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The Black And Blue Division Returns


Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah went retro on the Bears Sunday. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.
Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah went retro on the Bears Sunday. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

The black-and-blue division. It seems anachronistic and archaic now, but in the olden days, the likes of Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Alex Karras and Alan Page prowled the frozen fields of the Midwest.

Now in the offense-first NFL, the teams are known for Aaron Rodgers, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson, and the Lions and Vikings play in domes. But Sunday may have seemed retro to some as big defensive plays proved crucial in Detroit’s win over the Bears and the Vikings’ “home” win against the Steelers in London.

The Lions this year have achieved a balanced attack with Reggie Bush, who gained 139 yards rushing in his first game back from an injury. Yet they also intercepted Jay Cutler three times. The turning point in the game occurred with the Lions holding a 30-16 lead that seemed precarious with the Bears’ offense finding a rhythm.

Cutler dropped back and held on to the ball way too long. Ndamukong Suh stripped the ball, Nick Fairley picked it up and rumbled four yards for a touchdown.

The Lions have invested plenty of draft picks in their defensive line, and it appears much stronger despite the loss of Cliff Avril to the Seahawks. Suh, Fairley and Ziggy Ansah are doing a good job getting to the quarterback.

The Vikings might’ve saved their season with a similar play.

The Vikings had blown a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, and you can bet the summer home on the lake that the faithful would’ve been howling for Leslie Frazier’s job if the team had lost this game. It sure appeared possible.

The Steelers, down 34-27, marched down the field and were in position to tie the game. They had enough time. They made some plays. But as Ben Roethlisberger dropped back, defensive end Everson Griffen got hold of him, and in a move worthy of wrestling, swung him around as if for a takedown. Big Ben fumbled, the Vikings recovered and that was it.

The Vikings also had an interception, but the team is hurting because of injuries to the secondary. Starting corner Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford were both out. The team needs secondary reinforcements. Now. Pass defense remains the team’s biggest problem. The Vikings would be 3-1 if the defense had been more stout at the end of games.

There’s a purple elephant in the room. Matt Cassel played a very good game and didn’t throw an interception. (He fumbled and receiver Jerome Simpson recovered.) It’s the Vikings' bye week, but within two weeks we’ll see whether Christian Ponder’s back when the team hosts Carolina. Vikings fans want Cassel to remain. Frazier better hope whoever is in there does well. The season could still prove to be a disaster, and the coach might go down with the long ship.

The Lions have shown a lot this year. Bush has been a big addition, and the defense has come up with big plays. Significantly, Matthew Stafford isn’t just slinging it all day long.

Those weren’t the only games where huge defensive plays were the turning point. In Houston, the Texans led the Seahawks by a touchdown late when Matt Schaub threw it up for grabs. Richard Sherman ran it in for a score, and Seattle won in overtime. Patrick Peterson’s two picks were crucial to the Cardinals’ comeback win over the Buccaneers, and the Titans converted four turnovers into enough points to beat the Jets.

So in a league dominated by offense, Week 4 was defined by play on the other side of the ball. And it felt like old times.