Not a complete loss
Bears' win over Detroit gives Chicago something to cheer about
CHICAGO -- Uh, oh. Sunday had the feel of another gruesome Chicago sports day.
It wasn't bad enough that both the White Sox and Cubs completed their 2009 baseball irrelevancy by losing their final games of the year. Or that 48 hours earlier, Oprah and the city were stiffed by the International Olympic Committee. Or that the Blackhawks lost their season opener the same day as the 2016 Olympics downer.
No, now the Bears were tied 21-21 at halftime of their Sunday game with the Detroit Lions. These are the same Lions whose roster is under more construction than I-294. The better-but-still-bottom-feeding Lions, who had lost six of their past eight games to the Bears and 19 of their past 20 games to everyone.
But this was different. This time, the Bears' defense was so bad that Rio de Janeiro could have scored against it. It was bad enough that Mr. Monotone himself, head coach Lovie Smith, actually sort of, kind of raised his voice during a halftime rant -- if you can call anything Smith does a rant -- in the Bears' locker room.
"Coach came here and expressed how he felt, which is exactly how everybody else felt," said Bears defensive end Alex Brown. "So, we were all mad. We were all mad how we were playing."
Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, sort of a Jay Cutler Jr. when it comes to arm strength, already had 14 completions, 221 yards passing and a touchdown pass in those first 30 minutes. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson had nine catches for 119 yards. Lions tight ends roamed the middle of the field as if they were on an afternoon walking tour. Kevin Smith had two rushing TDs.
Meanwhile, Detroit had knocked Bears wide receiver Devin Hester out of the game with a shoulder injury. And Bears special teams workhorse Adrian Peterson also was gone with a knee injury. Nervous Bears fans were suddenly forced to consider the seemingly impossible: a loss, at Soldier Field, to the Lions?
"They're still a good team," said Bears linebacker Nick Roach. "It's not like they're nobody."
Problem is, the Bears were making them look like NFC North somebodies. Everything was coming too easily for the Lions.
"Defensively, we did not start the way we wanted it to," Smith said.
Then the second half arrived and NFL order was restored. The Bears played like a team with playoff plans. The Lions played like, well, the Lions, circa 2008.
Chicago won 48-24, which means the Bears have gone 3-0 since their season-opening meltdown at Green Bay. They outscored Detroit 27-3 in the second half, were fabulous on special teams, and held Stafford to just 75 second-half yards and Johnson to just 14. In short, they recovered.
"The defense did a great job all day," Cutler said.
Actually, it didn't. Crummy first half. Much more respectable second half. Try again, Jay?
"At halftime we knew the defense was going to step up and get some stops," he said. "The defense played lights out."
He's right, but even the Bears themselves know they can't keep giving teams head starts. They're good enough to run down the 1-3 Lions, but the indifferent early play won't work as the schedule becomes more difficult (at Atlanta on Oct. 18; at Cincinnati on Oct. 25; at San Francisco on Nov. 12; Philadelphia on Nov. 22; at Minnesota on Nov. 29).
Cutler put up modest, efficient numbers (18-of-28 for 141 yards and two passing TDs). But he also provided the YouTube moment of the Bears' season.
On third-and-goal from the Lions' 5, Cutler scrambled left and then sprinted toward the left front corner of the end zone. He was met near the goal line by two Lions. One hit him low, the other high. Cutler was launched into the air (high enough to file a flight plan at O'Hare) and helicoptered into the end zone for the first-quarter touchdown.
"That's what makes him who he is," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "He's a competitor. You can't tell him to do anything else."
Turner said his heart considered skipping a beat or two as Cutler went airborne.
"No question about it," Turner said. "Definitely take a deep breath, sigh of relief when you see him stand up and he's OK."
You could say the same thing about the Bears. They took a first-half hit, regrouped and then remembered who was supposed to be beating whom. The Lions were in the game ... and then they weren't. Sigh.
"One of the worst halves of football I've ever been associated with," said Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. "We were poor on special teams. We were poor on offense. We were poor on defense. We were out-coached. We were out-played. Their trainers were probably better than ours in the second half."
As always, we'll have to look at the films to answer the trainers question, but otherwise Schwartz summed it up rather nicely. Coffee's for closers, and the Lions still don't know how to pour a cup yet.
The Bears get a win and a bye week. They need it, too. They can lose Hester, Peterson and wide receiver Johnny Knox (shin) and get away with it against the Lions. And because it was Detroit, they could survive digging deep into their depth chart for inside linebackers, as well as continue to play a less-than-100-percent Tommie Harris at defensive tackle.
But soon the Bears will be at the NFL's adult table, which means the two weeks' recovery time will come in handy. "If we get him healthy," said Brown, nodding toward Harris at the next locker, "we'll reach a new level."
For now, the city will settle for something as satisfying as a victory. Given the trauma of the past week, a loss to the Lions would have been too much to take.
"This city's been through much worse things than not getting the Olympics and losing to the Lions," Brown said. "I think they would have been just fine."
Sure, just as long as crisis counselors were standing by.
Memo to Brown and the Bears: Don't push your luck.
Gene Wojciechowski is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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