Vikings QB Kirk Cousins’ injury could clear a path in NFC North

Chicago
By Chicago 5 Min Read

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Even before they stepped on the field at SoFi Stadium to play the Chargers on Sunday night, the Bears’ prospects in the NFC North went up a notch — at the unlikely venue of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. 

While the Bears still are a long way from playoff contention, a pair of division games became a little more winnable after the Vikings’ 24-10 victory over the Packers on Sunday afternoon. 

The Vikings, even in an impressive victory, lost quarterback Kirk Cousins to an injury that had coach Kevin O’Connell fearing the worst — a season-ending torn Achilles. And the Packers, who had hopes of a seamless transition from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love, continued a downward slide toward a rebuild with a disappointing performance at home for their fourth consecutive loss. 

The Bears, of course, need to take care of their own business to make the most out of coach Matt Eberflus’ second season after an 0-4 start. But NFL mediocrity and the attrition that fuels it plays a part in building that momentum. 

The Bears, who lost to the Vikings and Cousins 19-13 at Soldier Field on Oct. 15, play them Nov. 27 at U.S. Bank Stadium on “Monday Night Football.” They face the Packers at Lambeau Field on Jan. 7. 

The 5-2 Lions, who play the Raiders at Ford Field on Monday night, look like the biggest winners. They already have beaten the Packers — 34-20 on Sept. 28 at Lambeau Field — and each of their division rivals have hit speed bumps recently. Not just Cousins’ injury and the Packers’ demise, but the Bears have failed to meet even modest expectations and lost Justin Fields to a dislocated thumb. Fate finally seems to be in the Lions’ corner.

But Fields is expected to return, perhaps as early as Sunday against the Saints at the Superdome. And in the current state of the division, it won’t take much to breathe hope into a difficult season. Three of the Bears’ final nine opponents currently have winning records — the Lions (5-2) at home and away and the Browns (4-3) on the road in Week 15.

The Vikings, who improved to 4-4 after an 0-3 start, looked like they were in position to make a run at the resurgent Lions before Cousins’ injury. Cousins, who came into the game leading the NFL with 16 touchdown passes and in second with 2,057 passing yards, had completed 23 of 31 passes for 274 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 122.2 passer rating to build a commanding 24-10 lead. 

But on third-and-19 from the Packers’ 22-yard line, Cousins’ right leg buckled as he tried to step up in the pocket, and he was sacked by Kenny Clark. He limped off the field, unable to put any pressure on the leg. 

Jaren Hall, a 25-year-old rookie from BYU who was drafted in the fifth round, made his NFL debut in place of Cousins and completed 3 of 4 passes for 23 yards to close out the win. 

But with an opportunity to make a playoff run, O’Connell could turn to a veteran. Nick Mullens, who is 5-12 in 17 NFL starts with the 49ers and Browns, is on injured reserve but eligible to return after next week. -Career backup Sean Mannion is on the practice squad. 

In Green Bay, the Packers figure to carry on with Love, but he’s trending downward. After throwing for three touchdowns without an interception in back-to-back games against the Bears (a 38-10 victory) and Falcons (25-24 loss) to open the season, Love has five touchdown passes and eight interceptions for a 66.6 passer rating in his last five games.

The Lions are the biggest beneficiary. But the Bears still hold out hope they can be a factor in the NFC North if the Vikings and Packers don’t recover quickly.  

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