be Dan’s last game as his Dolphins were disemboweled in the divisional playoffs.  The Dolphins trailed 41-7 at halftime and Marino told head coach Jimmy Johnson that he wanted to go out there in the second half to give it one last shot.  He tried, but it would have taken five miracles and a thousand pairs of Isotoner gloves with stickum for Miami to rally.  And so, the greatest quarterback of the cable TV era was finished.

Brees, Brady and Rodgers might all surpass Marino this year and Dan the Man will slide further down in the record books and, one day, might be remembered as merely a gunslinger who put up gaudy numbers but never won a Super Bowl.  That would be a shame.  Football fans should consider what Marino could have done if he’d had Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott on his side as Joe Montana did.  Or how about if late in Dan’s career he’d been handed the gift that John Elway received in Terrell Davis?

Marino was better than Montana and Elway and cooler than Kurt Russell.  He threw hard, talked softly and made funny commercials.  Today’s players are great and we certainly don’t begrudge them for putting up pretty numbers in the current pass-happy protect the quarterback at all costs NFL.  But let’s never forget the dynamic Dolphin who could throw TD’s in his sleep and still gives defensive backs nightmares.

Marino was magnificent.  Time can’t diminish that and numbers can never change that.

 

 

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: It’s only five games but so far the Kevin Kolb era is off to a slow start…..S Kerry Rhodes broke his foot during the game Sunday and will be out for a least a month…..For those of you keeping track, Arizona will host Super Bowl XLIX in 2015…..With all the attention that defenses are paying towards WR Larry Fitzgerald, Early Doucet is quietly having a nice season.

Atlanta Falcons: I’m not sure which is more surprising – that the Eagles are 1-4 or that the Falcons are 2-3. I didn’t see either one coming…..WR Julio Jones will miss at least this week’s game with a hamstring injury, which will give Harry Douglas a chance to make a bigger impact…..DE Ray Edwards is still not fully recovered from off-season knee surgery and isn’t having the pass rush impact that the Falcons were hoping for…..I hate when analysts say this because it all counts, but take away two long runs from RB Michael Turner and he has been virtually non-existent this season.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Lee Evans was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, but missed practice Thursday. It seems unlikely that he will play this week…..CB Jimmy Smith also is unlikely to go as he still can’t run at full speed…..The Ravens are catching the Texans at the right time. DE Mario Williams is out for the season and WR Andre Johnson will also miss the game. It certainly makes life easier when the opposing team is missing their best offensive and defensive player.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills will be going up against one of their own this week in Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive coordinator. They should certainly know some of his favorite schemes…..WR Donald Jones will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a high-ankle sprain, so Brad Smith could see more action…..LB Chris Kelsay won’t play versus the Giants…..What kind of team the Bills have will become much more apparent within the next month.

Carolina Panthers: Fantasy owners couldn’t have been happy when the Panthers offensive coordinator stated this week that QB Cam Newton will be the Panthers goal line back going forward. Now there is something you just don’t hear every day. The ironic thing is this statement came the same week that coach Ron Rivera stated he didn’t want Newton running the ball as much. Can’t seem to have it both ways.

Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler has now admitted in back to back weeks that all the hits he is taking are starting to make him gun-shy in the pocket. In other words, he is starting to see the rush rather than looking for his receivers down the field…..RB Matt Forte turned down a contract worth $13-$14 million in guaranteed cash during the off-season. It seems with the season he is having that he is certainly not going to take any less now.

Cincinnati Bengals: By yardage allowed, the Bengals have the best defense in the NFL. Yeah, who saw that coming?…..RB Cedric Benson still doesn’t know if and when he will be suspended by the NFL. His appeal has been heard, but no decision has been made. The problem for fantasy owners is that they are forced to keep Bernard Scott on their roster until a final decision is made. That’s a valuable roster spot being wasted as of now.

Cleveland Browns: WR Greg Little has been named a starter going forward and has been a popular pickup in fantasy leagues. While I like his added playing time, I’m not seeing big things happen here…..CB Joe Haden is out this week. That’s a big loss to the Browns pass defense…..DE Marcus Benard suffered a broken arm in a motorcycle accident Monday and will be lost to the Browns for the remainder of the season. There is a reason emergency rooms call them donor cycles.

Dallas Cowboys: The bye week may have come in Week 5, but for the Cowboys it couldn’t be early enough. WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin should be as close to 100% as they have been all season, CB Orlando Scandrick will play in his first game since Week 1 (lucky him as he gets to cover Wes Welker), and QB Tony Romo gets two more weeks to recover from his broken ribs. Speaking of those ribs, Romo will still wear a flak jacket and take a pain killing injection before playing.

Denver Broncos: I’m still not a big believer in Tim Tebow’s ability to be a franchise QB, but at this point in the season the Broncos needed to see what they have in him. If you’re going to lose, you might as well lose big…..Fantasy wise though, Tebow is an interesting play. He’s probably good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 yards a game which helps offset his probably lack of passing yards, and if he can run in a touchdown he could have a decent week–figure around 18 points…..For those of you who want the Broncos to trade QB Kyle Orton, it’s probably not going to happen. The deadline is next week. The only team that might be interested is Miami, and the Broncos happen to play Miami that Sunday. I’m just not seeing that PR nightmare happening.

Detroit Lions: TE Tony Scheffler suffered a concussion during the game Monday and is unlikely to play Sunday…..S Erik Coleman was placed on season ending IR with an ankle injury…..DL Nick Fairley finally got to play Monday. Although he didn’t make an impact during his first game, he should only help what may be the best defensive line in football as he gets more experience…..WR Nate Burleson seems to be seeing his role in the offense decline as QB Matthew Stafford seems to be looking for his TEs as secondary targets when Calvin Johnson is covered.

Green Bay Packers: Pretty amazing game for the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers last week against the Falcons when you consider they lost both starting tackles. This may be a problem that comes more to the forefront in the coming weeks…..I know WR James Jones has had back to back big weeks but there are just too many offensive weapons for Rodgers to choose from to see this being an every week thing…..Staying on that note, WR Donald Driver’s best days are behind him and the Pack may be better off only using him in four and five WR sets.

Houston Texans: As mentioned earlier, WR Andre Johnson is out for this week’s game but may return sooner than thought, possibly even next week…..What does have to concern the Texans however is that RB Adrian Foster has been slowed in practice once again this week and one has to wonder if that hamstring is bothering him once again…..The acquisition of WR Derrick Mason from the Jets goes to show how unimpressed the Texans were with Jacoby Jones.

Indianapolis Colts: Who would’ve thought that the most dynamic passing combo in the NFL would be QB Curtis Painter to WR Pierre Garcon? The Colts are still going to need another positive week though before I completely buy in…..WR Joseph Addai injured his hamstring last week and is unlikely to play Sunday, leaving the running game in the hands of Delone Carter and Donald Brown. I’d rather have Carter.

Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Aaron Kampman is expected to finally play in a game this season–Sunday versus the Steelers. With the state of the Steelers offensive line, he couldn’t have picked a better game to come back to…..How long until coach Jack Del Rio is fired? He was told that the team would have to make the playoffs to save his job. Ummm, this team is not going to make the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs: QB Matt Cassel has come alive of late and has made WRs Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston good plays as well in fantasy leagues. There is one problem though, the Chiefs schedule gets much tougher in the weeks ahead. Although they will probably be playing behind which will lead to more passes, they will also be playing against tougher defenses…..RB Jackie Battle had well over 100 yards rushing last week but don’t be looking for big things from him when the Chiefs return from their bye. He’s just not that kind of back.

Miami Dolphins: How will the Dolphins do with QB Matt Moore at the helm? It can’t be any worse than what they did with Chad Henne…..RB Daniel Thomas should be back as the bye enabled him to recover from his hamstring injury. The Dolphins will need him this week as it would seem unlikely that Moore will have great success against the Jets defense…..Look for the other RB, Reggie Bush, to line up in the slot as the Dolphins look to get him more involved in the offense.

Minnesota Vikings:  QB Donovan McNabb is playing better behind center, but once the Vikings come to the conclusion that the playoffs are out of reach, the Christian Ponder era should begin…..CB Antoine Winfield and WR Percy Harvin both missed practice Thursday. Winfield has a neck injury and seems questionable at best while Harvin is dealing with sore ribs but is more on the probable side.

New England Patriots: RB Danny Woodhead has been practicing on a limited basis the past couple of days and could play Sunday, just what Tom Brady needs–another weapon…..Speaking of weapons, TE Aaron Hernandez is still limited in practice, but as we saw last week versus the Jets, even at 80% healthy he is quite a weapon…..Fantasy wise I’m giving WR Chad Ochocinco one more week to show he can still play at the NFL level or it’s waiver wire time.

New Orleans Saints: Coach Sean Peyton admitted this week that he is having a hard time giving RB Mark Ingram enough carries during the game. I can’t really blame him. I’d want the ball in QB Drew Brees’ hands as much as possible also…..WR Devery Henderson has a calf injury that is slowing him down. He hasn’t been able to practice this week after having a subpar game Sunday. He could be sitting this week…..For those of you wondering who the number one receiver is for the Saints, even with the return to health of Marques Colston, it’s TE Jimmy Graham.

New York Giants: RB Brandon Jacobs is still having problems with severe swelling around his knee. Not a good thing for a running back, especially one who is normally taken down around the knees…..WR Victor Cruz is still technically the 3rd receiver for the Giants, but he is making more plays than Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. It seems to be just a matter of time before Manningham is demoted…..DE Justin Tuck has been hearing it from a number of ex-Giants about not playing in games due to injury and this week may be no different. Even if he does play, it certainly wouldn’t be anything more than as a situational pass rusher.

New York Jets: The Jets are starting to feel the pressure after losing three straight road games. They aren’t talking as much to the media, but are complaining plenty in-house about the offensive strategy. One of those so-called complainers found himself shipped out when WR Derrick Mason was traded to the Texans for a 7th round pick…..What has happened to TE Dustin Keller after a hot start to the season? Come to think of it, you could say the same thing about WR Santonio Holmes as well…..Will this be the week the Jets get back to ground and pound, smash mouth football on both sides of the ball.

Oakland Raiders: Like him or hate him, Al Davis was a pioneer and one of the people who made the NFL what it is today. “Just win baby!” RIP Al

Philadelphia Eagles: I know it’s only Week 6, but the Eagles are in what may be a must win situation. A loss to the Skins Sunday and the Eagles will be four games out of 1st in the NFC East…..WR Steve Smith is now fully healthy, but still may be no better than 4th on the Eagles’ depth chart…..The Eagles reached out to former Jets and Browns coach Eric Mangini to be their defensive consultant. He turned it down however, preferring his gig with ESPN.

Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Rashard Mendenhall’s hamstring is said to be better and he will be good to go Sunday, but keep in mind his carries may be limited and that hamstring can easily be re-injured…..OT Max Starks, who hadn’t played in about a year, was in on all but two snaps in Sunday’s game and seemed to stabilize the Steelers offensive line. Was this just a one game phenomenon or will things start to get easier for QB Ben Roethlisberger and Mendenhall?

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are off this week and once again the bye couldn’t have come at a better time. RB Ryan Matthews is dealing with a calf strain that may have made him unable to play this week, Mike Tolbert has a concussion, WR Vincent Jackson a leg injury , and hopefully TE Antonio Gates can use the time off to finally get his foot healthy enough to get back on the field.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Josh Morgan is out for the season after suffering a broken ankle last week. The 49ers are riding high, but their depth at receiver is going to be tested until Braylon Edwards returns…..Until Edwards returns, Ted Ginn will be the 49ers number two. Scary isn’t it? Not to mention Michael Crabtree isn’t completely healthy either.

Seattle Seahawks: Pretty impressive win by the Hawks last week versus the Giants. There were plenty of big plays and turnovers, but in the end they made more of the good kind than the G-Men…..QB Tavares Jackson suffered a strained pectoral muscle and may not have been able to play if the Hawks had a game this week, but they don’t, so he has an extra week to rest…..WR Doug Baldwin went off against the Giants, but I wouldn’t be running out to the waiver wire just yet.

St. Louis Rams: RB Steven Jackson should be fully recovered from his quad injury and should be safe to start in fantasy leagues. Problem is the Rams play the Packers this week and could be behind by multiple touchdowns quite early, forcing them to abandon the run game…..WR Mark Clayton should return from the PUP next week. We all know the Rams could use all the help they can get at receiver as Danny Amendola was placed on IR, ending his season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What has happened to the Bucs? That was a complete butt kicking handed to them by the 49ers last week. Seems the offense can’t quite get in gear as QB Josh Freeman is not having the big season many predicted of him. WR Mike Williams is also suffering as he seems to be going through a rough sophomore season. Is it the fault of Williams that Freeman has regressed or vice versa? The Bucs better figure it out soon before the season slips away…..The running game may not be able to help as LeGarrette Blount will miss the next game or two with a knee injury. Look for Earnest Graham to handle the load until Blount’s return.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans came out hot versus the Steelers last week, but when they were unable to score a TD on the opening drive despite having multiple chances inside the 10-yard line, all the air seemed to come out of the balloon and the game slipped away very quickly…..Look for the Titans to become more of a running team as the season progresses.

Washington Redskins: The big question for the Skins, besides if they are for real, is who will be the main ball carrier each week. Tim Hightower still has a banged up shoulder but is in line for more carries. Ryan Torain and Roy Helu have been impressive at times. All three could see the ball Sunday against the Eagles whose defense can’t stop anyone…..As for the QB, Rex Grossman hasn’t looked good the past few weeks and it’s hard to see him having a big day versus the Eagles secondary. He just needs to avoid the big mistake.

Packer-Jacked!

The Chicago Bears don’t play the Green Bay Packers again until Christmas Day which gives the Mopers of the Midway 90 shopping days to get a reliable running game, a receiver who can get separation, a return game that can get advantageous field position and, while we’re at it, cheerleaders who only shave below the neck.

The Bears lost 27-17 to their ageless antagonists, the Packers, at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sunday because their receivers couldn’t get open (when the receivers were open they often handled the pigskin like a pair of Jonah Hill’s undies), Jay Cutler made several bad throws, their starting running back ran – seriously – nine times for two yards, and – let’s not forget – the Packers had much greater success at all those endeavors.

The Bears defense was, once again, not blameless as Rod Marinelli’s rascals couldn’t figure out how to cover Jermichael Finley – a man so large, fast and weatherproofed he should be featured on “Ice Road Truckers” – who caught three touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers – a quarterback who laughs when children fail.

The Bears defense kept Chicago in this game sort of like the way the Republican Guard gave Iraq a fighting chance.  But it’s pretty difficult for a defense to be effective when it’s always on the field as Green Bay held the ball for 37:21 while the Bears ate up a mere 22:31.  Practice makes perfect but the Bears “D” must have felt like it was two-a-days.

Chicago’s defense usually gives up generous chunks of yards and did so again Sunday as the Pack racked up 392 but that’s really not the worry because Brian Urlacher and company earn their claws with turnovers.  Chicago produced two but, like last week’s loss to the Saints, not until the fourth quarter.  Still, when Lance Briggs jarred the ball loose from James Starks and Julius Peppers recovered, it led directly to Cutler hitting Kellen Davis for a 32-yard score on the very next play – that’s how you do it kiddo!

Turnover #2 was produced the very next time the Pack got the ball with Brian Urlacher making a leaping interception of a Rodgers pass on a play that proved once again that #54 is still an athlete at 33.  But instead of driving for another quick score to narrow the 27-17 deficit, the Bears offense went backwards – literally and painfully – and punted away all hope.  It wasn’t pretty.

Down by 10 with the clock ticking, the only people in the world still believing in the Bears were Jim Belushi and Herman Cain’s campaign manager.  But then the weirdest – and perhaps most unfair – play of the game unfolded.  But let’s take a quick break.  Remember that movie “Oh, God!” ?  It’s a wonderful flick from 1977 which tells the story of a grocery store manager played by John Denver who is suddenly visited by God who, in 1977, should have been played by Henry Winkler or Walter Payton but Hollywood instead settled on George Burns.  Near the end of the film (sort of a spoiler alert on the way but really not too bad) everyone ends up in court because in America lawyers get a piece of everything – especially determining one’s divinity.  Denver’s character announces to the court that he is calling “the Lord God” as a witness.  And then he tells the judge and everyone else that they must have “felt something” that, for just a moment, everyone believed God was going to walk into the room and thus, because they had that belief, they must believe that Denver’s story is true and that he really has enjoyed several recent and private visits from God.  The judge tells Denver’s character that he tried a “very clever stunt” but no, such shenanigans just don’t fly.  Which, of course, brings us to Johnny Knox.

With 2:15 to play and most Bears fans wondering what was available on Red Box, the Packers punted and Devin Hester positioned himself for the catch and then caught Tim Masthay’s offering and…wait a minute….No.  He.  Didn’t.  The Bears pulled a fast one that was so cute, clever and effective that the football Gods – and FOX’s cameras and announcers – couldn’t even fathom it.  You see the ball had gone the other way and no one, except for Masthay, Knox, Hester and (amazingly presciently) Bears special teams coach Dave Toub seemed to know it.  Mr. Knox caught the ball and sprinted 89 yards up the sideline with ease and scored. It was 27-24 and the Bears maybe had a chance in hell.  But no.  The officials called Corey Graham for a hold, though none was visible on replay. In fairness to the Zebras, since even the cameras were fooled by Mr. Toub’s subterfuge, maybe the officiating crew members were the only ones on Earth who saw it…but I really don’t think so.

So, if it had been 27-24 Packers with two minutes to play, would the Bears have onside kicked, gotten the ball back and found the endzone again and miraculously won 31-27?  Yes!  Yes!  That’s exactly what would have happened and sales of Johnny Knox lunch boxes would have skyrocketed throughout Cook County.

Probably not.  It was a bad call but the Bears lost because they committed 10 penalties for 70 yards, ran their offense like they were playing in bacon grease and didn’t put Charles Tillman on Finley.  But honestly, it’s not that bad.  A week ago at this time the worry among Bears backers was that the offensive line had been hired to help Cutler sleep with the fishes, but Cutler actually enjoyed capable protection most of the day against the Packers.  And while it’s certainly troublesome that Knox, Hester and company (hello, Roy Williams, are you there?) still can’t run effective routes and it’s frustrating that Matt Forte simply cannot pound the ball into the line and only runs effectively when he gets a five-yard head start, there’s still hope.  Marion Barber will get in the lineup one of these weeks and will give Chicago’s “O” an effective 1-2 running back punch and when safety Chris Harris returns the defense will get better.

Yes, it’s terribly painful to fall to the Packers once again as that’s now three straight defeats, including last season’s NFC title game, but there’s reason for optimism.  The Bears have a good defense, a living quarterback and play two of their next three at home against the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings.  By the time we reach Christmas Day in Green Bay a lot can happen.  Cutler and his catchers could be on the same page, Forte might put his best foot (how about two feet?) forward along with his shoulder into an opposing defender and the Packers, who have won nine straight games dating back to last year including the playoffs, might finally fall back to Earth.

The Bears wore orange on Sunday and could turn into pumpkins by Halloween but let us not be ghoulish or dour.  Let us remember Johnny Knox running unencumbered and fancily in the fourth quarter.  Let us know that as long as the defense stays chippy, Cutler stays healthy and Lovie Smith looks inward there’s hope for the Bears and maybe, someday, there will be a little bit of fear in Green Bay.