Chicago – Everything was set up for the Detroit Lions to get their season back on track. Instead, the team delivered an embarrassing and uninspired performance against the lowly Chicago Bears, stumbling and bumbling their way to a 17-14 defeat on Sunday.
The Lions fell to 1-3 with the loss and now share last place in the NFC North with the Bears, who won for the first time this season.
Detroit’s vaunted offense, which came into the contest ranked sixth in the NFL, could get little going against a Chicago defense down multiple starters.
The Lions punted their first four possessions and wasted their limited scoring opportunities with turnovers and execution errors deep in Chicago territory.
“Penalties, miscommunication, there was something every other drive that stalled you and you were starting from back a little farther than you like in certain situations,” coach Jim Caldwell said.” We were just not sharp at all. There was no rhythm to it and that’s my fault. I have to get these guys on a better rhythm and we have to play better.”
Defensively, the Lions let the Bears offense move the ball with surprising efficiency, given the team was without starting quarterback Jay Cutler and its top two running backs. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer of Michigan State delivered a stellar outing in Cutler’s place, connecting on 28 of his 36 throws for 302 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“He’s a pro,” coach John Fox said. “He’s been there before. He has a winning record as a starter. I think he’s adapted well. “
Rookie running back Jordan Howard, making his first start for the Bears, also had a strong day. He churned out 111 yards on 23 carries, gaining a healthy percentage after contact.
“You just have to be a determined runner and not let the first person tackle you,” Howard said. “You’ve got to keep moving your legs. Coach was telling me to just keep moving my legs and things will break.”
The Bears got the board early, driving 83 yards on 10 plays on their second possession. The drive was aided by a phantom pass interference penalty against linebacker Tahir Whitehead covering Howard, putting the ball at the 4-yard line.
Caldwell and Whitehead refused to criticize the call, but both said they wouldn’t have played it any differently.
The Lions fell to 1-3 after losing to the previously winless Bears.
On the ensuing play, Hoyer rolled out to his right and found slot receiver Eddie Royal, who made a leaping catch, despite being blanketed by cornerback Nevin Lawson.
“He made a really quick movement,” Hoyer said. “I think he went out and then came back in and I saw him, just tried to put it on him and (he) made a phenomenal catch.”
After trading six scoreless possessions, the Lions finally got on the board with a 50-yard Matt Prater field goal with 2:24 left in the half.
The Lions got the ball back with an opportunity to slice the lead before the half, but after navigating into field-goal range, Matthew Stafford was intercepted on a pass intended for Golden Tate. There was a clear miscommunication on the route and both quarterback and receiver accepted blame, but it was the Tate who was benched to start the second half.
Detroit did cut the lead to one early in the third quarter, settling for a 21-yard Prater field goal after failing to get it into the end zone with three cracks from inside the five-yard line at the end of a 73-yard drive.
The Bears counter-punched with a second touchdown. The big play came when Hoyer found Royal for a 64-yard gain on third-and-11. The quarterback had all day in the pocket as the Lions’ pass rush failed to get any pressure and cornerback Quandre Diggs slipped in coverage, springing Royal for the big gain.
“It was a called play, so you have to give (offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains) a lot of credit for calling that play in that situation,” Royal said. “It was the perfect call and we just executed.”
Three plays later, another defensive breakdown allowed Chicago tight end Zach Miller to come free in the flat for a six-yard scoring strike from Hoyer, extending the advantage to 14-6.
With a two-score edge following a Connor Barth field goal early in the fourth quarter, the game appeared in the books after Stafford tossed a second interception, deep in Chicago territory with just over four minutes remaining. But Detroit made it interesting in the closing minutes when Andre Roberts returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown.
“We didn’t have any timeouts, so we knew we had to either get a touchdown there or score quick once our offense got the ball back,” Roberts said.
A successful two-point conversion attempt, from Stafford to Tate, cut the lead 17-14 with 1:52 remaining.
But after the Lions failed to recover the onside kick, Hoyer took three straight knees to run out the clock.
Detroit will return home to face undefeated Philadelphia next Sunday.