Lions 20, Bears 17
PONTIAC, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions had spent the past two weeks trying to reclaim their mojo. It was lost somewhere in the Arizona desert when coach Bobby Ross made one of those inexplicable calls, going for a two-point conversion against the Cardinals when he should have kicked the extra point. That loss was followed by a loss to Green Bay last week in which safety Mark Carrier illegally used his head as a weapon, leading to his suspension for Thursday's game.Two straight awkward defeats and suddenly the Lions, until then the toast of the league, were lost, like someone crawling on the floor looking for dropped contact lenses.
Enter Chicago. The travel-weary Bears played in San Diego on Sunday and should have been an easy target. But as the margin of the Lions' 21-17 victory on Thanksgiving Day indicated, Detroit did not exactly beat the stuffing out of its opponent.
With backup quarterback Gus Frerotte starting for the injured Charlie Batch, Barry Sanders still retired and two members of the starting secondary watching from the sideline, the Lions still exploded to a 21-0 first-half lead. The only problem was that they allowed Chicago to get back in the game.
The bottom line for the Lions, now 7-4, is that they remain in the thick of the NFC Central race with a half-game lead. With games coming against Washington, Tampa Bay and Minnesota, the Bears (5-7) were the easy part of Detroit's final six games.
What saved the Lions was, first, playing at home. On Thanksgiving Day this decade, Detroit is 6-1. Home cooking agrees with the Lions.
More important, the Lions, as they have most of this season, kept their poise in the most difficult of circumstances. Even in their two recent losses, the Lions never gave up. Detroit may have blown a 21-0 second-quarter lead against the Bears, but it was how the team reacted when seriously threatened late in the game that counted.
The Lions used a patient, ball-control offense, dominated by a short passing game, to wear out the Bears, who looked tired in the fourth quarter. Frerotte, subbing for Batch, who is still nursing a sore thumb, hit nine different receivers while completing 29 of 42 passes for 309 yards. Most were of the short variety and designed to take advantage of the speed of Detroit's backs.
Wide receiver Germane Crowell caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and the Lions scored twice within a minute late in the second quarter. After Greg Hill's 29-yard touchdown run, the Bears turned the ball over on their next play. Three plays later Johnnie Morton caught a 2-yard touchdown pass and just like that, the Lions had a 21-0 lead. The Bears scored just before halftime on Jim Miller's 3-yard pass to Alonzo Mayes.
In the third quarter, Chicago began to get inside Detroit's head. The Bears changed up their defense, mixing coverages in the secondary and sending blitzes at Frerotte that seemed to surprise him. Frerotte, not knowing where the pressure was coming from, occasionally did not see receivers who were wide open.
As Frerotte cooled, Miller heated up, and he took advantage of a secondary that was missing Carrier and cornerback Bryant Westbrook, out with an injured hamstring. Miller moved the Bears into position for Chris Boniol's 27-yard field goal in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 21-10. In the fourth quarter Miller, working mostly from the shotgun, took Chicago 49 yards in five plays, finishing the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker.
But Chicago missed a crucial opportunity after it had stopped the Lions' offense. The Bears had the ball at their own 15-yard line with 6 minutes 34 seconds left in the game. That was the time to make a move. Instead, Chicago had three unsuccessful pass attempts and punted.
Detroit then converted a third-and-11, a third-and-5 and a third-and-10, allowing the Lions to run out the clock.