Although it wasn’t pretty, the Bears knocked off the Detroit Lions in the Motor City on Sunday to pick up their ninth victory of the season while ensuring a winning season.
En route to their 24-20 victory, the Bears survived a scare against a two-win team that would have seriously hampered their prospects of making the playoffs with the Packers right on their tail in the NFC North division race and New Orleans, New York, Tampa Bay, and Seattle in the hunt for the wild card.
Most analysts predicted a blowout victory for the Bears but it was evident early on that the game would not play out that way. Defensively, the Bears struggled to stop the Lions offense led by third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Lovie Smith was visibly upset by his defense’s lackadaisical performance, which culminated in a two-play, 91-yard touchdown drive by the Lions, who took a 17-14 lead into halftime.
After the game, players relayed to the media that Smith gave his defense a tongue-lashing, a tactic that has worked in the past and seemed to work on Sunday. The Lions managed just one field goal in the second half, which came on a short field after a Jay Cutler fumble at the 9-yard line. Otherwise, the defense locked down the Lions for the remainder of the game.
Brian Urlacher was credited with 17 tackles and a half-sack to lead the defense. Lance Briggs added seven tackles, Israel Idonije picked up five and a forced fumble, and Julius Peppers had four tackles and a sack.
D.J. Moore turned in one of the best performances of the game with six tackles, a key fourth-down pass breakup, and a critical fourth-quarter sack — which he shared with Urlacher — that pushed the Lions out of field goal range.
It was interesting to hear defensive players give credit to the offense for carrying them to victory in this game considering it was the offense that had typically praised the defense for most of the season. The Bears are fortunate that at least one unit showed up to play, otherwise it could have been an ugly loss and time to panic.
Mike Martz called yet another solid game plan and never wavered despite being down early in the fourth quarter. Cutler was efficient by completing 21 of 26 passes for 234 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He had the one fumble at the beginning of the second half, which came under heavy pressure because of a breakdown in protection.
Cutler’s go-to guy was Earl Bennett, who caught seven passes for 104 yards and continues to make strides toward becoming a great possession receiver. He’s already become a reliable one. Johnny Knox caught three passes for 34 yards, Matt Forte had two catches for 36 yards, and Chester Taylor hauled in five balls for 31 yards.
Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna came up with two key receptions in the win. His first catch went for a seven-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a fourth-quarter lead. His other reception came on a second-and-11 play on the final drive, which allowed the Bears to ice the game and kneel on the ball twice to run out the clock.
The Bears also stayed true in their commitment to the run game, finishing with 28 runs, five of which were Cutler scrambles. Forte rushed 13 times for 64 yards and a score. Taylor had nine carries for 33 yards and a touchdown. I thought the Bears did a good job of utilizing both backs as Forte finished with 15 touches and Taylor had 14.
The defense got away with playing poorly in the first half but they were fortunate to be facing a Lions team with two wins. If they play that way this week against the New England Patriots, one of the best teams in the league, they may not be able to climb out of the hole they’ll have dug for themselves.
The Bears are entering their most difficult stretch of the season, a four-game window against tough opponents in difficult situations. They have home games against two of the AFC’s finest, the Patriots and the Jets, and they have road games against division opponents in tough places to play, Minnesota and Green Bay. This is a stretch in which I had predicted four straight losses at the beginning of the season, but I also predicted an 8-8 record, which the Bears have surpassed. While it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll completely collapse and lose four straight, it’s not impossible. The Bears need to take it one game at a time and limit their mistakes while continuing their balance on offense and getting takeaways on defense.