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Vikings’ NFC North Rivals: News and Notes, Week 5

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I read up on our division opponents so you don’t have to!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One quarter of the way through the NFL season, and everything is going according to plan. The Bears lead the division, followed by the Packers, Vikings, and finally the Lions. Just like everyone thought.

Wait, what was the plan?

Wow.

O.K. Umm.. Well, let’s start there then, shall we?

Yeah, so the Chicago Bears are leading the division at 3-1, after absolutely abusing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, 48-10. Tampa Bay’s defense was so bad that Mitchell Trubisky actually threw more touchdown passes (6) in his game than Jared Goff did in his (5). That’s right, the young gunslinger from North Carolina gave Bears fans - at least for one game - a little glimpse of the stuff that convinced GM Ryan Pace to make him the first quarterback selected in the 2017 draft - ahead of some kid from Texas Tech named Mahomes. This week, the Bears become the NFC North’s first team to have a bye week.

In Green Bay, the Packers shut out Josh Allen and the vaunted Buffalo Bills offense, winning by a 22-0 margin. The Bills’ second-year quarterback was sacked seven times, threw two picks, and lost a fumble. Allen was sacked twice on his team’s final drive - both by Packers linebacker Kyle Fackrell, who led the team with three on the day. Aaron Rodgers was merely human in this one, throwing for 298 yards, with one TD and and one INT. The Packers moved to 2-1-1, a half game back of Chicago, and a game ahead of Minnesota, and will travel to Detroit to take on the Lions.

The Detroit Lions - fresh off their first win under new coach Matt Patricia - headed to Dallas, intent on building on that momentum. They gave the Cowboys a good run, and took a one point lead with a little over two minutes to play. But Dallas was able to move the ball just enough - thanks to a 34-yard completion to Zeke Elliott - and kicker Brett Maher booted a 38 yard field goal to win the game, 26-24. It has now been one game since the Lions had a 100-yard rusher, as Kerryon Johnson led the team with just 55 yards. The Lions fell to 1-3 with the loss, and, again, host the Packers on Sunday.

Chicago Bears

As mentioned, Mitchell Trubisky had a bit of a (an?) historic afternoon against the depleted Bucs secondary. He became the third Bears passer to throw for six touchdowns in a game. The last time it happened, players may or may not have been wearing leather helmets. I’ll need to check with the Daily Norseman research department to find that answer.* One thing is certain - the forward pass definitely had been invented by then. At any rate, it was Johnny Lujack who did it last, nearly seventy years ago. And the other was Bears great Sid Luckman (no relation) - who still holds a share of the NFL record with seven passing touchdowns in a single game, which he accomplished all the way back in 1943.

* Nope, according to our friends at Wikipedia, they were still leather until around the 1950 season.

Speaking of Mr. Biscuit (no, seriously, that’s really Trubisky’s nickname), Pro Football Reference gives us this interesting nugget:

Two things come to mind when reading that: First - when successful, the Chicago Bears have been - for at least the past forty years - a “defense first” team. And second - their successes have had absolutely zip to do with the quarterback. Jim McMahon (no relation) didn’t win the Super Bowl in ‘85. He was there. The Bears ‘D’ and Walter Payton won that title. And Rex Grossman? Please.

But, hey. The Bears put up some offense on Sunday. Even Bears Running Back Tarik Cohen finally busted loose, with 174 yards from scrimmage including 121 and a touchdown through the air. So, I have to give credit where credit is due.

Khalil Mack scored another quarterback sack against the Bucs, bringing his season total to 5 and putting him on pace for 20, which would easily surpass the Bears single season record of 17.5, set by Hall-of-Famer Richard Dent in 1984. He also forced another fumble (although the Bucs recovered). He is simply playing at an entirely different level than any offensive player he faces right now. Can he keep it up? Who knows, but even as a Vikings fan it’s been fun to watch.

** side note: Brian Baldinger really does a nice job with analysis. Long ago, when he was just starting out, I thought that about Jon Gruden, as well. Gruden traded Khalil Mack to the Bears. I’m not sure there’s a correlation is between these facts, but as I was watching the video above, that’s what popped into my head. I really hope Baldy doesn’t turn out like Gruden.

Not-afraid-to-make-a-prediction Prediction: I can’t possibly get this one wrong, can I? The Bears are on a bye this week. I predict they rest up, do some coaching stuff, have a few practices and at least one charity event.

Detroit Lions

The saga continues at the Running Back spot for the Lions. Seemingly, Kerryon Johnson is the lead horse. He leads the team in rushing with 38 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown, good for 5.7 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount has 95 yards on the season, and Theo Riddick has put up numbers in the passing game. Johnson broke the streak of games without a hundred yard rusher against New England, and the fans have been screaming for a heavier workload for him (really, who doesn’t scream for a heavier workload for their Johnson?). And yet…

Matt Stafford, it would seem, would like to give his Johnson more touches.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is under fire from Lions fans for not using the young running back. The thing is, the Lions are putting up yardage. Matthew Stafford has a great pair of receivers in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay has made some plays, as well. But the team - for whatever reason - is reluctant to call Kerryon Johnson the lead back. Stafford had Calvin Johnson in his prime, and rarely had an impact player lined up in the backfield. Imagine if Megatron had a running back like Kerryon Johnson a few years back! Cooter would definitely have a difficult time finding a proper balls-to-Johnson ratio - especially without a decent tight end on the roster.

Okay, okay… my inner fourth-grader flared up a little bit there. Sorry about that. Lord, I apologize.

Matthew Stafford has, on occasion, been mentioned in the “Elite Quarterback” discussion, but he’s certainly not mentioned with the frequency of Brady, Brees, or Rodgers. But, why not? He’s well on his way to an eighth-straight 4,000-plus-yard-passing season. He has averaged fewer than one interception per game in his career, while throwing nearly two touchdowns per game. He’s had 26 career fourth quarter comebacks, and engineered 32 game-winning drives. Yet, his lifetime record sits at 61-68, and he’s been to a single Pro-Bowl. What sort of rarefied air is he beginning to hit at this point in his career?

The Lions defense, however, continues to be a problem. The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott was a one-man wrecking crew on Sunday, putting up 240 yards of rushing and receiving, with one touchdown. One bright spot was linebacker Devon Kennard, who picked up his fourth sack of the season. He became the first Lions linebacker ever to record at least four sacks through the first four games of the season.

Over at our sister site, Pride of Detroit, a bit of discussion has taken place among Lions fans about whether the team should trade Golden Tate. Tate is in the final year of his contract. And at age 30, the team may not have interest in giving him the long-term deal he’ll surely seek. They have plenty of cap space, though, and fans wouldn’t be happy to see him leave. Tate didn’t blossom as a “very good” wide receiver until his first year in Detroit, when he was 26 years old. He’s cocky to a fault, but he’s managed to turn himself into one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the game.

That cockiness can be seen in the following highlights:

...or lowlights, if you prefer.

Not-afraid-to-make-a-prediction Prediction: The Lions take on the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday at noon. And speaking of the Packers…

Green Bay Packers

The streak is over! Clay Matthews was not called for roughing the passer! I repeat, Clay Matthews was not called for roughing the passer. Teenage boys and elderly women from Douglas County down to Kenosha County can rest easy tonight - the NFL didn’t screw the Packers over. I mean, they did get that one call against Blake Martinez, who was working over Josh Allen well after the whistle (and he’s not even the one who shoved Allen to the ground right after the play in front of the ref, who totally didn’t see it, at all).

Nevermind… No sleep in Packerland again tonight. They’re back at it.

Speaking of Blake Martinez, he’s quietly putting together a solid season at linebacker for the Packers, and is the 7th highest graded linebacker in the league, according to PFF. With offensive line play like this, who can blame him for being solid?

Vikings fans - do you remember last season when the Vikings defense was doing things like this? It looks really familiar, but where oh where has it gone?

I’m just going to leave this here. I’m stuck for any possible decent response to this. Almost anything I’d like to say will be offensive in one way or another. So my only comment will be, “Huh. I’ll be damned.”

Any chance Ms. Patrick did one of these numbers after he told her “No.”?

Packer fans just can’t understand the level of hatred that NON-Packer fans - even outside the NFC North - have for Aaron Rodgers. Captain Smug was not pleased with his team’s effort offensively, telling reporters that the team “left a lot of offense out there today.”

The Packers offensive stats? 11-19 on third down. 32 carries for 141 yards and 4.4 yards-per-carry. 282 yards passing. Oh yeah, Aaron. I’d definitely walk in to that coaches room Monday morning and give them the what-for, if I were you!

Not-afraid-to-make-a-prediction Prediction: Hmmm… Let’s look at some numbers before making this prediction. Rodgers is 41-14-1 versus the NFC North in his career*. 29 of those wins have come versus the Bears(16) and Lions (13). He’s had 18 career game-winning fourth quarter drives, and eleven of them have come against the Bears(6) and Lions (5). OF COURSE THE PACKERS WILL BEAT THE LIONS!!

* For reference purposes, Rodgers is 12-7-1 against the Vikings in his career, with zero fourth quarter comebacks or game-winning drives.