Matthew Stafford did not have many opportunities to get Calvin Johnson the ball on Monday night. There was one chance early and it went through Johnson's hands. Instead of a big play it set the tone for another big loss.
Jay Cutler returned after bruising his ribs in the second quarter, and Brian Urlacher made a key fumble recovery to help the Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions 13-7 for their fourth loss in five games.
The early drop by Johnson summed up the offensive struggles of the Lions in 2012, one season after Stafford and Johnson connected on many big plays on the way to the playoffs.
"There was some plays we left out there, everybody is included in that. The margins in the NFL are too slim to leave those out there," Stafford said. "We have to make the plays, we don't have to do anything extraordinary, we just have to make the plays out there."
It was a rough night for the Lions, with Stafford going 28 of 46 for 261 yards after leading the late charge in last week's win over Philadelphia. Johnson had trouble shaking the Bears' Charles Tillman and finished with three catches for 34 yards. He dropped a deep pass over the middle on the game's first possession even though he was wide open.
"I had that drop early. I turned my head and tried to run with it before I caught it and I had a lot of running space on that one. I took that one away from myself. Like I said, you got to roll with the punches," Johnson said.
It was certainly not an easy night for the NFC North leaders, particularly their quarterback, but they came away with the win after a week off and possibly buried Detroit (2-4) in the process despite getting a major scare along the way.
That happened in the second quarter when Cutler was sacked by Ndamukong Suh and ultimately wound up going to the locker room to have his ribs examined.
"He's a tough guy," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Most people thought Jay would get up. Unless it's a broken leg or something like that, he's going to get up. He is a tough guy. ... That was a gutsy effort by him. He was in some pain, but he fought through it."
Cutler came back to start the second half and finished 16 of 31 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Although he said he was feeling "all right" afterward, he acknowledged he wasn't at full strength during the game.
"But we had to fight through it," he added.
They did just that, and with the defense locking down the Lions, the Bears (5-1) prevailed. It was a huge blow for last-place Detroit, a team many expected to contend for the division championship after making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
"I think a lot of credit has to go to Peanut Tillman. I thought he matched Calvin pretty much the whole game. They combined that coverage with a pass rush and threw our timing off. Matt had to move a couple of times, but there were plays to be made out there," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
The Lions simply never got in gear, and when they had chances, they blew them. The biggest came early in the third quarter, when Joique Bell fumbled at the goal line with the Bears leading 13-0.
"That was the tale of the game. We turned it over three times in the red zone, two times inside the five 5 yard line and once on a punt that leads to a field goal," Schwartz said.
Stafford didn't think the turnovers had to do with careless errors.
"Obviously guys are trying to make plays. Joique is trying to jump from the 5-yard-line to get in. He's trying to spark us, get us a touchdown. Mikel (Leshoure) is trying to get yards after contact like he always does," Stafford said.
Urlacher recovered and Chicago hung on from there.
Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 81 yards and scored a touchdown on Chicago's first possession. Matt Forte ran for 96 yards, and with the defense doing its part again, Chicago never really was threatened in this one.
The Lions lost receiver Nate Burleson for the remainder of the season to a broken right leg in the third quarter on a hit by Tim Jennings after a catch.
"That's tough. We lose a great leader, a captain on the team, man I hate it for him that it had to happen to him. I talked to him after the game and he said he is going to be out for some significant time. That's tough because he's an emotional leader, leads by example on the field. He helps us get our energy up so we're going to have to take that over," Johnson said.
Cutler, who had his helmet ripped off on a hit by Suh after a run last year at Soldier Field, got driven to the turf by him on an 8-yard sack. He came up kneeling and holding his head as trainers tended to him, then ran to the sideline.
Jason Campbell came in for one play, but Cutler returned right after that and threw an incomplete pass on third down before Chicago punted. But after Julius Peppers recovered a fumble by Leshoure to stop a Lions threat, Campbell was behind center while Cutler was having his ribs examined.
When Cutler trotted onto the field to start the second half, some fans cheered.
They were really roaring moments later when Stefan Logan fumbled trying to catch Adam Podlesh's punt. Zack Bowman recovered it for Chicago at the 27, and that led to a 21-yard field goal by Robbie Gould to make it 13-0 after Cutler had two passes broken up with the ball on the 3.
The Lions lost Burleson after a 16-yard catch near midfield on the next possession but drove all the way to the 1 before Bell turned it over. As he lunged over the pile, Henry Melton poked the ball out and Urlacher made the recovery to keep the shutout going. D.J. Moore extended it when he picked off Stafford near the goal line in the closing minutes. The Lions finally scored when Stafford connected with Ryan Broyles on a 12-yarder with 30 seconds left.
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