As we near the halfway point of the 2012 NFL regular season, we are starting to see some familiar faces among the ranks of the Water Cooler Sports NFC North Game Balls and Goats awards. The downside to this is it kills some of the weekly drama, as we wait on tenterhooks for the much-coveted — and much-dreaded — awards and dishonors to be announced. The upside is that most of these accolades are pretty easy to hand out. There just isn’t a whole lot of room for debate.
So let’s get right to it.
Game Ball — offense
For the second week in a row, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran away with it. Despite being sacked three times in the 1st quarter against the St. Louis Rams, his numbers were nothing short of phenomenal. He completed 30 of 37 passes (81.1 percent) for 342 yards (9.2 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 132.2. He brought his season passer rating to a league-leading 109.6. Since the Packers’ rocky 1-2 start, Rodgers has passed for 1,442 yards and thrown 16 touchdowns against only two interceptions while being sacked 10 times. Rodgers is a major reason why the Packers have been able to pull back into contention despite losing several starters — wide receiver Greg Jennings, running back Cedric Benson, and cornerback Charles Woodson — to injury. Congratulations to Aaron Rodgers for another spectacular week.
Honorable mention must go to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who carried his offense on a day in which quarterback Christian Ponder struggled mightily. He rushed 23 times for 153 yards (6.7 ypc) and one touchdown.
Game Ball — defense
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman continued his dominant season, virtually shutting down Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (three receptions on 11 targets for 34 yards), registering seven tackles, and defending two passes. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw Tillman’s way 12 times, but Tillman was able to hold him to a passer rating of 68.1 on those plays. He has been stifling quarterbacks all season, holding them to a . Tillman has to be in contention for Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), and he richly deserves this week’s Game Ball.
Honorable mention goes to Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback Casey Hayward, who tallied three tackles, defensed a pass, and snagged another interception — his fourth of the season. No other rookie in the league has more than one interception. Considering the fact he has held opposing quarterbacks to an incredible this year, Hayward has to at least be given consideration for Rookie DPOY.
Game Ball — special teams
Although rarely should one play be enough to merit a game ball, special teams can be a different beast. Detroit Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson blocked a field goal attempt by Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould to help keep the score close. Defensive end Ndamukong Suh nearly succeeded in blocking Gould’s previous attempt, but it was Jackson who managed to get home. It was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable team performance.
Honorable mention goes to Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay, who punted three times for 116 yards (38.7 yards per punt). He forced three fair catches, dropping two punts inside the 20-yard line and finishing with no touchbacks. Masthay has been masterful all season and must be considered a favorite for Special Teams Player of the Year.
Goat — offense
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder wasn’t just bad this week — he was risible. He completed eight of 18 passing attempts (47.1 percent) for 58 yards (3.4 ypa), one touchdown, and two interceptions, while being sacked three times. If it weren’t for the heroic efforts of Adrian Peterson and the defense, Minnesota could well have been defeated this week against the Arizona Cardinals. As it was, they narrowly pulled out a victory, which is the most important thing, but that does not spare Ponder this week’s Goat dishonors.
Dishonorable mention goes to three Detroit Lions players — quarterback Matthew Stafford and running backs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell — all of whom gave up costly turnovers in the red zone that kept their team off the board. Had the Lions converted on any of those three drives, it would have changed the complexion of the game.
Goat — defense
This was the only category in which our judges struggled. No one NFC North defensive player stood out as being all that bad in Week 7. In the end, someone had to take home the Goat, and that unlucky soul this week was Detroit Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith. The judges actually felt pretty bad about saddling him with the dishonors, since he had been picked up off the street only four days prior to the game, and in most respects he actually had a good game. In particular, he made a couple of fantastic plays in the red zone to deny the Chicago Bears a score. Nevertheless, he was flagged for an untimely (albeit questionable) horse collar tackle and was unable to shut down wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Therefore, he will have the dubious privilege of polishing this week’s Golden Goat.
Goat — special teams
Everyone gets a case of the jitters once in a while, but Detroit Lions wide receiver Stefan Logan must have been particularly nervous. He coughed up not one, but two fumbles on punt returns, one of which was lost. They were two in a long series of miscues that doomed Detroit against Chicago.
Dishonorable mention goes to Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush, whose unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on punt coverage cost his team valuable yardage.
If you would like to serve on next week’s Game Balls and Goats panel, be sure to show up for the Monday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of the NFC North or not. If you watch the games, you have a vote.
If you follow the NFC South (or any other division) and would like to take charge of handing out the weekly awards and dishonors for that division, drop me a line at and I’ll help you get set up.
Until next week, congratulations to our Game Ball winners. As for our Goats, you have a lot to think about, dunces.