Swift, Lions drop the ball; Bears catch a break

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The Bears knocked off the Detroit Lions in dramatic fashion on Sunday at Ford Field to begin the season 1-0 for the first time since 2013. For three quarters of football, the Bears were every bit as bad as one could fear. But a flip of the switch helped Mitch Trubisky ignite a fourth-quarter comeback.

The Bears were sluggish out of the gates, going three-and-out on the opening series of the game. They moved the ball better on the second drive, but turned it over on downs when Trubisky fired a fourth-down pass behind Ted Ginn Jr.

The Lions and Bears then traded field goals and punts on the next eight possessions of the first half. The 6-6 ball game had the makings of a snooze fest. That was until the Lions offense came to life.

With under a minute to play until halftime, the Lions ran a four-play drive from midfield capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by rookie D’Andre Swift to take a 13-6 lead into intermission. Coming out of halftime, the Lions engineered an 8-play, 72-yard drive against a lifeless Bears defense to score its second straight touchdown and take a commanding 20-6 lead.

On their next possession, the Lions added another field goal for good measure, pushing the lead to three scores at 23-6.

At that point, things looked pretty bleak for the Bears. The offense had been unable to get anything going for three quarters. To expect them to score three times in just one quarter, including two touchdowns, seemed a bit far-fetched.

Few expected Trubisky to pull off the fourth-quarter magic that he did.

Trubisky flips the switch in the fourth quarter

Capitalizing on a drive they started late in the third quarter, Trubisky connected with new tight end Jimmy Graham for a two-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter. Graham, who was one-on-one with a cornerback, used his large frame to shield the defender and showed exactly why the Bears signed him in free agency.

The Lions and Bears then exchanged punts before Lions kicker Matt Prater missed a 55-yard field goal, setting up the Bears offense with good field position. Five plays later — all Trubisky completions — the quarterback hit Javon Wims for a one-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to bring the game to 23-20.

Suddenly, the entire Bears sideline began to show signs of life again. The defense, which had been woefully uninspiring through much of the game, finally made the play that fans were waiting for.

Two of the Bears’ best defensive players combined to make the defensive play of the game on the Lions’ ensuing drive. On a Matthew Stafford pass over the middle, Eddie Jackson helped deflect the ball into the air and Kyle Fuller snagged it for the takeaway.

The interception helped set up the Bears offense in good field position once more. Two plays later, Trubisky hit Anthony Miller for a 27-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Lions had one last shot, but blew it

The 27-23 lead the Bears maintained at that point in the game seemed surreal given how poorly they had played for much of the game. However, it was not time for celebration. The defense needed to make one last stand against the Lions’ offense.

Stafford engineered the Lions offense on a successful two-minute drill, marching right down the field on an 11-play drive. On 2nd and 10 with 11 seconds remaining, Stafford hit the wide-open Swift, but the rookie running back let it slip through his hands to the turf for an incomplete pass.

The play was devastating for the Lions’ sideline but it provided just the energy boost the Bears defense needed for the final play of the game. As time expired, Stafford looked to force a pass to Marvin Jones in the end zone, but rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson batted the ball away to seal the victory for the Bears.

Bears detractors marking asterisks everywhere

Look, I’ll admit it: it sure didn’t seem like the Bears deserved the victory. At one point when the Bears were down big, and they had showed no improvement offensively from last year’s debacle, I felt ready to throw in the towel on a long season.

But one notion often reiterated by NFL personnel that I subscribe to is this: it is not easy to win NFL games. With certain exceptions, almost all NFL teams are competent and come to fight and win every week. That means a team has to work its ass off to win each and every Sunday.

So, I’m not ready to proclaim the Bears are Super Bowl contenders after this one victory. But I’m also not going to throw a wet blanket over it completely.

Many critics want to point out that Trubisky’s three touchdowns in the fourth quarter came against subpar competition. The Lions secondary was decimated by injuries and they were down to their second- and third-stringers.

Is that any fault of Trubisky’s? No. He and his teammates executed in the fourth quarter against those who trotted out onto the field. Should that nullify Trubisky’s good throws or his receivers’ good catches?

If a general gets shot on the battlefield, does the other side say, “Wait! Hold the phone! We’re going to have to reschedule this little skirmish for another day when a new general is appointed?”

Hell no. They seize the moment and take the opportunity to win the battle.

The Bears are not going to be able to count on facing depleted secondaries every game. But each week offers another new opportunity and the Bears have to exploit what they can.

Offense wasn’t all doom and gloom; the running game was solid

The Bears may not have put up many points in the first three quarters of action, but that doesn’t mean their offense was completely inept.

The offense managed to move the ball well on the ground. As a team, the Bears had 28 rushes for 149 yards and a 5.3 average. The consistent attention to the run allowed the Bears to sustain a number of drives.

Yes, critics will say you don’t win ball games with yards. You need to score points. And I agree with that. Still, having a successful run game opens up the play-action passing and stops defenses from focusing all their attention on Trubisky. If you can’t — or are unwilling — to run the ball, that puts a lot of pressure on Trubisky, who is already having trouble getting into a rhythm as it is.

The Bears defense was unexpectedly mediocre

Maybe the Bears truly missed the presence of free agent pass rusher Robert Quinn, who missed the Lions game with an ankle injury. But the Bears pass rush was woeful against the Lions and the defense allowed an eye-gouging 426 yards and 23 points.

If the offense is going to continue to struggle scoring points — as it appears they might, fourth quarter notwithstanding — then the defense is going to have to hold opponents to 17 points or less. And they’re also going to have to get off the field quicker to allow the offense more opportunities to score points.

My sense is that when Quinn returns to the lineup, we’ll see more disruption in the opponent’s backfield. But there was enough on tape, including tackling and coverage issues, that will need to be corrected regardless.

Bears got much-needed division victory

All the schedule gurus out there who claim to know exactly how a season will play out just by looking at “strength of schedule” will tell you this: it doesn’t get much easier for the Bears the rest of the season.

This opening two-game stretch against the Lions and Giants is considered “must-win” because the opponents look to get tougher as the season wears on.

While I don’t agree with the “must-win” mantra in September, I do understand the importance of division games. For that reason, I think it was extremely important that the Bears secured a division victory against the Lions.

The Lions showed against the Bears that they still lack the consistent punch to be serious playoff contenders. And the Vikings took a walloping at the hands of the Packers on Sunday. I think the Packers are still the team to beat in the NFC North. But I don’t think any of the four are serious contenders this season.

That leaves the door open for the Bears to compete for the division title. That’s only going to happen if they seriously shore up both sides of the ball though. The offense has to play much better and the defense can’t keep giving up long drives that end with points.

But it all starts next week with the Giants at Soldier Field. And the Bears have to take it one game at a time from there.

Former high school and college kicker. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I've been writing about the navy blue and burnt orange since 2007. You can follow BearsBeat.com on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or email me.