DETROIT — A fan base that has had little to cheer about for the past decade came with swagger Monday night when Ford Field rocked like it hasn't before.
The Lions faithful were far rowdier than the crowd for Super Bowl XL when Steelers fans took over the building, grossly outnumbering Seahawks supporters. That will happen when a team is playing on "Monday Night Football" for the first time since 2001. Simply put, it was the biggest game the franchise has had in the dome that opened in 2002.
The Bears figured the experience would be a measuring stick for them, and it was. Already in a hole in the NFC North, they needed a victory in order to stay close. That didn't happen and while it's awfully early to start eyeing a wild-card race, the Bears (2-3) now trail the Packers and Lions by three games and have lost to both unbeaten rivals. Detroit is 5-0 for the first time since 1956 after winning 24-13.
The Bears had serious initial problems with crowd noise that led to nine false-start penalties (eight by the offense) and made it nearly impossible to hear. It didn't improve in the second half. Much will be made about the line, which had its fourth starting combination in five games. The unit, missing rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, must improve. But the undoing of the Bears since a season-opening victory over the Falcons has been on defense. Big plays continue to sink them, and the Lions found the right combination getting a 73-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson and later running back Jahvid Best went untouched 88 yards for a score that put the Lions up 21-10 in the third quarter.
"We're playing like (crap), that's what's going on," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We're not disciplined, we're not running to our gaps, we're not physical. I don't know what is going on with the big plays this year. That's just not us."
Asked to describe the touchdown run by Best, who had 163 yards on 12 carries, Urlacher's frustration was evident.
"The quarterback took the snap and he handed it off to the guy and he ran 88 yards without getting touched," he said. "That's what I saw. Did you see the same thing? I don't know why it happened."
Lovie Smith's defense, which is designed to rush the passer with the front four and prevent the big play, has allowed three touchdowns of more than 70 yards this season. Again, the pass rush was suspect and it didn't help that defensive end Julius Peppers had to leave in the first quarter to have his left knee worked on. He returned but was clearly hampered.
The Bears' success has been built on playing tight defense, running the football and winning on special teams, a phase the Lions negated. They hoped the 543 yards allowed the week before to the Panthers was an aberration, but chinks in the armor remained and the safeties hold responsibility for being out of position on all three Lions scores, including Brandon Pettigrew's 18-yard reception. Interestingly, general manager Jerry Angelo said before the game that the key to success in the NFL has shifted.
"That old adage doesn't apply anymore," he said. "Defense keeps you in games, offenses have to win games for you and you've got to help the defense."
Why the Bears haven't done more to outfit the offense is a good question. Forte rushed for 116 yards on 22 carries, but Jay Cutler and his cast of targets couldn't match firepower, especially after the Bears fell behind. Cutler was sacked three times and completed 28 of 38 passes for 248 yards with a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis that staked the team to a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Bears were OK protecting Cutler until the Lions' lead reached double digits. Then, it was a predictable nightmare, and in the fourth quarter right tackle Frank Omiyale was benched again with right guard Lance Louis taking his spot and Edwin Williams playing right guard.
The Lions jumped ahead 7-0 at the start of the second quarter when cornerback Charles Tillman failed to get a jam on Johnson, who ran past Chris Harris for a 73-yard score.
But the Bears responded with a strong drive and on fourth-and-1 Smith elected to have Robbie Gould kick a 44-yard field goal. Cutler directed an 88-yard drive on the next possession. A 49-yard field goal by Gould with 4:07 remaining brought the Bears within 21-13.
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