After nearly six quarters of play Sunday involving the four best teams in the NFC, absolutely nothing had been determined about which team or teams might be saddled with the title Pretender.
In the first game between 8-2 Atlanta and 7-3 Green Bay, “Matty Ice” Ryan engineered a short final drive after a fine kick return by Eric Weems, and the Falcons won, 20-17, on a 47-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. About the only thing verified by this contest was that Green Bay lacks a real running game, which everyone has known since Ryan Grant went down for the season against Philadelphia in Week One. On the other hand, Green Bay also verified its defensive excellence by, among other accomplishments, holding the NFL’s leading receiver, Roddy White, to five catches for a mere 49 yards.
In “America’s Game of the Week” at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Eagles trailed the Bears, 14-13, with two minutes to play in the first half. They stood four yards away from Chicago’s end zone; it was second down.
And Michael Vick threw his first interception of the year.
It was picked off at the goal line by Chris Harris after being tipped at the line by Tommie Harris. (Monday headline: Vick Harrissed?) Shortly thereafter, Chicago’s Jay Cutler completed a 40-yard pass to Earl Bennett. Two plays later the QB hit Johnny Knox for 14 more yards. Two more plays later and Bennett caught a six-yard TD pass after a juke in, then out, that Quintin Mikell bit on (in) just enough.
As Chicago took an eight point lead into the locker room at half, however, their “dominance” felt more like Atlanta’s three-point margin of victory.
Thirty more minutes of play would determine whether Jay Cutler had actually awakened an offense to match the Bears’ excellent D. He already had three touchdown passes. Could da Bears emerge from Mash-Up Sunday as the class of the NFC? Hmmm…in total yards Chicago led Philadelphia only 196-180.
The second half began with the Devon Hester Show – a kick runback to the Bears’ 45, and shortly after that, a 34-yard reception. Then Cutler hit his fourthTD pass of the game (to Greg Olsen), tying a career high.
(And everybody who would have bet Jay Cutler had had a four touchdown-pass game before Sunday, raise his or her hand.
Both of you are lying.)
Philadelphia trailed by 15, 28-13.
Following a fine pass deflection by Dimitri Patterson, former lineman and Fox commentator Tony Siragusa told his viewers that, Patterson’s play notwithstanding, the Eagles missed the injured Asante Samuel. He had a point. Patterson had been about “two inches too late” on Olsen’s TD catch in the first half.
That wasn’t all of the matter, though, as the Bears put together an 18-play drive that ate up most of the third quarter and ended with a Robbie Gould field goal. The Eagles had 16:26 to overcome an 18-point deficit.
At Chicago’s eight, early in the fourth quarter, another Vick pass was batted down, but a David Akers field goal made the game a two possession affair – if you call 15 points “two possessions.” (It’s actually “two possessions and a really great play executed perfectly.”) But midway through the fourth frame, Vick completed a pass to Jason Avant for a first down, scrambled for a near first down that became one with a penalty, then hit Riley Cooper for 29 yards at Chicago’s ten.
And the Bears’ defense stiffened. Philly had to settle for another field goal and what seemed like a sure on-sides kick with 4:47 left and trailing 31-19.
Weirdly, the Eagles kicked deep.
With 4:35 left they had only one timeout left.
And at 4:30 to go they used their last timeout. Time ticked away, but with 1:54 left, on fourth and nine, Vick hit TE Brent Celek for a 41-yard TD. Celek was surrounded by 23 Bears, I believe, making the toss the rough equivalent of hitting Skokie, Illinois, with a baseball thrown from the moon.
Five-point game…on-sides kick for real this time…but the Bears recovered it, and won, 31-26, establishing firmly that there is no firm NFC leader as November ends. Some will tout Atlanta, now 9-2, but basically, Chicago looked just as good (although the notion of Jay Cutler performing well consistently has to be embraced for that equality to hold). And in the end, one of the Falcons’ losses came at the hands of the Eagles…who lost to Green Bay.
“Game Center (Green Bay Packers 17 – 20 Atlanta Falcons).” NFL.com. 28 November 2010.
“Green Bay (7-3) at Atlanta (8-2).” NFL Football. Fox. Fox29, Philadelphia. 28 November 2010.
“Philadelphia (7-3) at Chicago (7-3)).” NFL Football. Fox. Fox29, Philadelphia. 28 November 2010.