Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52) in the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Packers 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
In the first evaluation of the division title races around the NFL, none offered more surprises than the NFC North. Capping the week was a somewhat surprising day for the reigning champion Green Bay Packers.
Detroit Lions – Defensive line and Reggie Bush lead the way
The surprise division leader after week one thanks to a huge victory over Minnesota, it’s clear the Detroit Lions aren’t complete pushovers. Their defensive line was as advertised, collecting three sacks and shutting the run down after an early 78-yard touchdown hiccup. By far the biggest piece of good news was somebody other than Calvin Johnson making plays on offense. That was running back Reggie Bush, who piled up over 190 yards of offense including a touchdown catch. A big help came from four Vikings turnovers as the Lions pulled away late. They have a ways to go before silencing doubters, but it wasn’t a bad start.
Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler kept clean while defense does its thing
Another team with loads to prove in 2013 was the Chicago Bears. Their primary issues were and have always been on offense. Early on against the Cincinnati Bengals it seemed nothing had change as they fell behind 21-10 midway through the third quarter. Then, ever so suddenly, things shifted. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who wasn’t sacked all day directed two 80-yard drives that resulted in 14 unanswered points. The defense chipped in with three takeaways, including a huge one that stopped the Bengals deep in Bears territory. The 24-21 comeback victory was an eye-opener not just because it was the offense that led the way but that the rally came at the hands of a team that boasted the 6th ranked defense in 2012. Is it a sign of things to come?
Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers still shouldering the load
Same location, same opponent and largely similar results. The Green Bay Packers went into San Francisco with loads to prove. After their humiliating 45-31 defeat in the playoffs last year, the Pack had plans for more than just revenge. They wanted to prove the over 300 rushing yards they gave up on defense and limited rushing impact on offense could be corrected. Fast forward to a hotly contested week one and sadly not much changed. The Packers defense succeeded in limiting the 49ers rushing attack, allowing no player to go over 50 yards. However, in so doing they were gashed by quarterback Colin Kaepernick for 412 passing yards. On top of that, Aaron Rodgers got little to no help on the ground himself. Green Bay’s leading rusher had 41 yards. The Packers are still a good team, but show few signs of getting better.
Minnesota Vikings – Christian Ponder fails to answer first challenge
A lot of experts had a strong feeling the Minnesota Vikings would come crashing back to earth after their improbable playoff run last season. Part of that reasoning was a lack of faith in quarterback Christian Ponder who they felt couldn’t carry a game without the steady running of Adrian Peterson. Week one certainly did nothing to change their minds. Ponder had a pedestrian 236 yards passing despite some notable upgrades to the receiving corps. He also threw three costly interceptions and lost a fumble. His lone touchdown pass was to, surprise surprise, Peterson. The fact the Vikings defense allowed over 100 yards rushing and over 350 yards passing by the Lions wasn’t encouraging either. The crash may have already started unless Ponder can pick up his play quickly.