GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Running backs coach Sam Gash had the official count, but Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements did not need an exact number to know running back Eddie Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Lacy
"I think Sam has the number, but I think it was in the teens," Clements said Monday. "So that's quite a few."

It was perhaps Lacy's most efficient performance of the season. Without the benefit of a big run (he had a long of 29 in his 105-yard game against Minnesota in Week 5), Lacy rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries with a long gain of 11. His 5.3-yard average was his best other than the Vikings game (8.1-yard average).

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with more than half of his yardage (34) after contact.

"We actually talked about that, T.J. [Lang] and I," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said Monday. "We were kind of standing around a couple plays, looking like [expletives], you know, not blocking and Eddie's just squirting out of there. He probably did it four or five times. It was impressive."

It wasn't just Lacy who was breaking free from Panthers' defenders. Receiver Randall Cobb worked the short and intermediate routes and turned them into big plays. He caught six passes for 121 yards, 89 of which came after contact according to PFF.

In its initial film review, PFF charged the Panthers with 11 missed tackles, but that could change by Wednesday, when it posts its revised numbers.

"I think we had 16 broken tackles at halftime," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's unbelievable. That's off the charts."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman called cornerback Kyle Fuller day-to-day after the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Month suffered a fractured right hand, and right hip pointer injury in Sunday's 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Fuller
Fuller is not expected to need surgery on his broken hand, but he failed to finish the Dolphins' game because of the injured hip.

Fuller's status is unknown for the Week 8 trip to New England to face the 5-2 Patriots.

"Up to this point today, I've heard it [the broken hand] as being a non-surgical issue," Trestman said.

"He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand, so we'll just see. He said he felt good today, but it'll be day to day. I don't know that the hand will deter him. I don't know that, I haven't talked to [the training staff] about it. But that's what I understand at this time."

The No. 14 overall selection of the 2014 NFL draft, Fuller replaced Charles Tillman (injured reserve) on the first team in Week 2, recording three interceptions and three forced fumbles in five starts.

Fuller's third-quarter exit on Sunday forced the Bears to play Sherrick McManis at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings, with Demontre Hurst lining up at nickelback.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Of the 15 plays the Buffalo Bills used to cover 80 yards and score their final touchdown in a 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, there's unequivocally one the Vikings wish they could have back.

"Fourth-and-20," safety Harrison Smith said. "Game over."

Smith
Greenway
The play, in which Bills quarterback Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler on a 24-yard strike just behind linebacker Chad Greenway, was still on players' minds in the postmortem analysis of the game. The Bills stressed the Vikings' defense with quick snaps a few times on Sunday, and while the Bills went into a no-huddle offense for the play, which came after Tom Johnson's third-down sack, Greenway was communicating a coverage adjustment to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn when the ball was snapped, putting the linebacker a half-step behind in his coverage drop.

"You look back -- I've watched the tape a couple times now -- and you wish you could change something, but it's hard to stop the clock when a team's driving on you in (a) two-minute (drill)," Greenway said. "A timeout, that's not my decision. All I remember is looking back and seeing that Captain was real deep, from trying to get back from the last snap, and we weren't lined up. I was trying to give him the call, and the ball was on top of us. I got to a good spot, but you've got to make the play in that situation. My hand was right in the pocket. The ball just didn't come out.

Asked if he would have had a better chance to knock the ball down if he hadn't been working on coverage adjustments with his head turned when the ball was snapped, Greenway said, "I wouldn't have been in that position, but that's on me. I can't blame anybody else for that."

The Bills have the fourth-fastest rate of play of any team so far this week, according to ESPN Stats & Information, averaging a snap once every 35.5 seconds of real time on Sunday. The Bills sped up their offense at a few different points, but a two-minute drill will obviously increase their pace, and it was in that situation where things got hectic for the Vikings.

"When you go fast, and it's one of those situations, (you're thinking), 'What's the down and distance? How many timeouts are left?'" Smith said. "When it's a two-minute, you're thinking, 'Keep them in bounds, clock running.' But when it's fourth down, it doesn't matter what the clock's doing. If you stop them, the game's over. There's a lot to process there, when they go no-huddle, kind of quick. I think that's why they do that."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson hasn't played in two weeks and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell won't tip off whether that streak is going to extend to three.

Johnson
Johnson continues to recover from a high ankle sprain in his right ankle, suffered in Week 3 against Green Bay and then aggravated again in Week 5 against the Bills. Johnson hasn't played since and while he'll travel to England with the Lions this week to face the Atlanta Falcons, whether he plays will be up in the air.

Johnson told ESPN "maybe" following the Lions' win against New Orleans when asked if he would be playing Sunday against the Falcons.

Caldwell, though, said it'll either be a full Calvin Johnson or no Calvin Johnson when he makes his return. The Lions have an off week following the London trip before the second half of the season begins.

"It's not going to be a thing of degrees," Caldwell said. "When they say he's cleared, he's ready to go and he’s feeling great, when they doctors say, OK, that's when it's going to happen. It's not going to be a whole lot of in between."

Johnson has missed six straight practices, was doubtful in Week 6, questionable in Week 7 and did not play in either game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.
The Detroit Lions were down their top wide receiver, two of their top three tight ends and still had a hobbled running back in Reggie Bush.

And yet receiver Ryan Broyles still rarely stepped on the field against the New Orleans Saints.

Broyles
The former second-round pick actually saw six snaps Sunday -- the most he’s had all season -- but four of those plays were runs. He was not targeted, was barely used and clearly has no role in this offense now, even with injuries all over the place to skill-position players.

Only one offensive player -- sixth lineman Travis Swanson -- played fewer offensive snaps than Broyles, and Swanson had five of them.

The Lions stuck with a three-receiver base set most of the game, too, with Golden Tate in on 63 of 70 plays, Jeremy Ross on 62 of 70 plays and Corey Fuller on 62 of 70 plays. Then came Broyles, who barely filled in.

He plays a different position, but tight end Jordan Thompson, who was called up Saturday by the Lions, had double the snaps of Broyles (12) and was even targeted once (an interception that bounced off his hands to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro).

Considering the Lions are in a constant rotation of players and formations to try to gain an advantage on an opponent, the lack of usage for Broyles is pretty jarring.

He fought to make the team during training camp and has expressed both understanding and frustration about his usage before -- on Twitter last week and to ESPN last month.

But as the injuries to other players pile up and Broyles continues to remain on the bench, it is becoming more and more clear there just might not be much of a role for him on the Lions.

Other snap count notes for the Lions from Sunday:
  • Joique Bell saw the majority of the snaps at running back -- 52 for him and 18 for Bush. Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game it was “absolutely not” a benching when Bush sat for most of the second half and that Bush was still dealing with his ankle injury.
  • Nick Fairley played a season-high 47 snaps and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus also credited him with four hurries of Drew Brees.
  • In parsing the numbers for defensive alignments, the Lions went to their traditional nickel with Danny Gorrer on 30 of 74 plays, the base 4-3 with Ashlee Palmer on 17 snaps, the big nickel with Cassius Vaughn on 15 snaps and a third nickel package with Don Carey on 12 snaps. Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played one snap last week and was the initial big nickel back, played only special teams for 23 plays.
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes continues to get some run spelling Tahir Whitehead, as Bynes played 15 of 74 snaps but did not record a statistic. He is a core special teams player, too, so he’s carving out a role on this defense.
  • Once again, only backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t play, but these position players saw less than 10 combined snaps between offense, defense and special teams: Cornelius Lucas (four, special teams); Jerome Couplin (eight, special teams); Caraun Reid (eight, defense); and Broyles (six, offense).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can't accuse the Green Bay Packers' 64-year-old defensive coordinator of being averse to trying new things.

On Sunday, after a week of questions about why Clay Matthews' production had slipped this season, Dom Capers unveiled another new defensive package. This one, called "NASCAR" presumably because it employed more speed on the defensive front, may not have led to a breakout for Matthews, but it proved useful in what was perhaps the Packers' best defensive showing of the year in their 38-17 win over Carolina.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsClay Matthews was able to put steady pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday.
And, oh yeah, Matthews managed to get a shared sack with Julius Peppers, although it came out of a different package.

In "NASCAR," Capers went without any traditional defensive linemen in what was a dime (six defensive back) secondary alignment. Instead, he lined up Matthews and Peppers -- his starting outside linebackers -- as defensive tackles on the interior of the line and flanked them with Nick Perry and Mike Neal as outside linebackers.

"It gets all four of our elephant types on the field at the same time," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Yeah, it's been very productive."

Capers used it only in third-down situations. The first five times he employed "NASCAR" on Sunday, the Packers came up with third-down stops on four of them, including Perry's sack of Cam Newton on third-and-5 to end the Panthers' second series. Carolina converted just 4-of-12 third downs.

"We like that a lot because you put me, Pep, Mike Neal and Nick Perry out there; that's a pretty good pass-rushing group," Matthews said. "When we put that in there, we're thinking that's a pass-rushing down, and we turn loose a little bit. You always love that."

The Packers sacked Newton just three times, but Matthews missed on two others. He shared one of the sacks with Peppers, who had another by himself. Still, through seven games this season, Matthews has just 1.5 sacks. After getting shut out in the tackle category a week ago at Miami, Matthews was credited with two stops against the Panthers.

"In all honesty, I don't have to prove it to anyone but myself," said Matthews, the four-time Pro Bowler. "I'm a good player, and I know that I am. And it's just about putting together performances."

The Packers didn't feast on turnovers like they had the previous four games (when they had 11 takeaways), although cornerback Casey Hayward picked off his second pass in as many games. But the defense was borderline dominant early in the game. At first quarter's end, the Panthers had just 5 total net yards.

"You wish every quarter was like that," Packers cornerback Davon House said. "We only got, what, 12 plays of defense, and the offense scored every single time they got the ball. That was probably as close to perfect."
DETROIT -- Earlier this month, Corey Fuller insisted he could do more. He was playing behind Calvin Johnson then, barely the target of any of Matthew Stafford’s attention and resigned to running the deep go routes and posts he had been assigned.

His job then was to pull a defender down the field so Stafford could find Golden Tate and others on shorter routes.

[+] EnlargeCorey Fuller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCorey Fuller's first career touchdown catch was a meaningful one for Detroit on Sunday.
Then Johnson’s high ankle sprain became more of an issue and Fuller was put into a much larger, more diverse role. The deeper routes he had to run turned into a fuller route tree, with slants and hitches and the full gamut of plays he learned.

He insisted, at some point, he would do more. That more came Sunday afternoon, with the Detroit Lions five yards from a come-from-behind win over the Saints.

Fuller, lined up on the right side, ran toward the back of the end zone. Initially, rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste hung with Fuller as Tate was doubled by the Saints. Then, Jean-Baptiste, playing the first defensive snaps of his career Sunday, let him go as Fuller rounded his route toward the middle of the end zone, tucked in the back.

“He’s 1A,” Stafford said. “Golden was in there, too, but they doubled Golden. He had done such a great job all game, they put a little double-team down there, a little bracket. Corey had to go outside, beat a corner and he was just trailing on the baseline, saw the double team on Golden and put a ball where I thought Corey could go up and get it and get both feet down.”

Stafford threw the ball as Fuller headed toward the middle of the field. He jumped up, extended his arms and caught the ball. Then he controlled his body enough to make sure both feet landed in bounds before he fell out of the end zone for the game-winning 5-yard touchdown.

“I know I don’t get called much,” Fuller said. “I’m just here to help any way I can. Matt threw a great ball, the line blocked perfectly and all I had to do was come down with it. I had to do the easy job.”

It was a job, though, that he had never had to do before.

It was the first touchdown of Fuller’s career and only his ninth career NFL catch. It was the second week in a row Fuller had five targets and his three catches tied a career high. His 44 yards were the second-best numbers of his career.

As he said, he knew he could do more. He just had to wait for it.

“He’s put in so much work in the past year to get where he’s at,” Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He deserved that.

“He deserved every bit of that.”
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With time to reflect, Aaron Rodgers may see this stretch of football -- one that has all sorts of historical milestones that we'll get too soon enough – as one of the finest of his career.

But late Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, who last week insisted the offense he directs still was not humming along as he would like, remained unwilling to concede that much has changed.

Who knows what it will take to get Rodgers to acquiesce, but apparently this kind of start to a game -- touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown -- in Sunday's 38-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers apparently did not satisfy his criteria.

At least he was willing to give an inch or two this week.

"I think we're getting closer," Rodgers said.

Rodgers wants more yards (the Packers managed 363 on Sunday) and more opportunity (they ran just 56 offensive plays). But here's why it might be time for Rodgers to admit this offense is rolling: For the first time this season, it resembled days like in 2011, when Rodgers was in the midst of his MVP season and had a smorgasbord of options in the passing game.

In Sunday's dismantling of the Panthers, Rodgers' 19 completions were spread amongst nine different players, a season high. That's in contrast to three times this season, including last week's game at Miami, when Rodgers completed passes to just five different players.

In 2011, Rodgers had seven games in which he completed passes to at least nine different players. Last season, it happened once, and it came against the Philadelphia Eagles when Rodgers was a spectator because of his collarbone injury.

"Back in '11, I feel like we spread it around a little more," said Rodgers, who was 19-of-22 for 255 yards with three touchdowns on Sunday. "We've had a lot of targets for Jordy [Nelson] and Randall [Cobb] this year, so we've tried the last four games to find ways to move those guys around and get them positive matchups."

This wasn't just the Jordy Nelson show, although the NFL's receiving yardage leader entering the week still managed four catches for 80 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown (his fourth straight game with a score).

Five different Packers scored touchdowns, including rushing touchdowns by Eddie Lacy and James Starks (who combined for 99 yards on 19 carries). When Rodgers also can include Cobb (six catches for 121 yards and his eighth touchdown of the season) and Davante Adams (who had a 21-yard touchdown catch) plus completions to two different tight ends, it qualifies as offensive diversity.

"Everybody got involved," said Cobb, who has matched his career high for touchdown passes in just seven games. "We were able to move the ball really well. Just drive after drive, able to capitalize and put points on the board. At the end of the day, that's the kind of offense we want to be, continue to be. We ran the ball well, we passed the ball well. Everything was open for us."

Had Rodgers not sailed a ball over tight end Richard Rodgers' head in the end zone on his final throw of the game late in the third quarter, he would have finished with four touchdown passes and a passer rating of 157.6 (on a scale in which 158.3 is the max). Still, he finished with just two other incompletions, and a harsh grader might consider both of them drops. When he gave way to Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter, Rodgers' final rating of 154.5 was the second-best mark of his career.

For the fourth straight game (all wins for the 5-2 Packers) he threw at least three touchdowns without an interception. Only Tom Brady (in 2007) has done that in a season.

He ran his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 192, his career high and the second-best total in team history behind Bart Starr (294, 1964-65).

All of it is starting to feel like 2011, when Rodgers was on the best roll of his career.

"I'll say this about Aaron: Aaron is a much better today than he was in 2011," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His responsibility level has increased a lot since then. So, what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communication between Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he's clearly a better player."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It appeared Sunday would be another rough day for Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had hit just three of his first 11 passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. But the progress Bridgewater made later in Sunday's game, including his first NFL touchdown pass, came after what could be an important realization in the quarterback's development.

Bridgewater
Bridgewater threw the first of his two interceptions to Leodis McKelvin after he appeared to pass up a deep shot to Jarius Wright down the middle, firing late to Chase Ford on a ball that was tipped and intercepted. McKelvin also undercut an out route to Adam Thielen that Bridgewater appeared to throw late after hitching twice. The problems led the rookie to think back to what he was doing in training camp during a stretch of interceptions in early August, and what he experienced at that point ultimately helped him turn things around on Sunday.

"That was just me trying to be perfect," Bridgewater said. "I think I went back to old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area, instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting the offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better; just get a rhythm."

After the two interceptions, Bridgewater found one. He hit 12 of his final 15 throws for 136 yards and a touchdown, making arguably his best throws of the day to extend drives on third downs. He hit Greg Jennings up the seam for 38 yards on third-and-7, found Wright on a gorgeous 28-yard back-shoulder throw on third-and-18, and hit Wright on the same drive for 14 yards on third-and-10. After a loss to the Detroit Lions in which he went just 2-for-8 on throws longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater hit several throws downfield on Sunday, connecting with Jennings, Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on 12 of his 15 completions.

"After the second interception, Greg came up to me and told me, 'Hey, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that coming from a veteran, that was just telling me to relax and just play football."

Bridgewater overshot a deep ball to Patterson that might have sealed the game on the Vikings' final drive, and he was sacked five times on a day where he said he still held the ball too long on several occasions. He also blamed himself for a red zone sack in the fourth quarter where he had a run-pass option and kept the ball instead of handing off to Jerick McKinnon. "I should have left the run on, but that's a play where I was trying to think too much," Bridgewater said. "I need to give my guys a chance [to make a play]."

If the game baked some progress into Bridgewater's game, in a season that increasingly looks like it will be about developing young players for the future, the Vikings will be better for it. On Sunday, there was reason to think Bridgewater made some progress after an ugly start to his day.

"I thought he settled down better in the third quarter and end of the second quarter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We continue to have high expectations of him, and he needs to keep being put in these situations, as well."
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DETROIT -- On Saturday evenings, during the team’s final meeting of the night before a game on Sunday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell ends those sessions with the same message every time.

Above all else, win. No matter what.

It’s a simple message, really. But too often in the recent past for the Lions, it has been the opposite. This used to be a team that would give away fourth-quarter leads and hand victories to opponents. This was a team last season that held leads in the fourth quarter of almost every game in the second half of the season and found ways to lose time and time again.

This is part of why Caldwell is here, because of those collapses. So with four minutes left Sunday against the New Orleans Saints and the Lions needing two touchdowns to win and an offense struggling without Calvin Johnson, they needed Caldwell’s message to somehow resonate.

They needed a spark to resurrect an offense that was built to have many weapons to endure in the face of injuries, not to collapse when Johnson wasn’t in there.

“Just hard finding good rhythm,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “These defenses are putting together great game plans as well, so it’s tough to kind of get through that sometimes.”

The Lions are hoping the double-digit deficit turned 24-23 win over the Saints in the last 3 minutes, 52 seconds is the ignition for the rest of the season.

Facing third-and-14, Matthew Stafford threw the ball up to his hot receiver, Golden Tate. And 73 yards later -- 65 of them from Tate after the catch -- a Lions offense that gained 187 yards through three quarters had a touchdown, a belief and that offensive spark.

“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stafford said. “Just to catch it at a standstill, basically I just threw him a ball up. He was hot. He was calling for it. Wanted it.

“I gave him a chance on a ball and he came back, caught it and he did the rest. It was pretty impressive.”

The Lions' defense saw that and started pressuring Drew Brees even more on the chances it could get. On a third-and-9, the offensive spark turned into a defensive play. George Johnson pressured his man from the side and forced Brees off rhythm. His pass to Marques Colston ended up intercepted by Detroit safety Glover Quin.

Johnson said the Lions knew at some point Brees was going to have to hold the ball a split-second longer to make a play. It led to the pressure and the pick.

And Caldwell’s message of believing took hold even more: Above all else, win.

With 3:10 left and 14 yards and an extra point between a loss and an improbable victory, the Lions ran four times, passed twice and received one pass interference call. Then, five yards from the end zone on third down with 1:48 left, Stafford saw Tate bracketed by the Saints and Corey Fuller breaking toward the middle of the end zone.

Fuller started in Johnson’s place Sunday, and in the biggest spot of his career Fuller made a play reminiscent of his mentor. He leaped, controlled his body and got both of his feet down. It was the definition of a role player with a massive play.

“It was a toe-touch,” Pettigrew said. “That’s real Calvinish. I’m not taking anything away from him, but that was pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

That is an offensive spark completed for a team in desperate need of one -- for one day and for the rest of the season.

“Games in this league are crazy,” Caldwell said. “You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out.”

Down 13 with under four minutes left and no Calvin Johnson -- no, no one could have seen this coming at all. Except maybe Caldwell with his message: Above all else, win.
videoORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mike Zimmer became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in no small part because of games like these. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, presided over a team that blew five last-minute leads in 2013, effectively handing over their chance to win a mediocre division in a series of miscommunications, coverage breakdowns and missed chances to salt away games. Zimmer and Frazier will share a field next Sunday in Tampa, and the closing touchdown drive the Vikings allowed in a 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday shares some DNA with the ones that helped send Frazier back to being a defensive coordinator.

But the Vikings' problems were spliced in between a set of commanding plays from an aggressive defense, and they put a sour finish on a performance that looked nothing like the tepid defensive efforts the Vikings had last season. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink several times on Sunday, and came tantalizingly close to taking the game for themselves.

That they didn't ultimately shows how much of a work in progress they remain.

"You check off every thing you wanted to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run as well as we would like," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But the game wasn't over. There was time on the clock, and they were able to make some key throws there at the end."

The Vikings' performance, which featured six sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, will ultimately be remembered for the throws Bills quarterback Kyle Orton made, especially in situations where the Vikings had the Bills dead to rights. Greenway was targeted on one of those throws -- a fourth-and-20 strike to tight end Scott Chandler, who got just behind the linebacker after it appeared Greenway was still communicating defensive adjustments to teammates when the ball was snapped.

"You can't have it," Greenway said. "It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw-and-catch. That's what sucks about this game; you play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Three plays later, cornerback Josh Robinson was matched against wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third-and-12; Robinson had inside leverage on Watkins in man coverage, but Watkins beat a quick jam from Robinson and got inside on a slant route for 18 yards. Then, on second-and-20 after an intentional grounding penalty that forced 10 seconds off the clock, Orton hit Chris Hogan on a jump ball over Xavier Rhodes. Two plays later, the Bills were in the end zone, on a touchdown pass to Watkins that Orton squeezed past Rhodes with one second left.

"I've just got to make the play on the ball," Rhodes said. "No matter if it was good coverage, I've got to make the play."

Coming into Sunday's game, the Vikings were tied for the second-worst conversion rate in the league on third downs of 10 yards or longer, giving up first downs on nine of their 27 attempts. They'd forced a fumble on a third-and-10 in the first quarter, and sacked Orton on a third-and-10 and third-and-17 in the fourth quarter. But then came the fourth-down completion to Chandler, the third-down slant to Watkins and the second down jump ball to Hogan, and the Vikings' progress was tough to remember.

"We probably need to be better in some of those long-yardage situations than we have been," Zimmer said. "That's kind of been the Achilles heel. But, if you go back and look at the things we're working on: playing the run. Other than the one long run [by C.J. Spiller], I thought we played the run well. The third-down conversions have been better. Defensively, I think we continue to work towards where we have to get to. Our guys have to continue to have confidence in themselves that they can make these plays at the end of the ball game."
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CHICAGO -- Outside the closed double doors of the Chicago Bears' locker room in the bowels of Soldier Field after the team’s 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, loud yelling pierced the busy hallway, and a source later said the noise was Brandon Marshall calling out quarterback Jay Cutler.

Just down the hall at the team’s postgame news conference, Bears coach Marc Trestman and Cutler gave contradictory statements when asked why the team handed off to Matt Forte just twice in the first half.

[+] EnlargeCameron Wake and Jay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears QB Jay Cutler had one interception and three fumbles (one lost) in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins.
Trestman said “We had some runs called,” but the Dolphins moved “into certain fronts that forced us to get out [of the runs].” Cutler said, “We had two runs called. ... It’s not like we had 12 [runs] called.”

The contradictory statements, slight locker room friction, and subsequent frustration from Marshall, not to mention guard Kyle Long criticizing the fans at Soldier Field, underscore the dysfunction seemingly taking hold of the Bears just a week after they blasted the Atlanta Falcons 27-13 on the road. Ultimately, the root of the problem on offense proved, as usual, to be turnovers. In each of the team’s four losses this season, Cutler committed multiple turnovers, leading to a total of 37 points for the opponent.

“Turnovers obviously hurt you,” Trestman said. “When you turn over the ball, you take yourself out of it. We had three turnovers today offensively, and that was after a bad start. If you look at the games, I think there [is] some reasonably good execution in terms of how utilizing our offense, particularly.”

But none of it means anything if you can’t protect the football. Heading into the game Sunday, the Bears averaged 423.3 yards of offense in their losses, but turned over the ball a total of nine times. Chicago turned over the ball three times against the Dolphins.

“Same mistakes, same mistakes, same mistakes,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to protect the football.”

Down 7-0 in the second quarter, Cutler’s pass intended for tight end Martellus Bennett sailed with Reshad Jones picking it off and returning it 50 yards to set up the Dolphins at the Chicago 23. Santonio Holmes ran a go route down the sideline, which was expected to draw away coverage from Bennett.

But Holmes wound up running free down the sideline, while two defenders covered Bennett as he watched Cutler’s pass sail over his head.

“We got squeezed from the outside. It was a little bit high,” Cutler said. “I think Marty saw the squeeze coming. I don’t even know if he saw it coming to be honest with you. They did a good job with coverage. They really did. They mixed it up, took a lot of the deep shots from us.”

Jones’ interception gave the Dolphins a short field to work with, and Ryan Tannehill would cap the 23-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.

“After watching film all week, we saw [Cutler] was looking where he threw the ball,” Jones said. “He was always looking at his receivers and never looking off. I tried to take advantage of that, and it paid off.”

Miami received another short field when Cameron Wake sacked and stripped Cutler at the Chicago 16.

Four plays later, the Bears made the score 24-7 on a Caleb Sturgis field goal.

“You watched the game. What’s breaking down?” Forte asked. “Penalties and turnovers, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Trestman and Marshall called the offense’s performance “unacceptable” multiple times in their postgame remarks.

“You want me to say it again?” Marshall asked. “[A record of] 3-4 is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. You don’t get a tomorrow in this league. We’re halfway through this season! It’s time.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 victory Sunday over the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field:

Cobb
Ketchup with your touchdown, sir: If Randall Cobb keeps catching touchdown passes at this rate -- he tied his career high with his eighth touchdown (in just the seventh game of the season) -- who knows what else he'll see on his future Lambeau leaps? But he was quite surprised to come out of the stands with ketchup all over his No. 18 jersey after his 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. "I apologize to whoever's hot dog that was," Cobb said. "It was fresh. I know that because I had all of the ketchup on me." Cobb said he likes hot dogs, even ones with ketchup. "I wasn't expecting one to get on my shoulder pads, though," said Cobb, who caught six passes for 121 yards.

Matthews' taunting penalty: Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was close to having a big day with at least two near sacks only to see Panthers quarterback Cam Newton escape, but he did share a sack with Julius Peppers (1.5 sacks) in the fourth quarter. However, he was flagged for taunting on the play. "I think just my body posture was a little too mean-looking," Matthews said. "You know how it is nowadays, we've got to be best buds out there, you can't show any aggression." Of course, Matthews said something, too. "But nothing bad," he added.

Dislocated finger: Packers cornerback Davon House, who started in place of the injured Sam Shields, knew something was wrong with his right ring finger when he deflected a pass in the second half, but "I didn’t want to look at it," he said. House said he dislocated it. He squirmed on the bench when it was popped back in place. "I panicked a little bit," House said. The only other injury announced was to running back James Starks (ankle).
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 24-23 win over the New Orleans Saints.
  • Corey Fuller had never been in that spot before. He scored his first career NFL touchdown, and after, he became very popular. When asked if his phone was “blowing up,” Fuller deadpanned: “Yes. I feel it in my pocket.”
  • Bush
    Bush
    Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he did not bench running back Reggie Bush, after he played only a handful of snaps in the second half in favor of Joique Bell. Caldwell said Bush was still struggling with the ankle injury that kept him out of last Sunday’s game at Minnesota, so he stuck with Bell. After the game, Bush declined to speak with the media.
  • Calvin Johnson was seen leaving the Detroit locker room after the Lions’ win, but he wouldn’t give any indication whether he’d play next week against Atlanta. When asked by a reporter if he thought he’d play, he said, “maybe” as he was walking away.

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