BBAO: NFC North race tightens

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Well then. A few things changed in this division after I departed the Metrodome early Sunday evening.

The Chicago Bears lost for only the second time this season, a 13-6 defeat to the Houston Texans that tightened our NFC North standings. There is now one game separating the Bears (7-2) and Green Bay Packers (6-3). The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, are now 1.5 games off the pace at 6-4.

The Bears also lost their quarterback and good luck charm for an undetermined time after Jay Cutler suffered a concussion at some point during the first half. How important has Cutler been to the Bears of late? Going back to Week 7 of last season, they are 12-1 in games he starts and finishes and 1-6 in games he's missed or left early.

The Bears signed Jason Campbell to give them a better fallback than they had last season in Caleb Hanie, but rare is the team that effects an entirely smooth transition to its backup quarterback. Coach Lovie Smith couldn't estimate how much time, if any, Cutler would miss, making this story one of our top priorities for the next few days.

But while we have a moment, let's take a tour of Sunday's local coverage in the NFC North:

  • Michael Wilbon of ESPNChicago.com calls it a "giant mistake" for the Bears to have entrusted their play calling to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

  • In another era, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Cutler probably would have finished the game.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The problem wasn’t just that Jay Cutler suffered a concussion against the Houston Texans on Sunday night. It was that he and the Bears played as if they were concussed for most of the first half."

  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: "The prospect of being without Cutler for more than one half is more daunting than the loss to the Texans. The Bears probably have five games on their schedule -- Packers, Vikings twice, Lions and the 49ers next week -- that will be more significant than this one."

  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com after the Vikings' 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions: "Rebuilding or not, the Vikings are in the thick of the NFC playoff chase as they take a break before playing three in a row against two teams that figure to be playing in January."

  • Christian Ponder won back Vikings fans for at least one week, writes Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on running back Adrian Peterson: "He's becoming the player of the year when he should have been thrilled with being considered the comeback player of the year."

  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions opted against employing words such as 'desperate' and 'dire' when describing their rapidly fading playoff chances after losing a must-win opportunity against the Vikings. But that’s only because they sought solace in another diagnosis. Delusion."

  • John Niyo of the Detroit News: "It's a long season. One after another, the Lions' players kept repeating that phrase after the game. The more they said it, though, the more it sounded like wishful thinking. Because the way they played Sunday -- and the way they've played on too many Sundays the last two months -- this season likely won't be long enough."

  • Lions cornerback Chris Houston, via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "Our shot for the playoffs, it's kind of slim. But if we come back and win these three home games, we'll still have a shot."

  • Five of the Packers' final seven games are against NFC North opponents, notes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

  • Mike Vanderamuse of the Green Bay Press-Gazette hands out midseason awards for the Packers.

  • Here is our bye week report on the Packers if you missed it over the weekend.