The Blitz Read: Does anyone want to win the NFC South or North?

By Ron Clements for Sporting News.


Does anyone want to take control in the NFC North? How about the NFC South?

Of the seven teams in those two divisions who were playing Sunday, only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won. The NFC South was 1-3 on Sunday while the North teams were 0-3 with the Detroit Lions on their bye.

It’d be easy to say the Vikings are in danger of missing the playoffs, except the Green Bay Packers have been unable to capitalize on Minnesota’s losses. The Packers fell to 4-5 with their third straight defeat, a 47-25 shellacking at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. The Chicago Bears fell victim to Jay Cutler resorting to his turnover-prone ways in a 36-10 loss in Tampa.

The Falcons appeared poised to take control in the NFC South, but the NFL’s highest-scoring team was held to just one touchdown in a 24-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But only the Bucs were able to gain ground on the division leaders. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers both inexplicably lost with some late-game drama.

The Saints scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks and needed only a Will Lutz extra points to break a 23-23 tie with 1:21 remaining. But Lutz’s kick was blocked and returned for two points by Denver defensive back Will Parks to give the Broncos a 25-23 victory.

The Panthers were also tied late and were driving for a potential game-winning score against the Kansas City Chiefs. But receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who caught seven passes for 84 yards, was stripped by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters with 20 seconds remaining. The turnover led to a 37-yard field goal by Cairo Santos as time expired to give the Chiefs a 20-17 victory in Charlotte.

Someone will win the NFC South and North divisions, but it’s difficult to figure out who that might be with seven weeks remaining.

Injury report

The Packers were again hit by the injury bug with middle linebacker Jake Ryan and offensive lineman T.J. Lang both leaving in the first quarter with ankle injuries. Both were carted to the locker room. Lang later returned to the sideline on crutches and in a walking boot. Packers safety Micah Hyde, the team’s primary punt returner suffered a shoulder injury when he was hit after signaling for fair catch on a punt. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari left with a knee injury and did nto return.

The Bears lost Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long and rookie running back Jordan Howard with lower-leg injuries. Long was carted off the field with an ankle injury while Bears coach John Fox is hopeful Howard, the team’s leading rusher, simply has an ankle injury, but fears Howard may have a season-ending Achilles injury.

The Vikings signed offensive tackle Jake Long following a season-ending injury to left tackle Matt Kalil. The Vikings later lost right tackle Andre Smith for the season. The offensive line injuries continued Sunday when Long was carted off the field late in the Vikings’ 26-20 loss to Washington with an Achilles injury. Guard Alex Boone, who has dealt with a hip injury and concussion this season, may move to left tackle.

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks suffered a hip injury and did not return in their 26-20 loss to the Redskins.

Buccaneers center Evan Smith suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return to the 36-10 win over the Bears.

Jackonville Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee was ruled out after after suffering an ankle injury in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans.

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald will have an MRI on his “sore knee” Monday. It’s believed to be an MCL sprain, which is an injury through which Fitzgerald has previously played.

By the numbers

The Packers defense is giving up points at a record pace and clearly needs outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury. They were down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter on Sunday. The last time the Packers trailed by three touchdowns in the first quarter of a game was on Dec. 20, 1986, in a 55-24 loss to the New York Giants. The Packers trailed 35-16 at halftime, marking the first time since a 47-17 loss to the Eagles in 2004 that the Packers allowed five first-half touchdowns in a half. The Packers have allowed 30 points in a game in four times in a five-game span for the first time since 1953.

Not only did Panthers quarterback Cam Newton bring back the “Dab” Sunday, he set several records in the process. Newton threw for 261 yards and ran for 54 yards in the loss to the Chiefs to become the first player in NFL history with 20,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in his first six seasons. Newton became the fifth-youngest player to throw for 20,000 yards, behind only Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Dan Marino. Newton, who finished Sunday’s game 23 of 38, also passed Jake Delhomme’s team record of 1,580 completions with a 9-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen in the first quarter.

Fitzgerald continued to move up all-time receivers’ lists. He caught 12 passes for 133 yards in Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Fitzgerald is now sixth all-time in receptions with 1,086. He is the third youngest receiver with at least 14,000 receiving yards and is now 11th all-time.

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers went 23 of 44 for 326 yards three touchdowns in Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Rivers now has 301 career touchdowns, becoming the ninth player with at least 300 passing touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Rivers also threw four interceptions, two of which came in the final two minutes.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 32-yard run in a 35-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Elliott, who also caught two passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, now has 1,005 yards on the season. He leads the NFL in rushing and is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 rushing yards in 1983. Only Dickerson and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, in 2007, have rushed for over 1,000 yards in their first nine games.

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