Detroit, MI – The Chicago Bears did their part in an attempt to get into the playoffs, but it wasn't enough.
Despite taking a 26-24 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Chicago will miss the playoffs for a second straight season after Minnesota took a 37-34 win over Green Bay on a last second field goal.
"We realized going into the game that it was out of our hands after the game," said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. "We just needed to take care of what we could control and that was winning the game."
Jay Cutler threw a touchdown pass and was 18-for-31 with 257 yards for the Bears (10-6), who won their final two games of the season, but saw a promising 7-1 start followed by a string of five losses in six games. Matt Forte ran for 103 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown while Olindo Mare kicked four field goals
"The one statistic that meant something today was the four turnovers our defense grabbed," said Smith. "And that's what we've been doing all year, taking the football away. Just an outstanding job from those guys."
Matt Stafford went 24-for-42 for 272 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for the Lions (4-12), who completed a highly disappointing season with eight straight losses.
"When the story of the season is written it's going to say 4-12 and no one is happy with that," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. "Players, coaches, front office, ownership, everybody. Everybody is in the same boat with that. No one is happy with this. I'm not proud of our record, but I am proud of this team and the way they fought all year long."
Stafford fell 33 yards short of 5,000 for the season, but he did become the first quarterback to throw over 700 pass attempts in one season, as he finished the 2012 campaign with 727 attempts.
Many of those passes went to superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who broke the single-season receiving yardage record last week. He posted five catches for 72 yards on Sunday for a total of 122 catches for 1,964 yards in 2012, although he had just five touchdown catches on the year.
Chicago led 20-10 at the half, but Detroit's first touch of the third quarter bore fruit and the team was able to cut into its 10-point deficit. Thanks to catches of 18 and 24 yards by Johnson, the Lions got into the red zone before Stafford capped the 9-play drive with a 10-yard scoring toss to Will Heller to make it a 20-17 game with 6:31 to play in the period.
After holding the Bears to a brief possession, Detroit got the ball back at its own 8-yard line, but Stafford fumbled a handoff attempt to Mikel Leshoure and Chicago recovered at the 13.
Detroit's defense, though, held tough and limited Chicago to a 28-yard field goal from Mare to make it a 23-17 contest with 1:49 showing on the third- quarter clock.
Chicago ended the third quarter with the ball and converted a 3rd-and-8 when Brandon Marshall caught a 10-yard pass down to the Detroit 2. However, two passes fell incomplete and Forte was unable to punch it in, with Mare's 20- yard field goal with 10:47 to play giving Chicago a 26-17 lead.
The Lions responded with a scoring drive to keep it close. On 3rd-and-5, Stafford connected with Tony Scheffler for seven yards. Facing a 3rd-and-10 later on, Stafford scrambled but slid after getting just four yards. However, Lance Briggs hit him high and was whistled for unnecessary roughness to enable Detroit to keep the ball.
After completions of 21 and 19 yards got the ball to the 9-yard line, Stafford hit Brian Robiskie in the end zone to make it a 26-24 game with 6:55 left on the clock.
Chicago was forced to punt after a short drive, but Detroit also went three- and-out with the Bears getting the ball back at their own 40 with 3:40 to play. On 3rd-and-3, Cutler ran for 19 yards to move the chains, and that essentially killed the game since Detroit had already used two of its timeouts.
After converting another first down at the two-minute warning, Cutler went into the victory formation to end the game.
After a quick three-and-out from the Lions to start the game, Chicago got into scoring position on its first play, as Cutler threw deep down the right sideline and Alshon Jeffery came down with it for a 55-yard strike.
The play moved the ball to the Detroit 27, but the team was facing a 3rd- and-13 after a false start call and Cutler fumbled the ball on the play. Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch initially recovered the ball, but had it knocked out of his hands and Forte fell on it at midfield.
Getting the ball back at their own 9, the Lions got a 28-yard catch from Scheffler on the first play and Johnson followed with an 18-yard catch. The drive stalled at the Chicago 26, however, and Jason Hanson kicked a 44-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 5:54 to play in the first quarter.
It didn't take long for the Bears to grab the lead, though. On the third play of the ensuing possession, Cutler dumped the ball out to his left for a screen pass to Earl Bennett, who turned the corner and raced into the end zone for a 60-yard score and a 7-3 edge.
Detroit's Joique Bell fumbled the ball as he was hit on the following kickoff and the Bears recovered at the Lions' 24, which led to a 33-yard field goal from Mare for a 10-3 lead with 2:59 to play in the first.
With just over four minutes to play in the first half, Mare missed a 43-yard field goal attempt to the right, but the Bears got the ball back two plays later as Israel Idonije stripped Stafford of the ball and Julius Peppers recovered at the Detroit 10.
After a pass interference call on third down moved the ball to the 1, Forte punched it in for a 17-3 lead with 3:26 to go before halftime.
Stafford continued to turn the ball over, as he was then picked off by Tim Jennings and Chicago took over at the Detroit 23. Chicago only moved one yard, however, and a 40-yard field goal from Mare gave the team a 20-3 lead with 1:49 left in the half.
The Lions came right back down the field, though, converting two third downs and finishing the drive when Stafford lofted a pass down the left side and Kris Durham came down with it for a 25-yard score. The first touchdown of his career brought Detroit to within 20-10 going into the break.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher missed his fourth straight game with a strained hamstring ... Detroit went just 2-6 at home this season and was 0-6 against the NFC North ... Chicago was 5-3 on the road and 3-3 in the division ... Johnson had his NFL record of consecutive 100-yard receiving games snapped at eight ... Chicago has won three straight and nine of its last 10 games against the Lions ... Chicago held the ball for a little over 34 minutes and totaled 389 yards, while the Lions managed 327 yards.