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After iffy start, Lions' defense suffocates Bears

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — At the end of the first quarter, the Lions were looking at an all-too-familiar situation. They trailed the Bears, 14-3, giving up touchdowns on two of the first three drives.

But as they've done several times this season, they recovered from the defensive malaise and held the Bears to three points the rest of the way, taking a 34-17 win on Thanksgiving Day.

Chicago scored in six plays on its first drive and later cashed in after a Lions fumble inside their 5-yard line. But from there, it was rough sledding offensively for the Bears.

Quarterback Jay Cutler started 7-of-8 for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, but struggled to find a groove in the final 45 minutes against the Lions, going 24-of-40 for 213 yards and two interceptions.

"They've got a good defense — we talked about it Monday or Tuesday," Cutler said. "That front four, they get after you. The three-step (drop) is tough; some of our other passes, they were getting pressure."

After going two straight games without a sack, the Lions were able to get to Cutler three times and got interceptions by their two safeties, Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo.

The Bears didn't have much success running the ball, totaling 13 yards against the league's best run defense. They only attempted eight runs — and only five by Matt Forte, for 6 yards. Forte entered the game ranked fifth in the NFC in rushing yards, with 822, but got more catches than he did carries out of the backfield.

Forte, who was tied for the NFC lead with 72 receptions, had six catches, a facet of their scheme that the Bears view as an extension of their running game, along with quick passes before the Lions' pass rush could get to Cutler.

"That's how we looked at it, using those (throws) to get outside, to get them running sideline to sideline and it started well for us," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We just couldn't sustain it."

That left the Lions defense to focus on putting pressure on Cutler and getting good coverage in the secondary. Alshon Jeffery (nine catches, 71 yards) had both of the Bears' touchdowns and tight end Marcellus Bennett had eight catches for 109 yards, but Chicago's two biggest weapons, Forte and receiver Brandon Marshall, didn't really hurt the Lions.

After the initial two scores, the defense seemed to galvanize and didn't let the Bears get back in the end zone.

"There were some plays there in the beginning that we didn't like to give up, but once again, we played our style of football, our DNA," Ihedigbo said. "We talked about letting DNA shine on that field and we did that. We saw it on offense, lighting up the scoreboard and defense shutting them out."

Once the Lions built a double-digit lead by halftime, the Bears were forced to pass more, contributing to Cutler's total of 48 throws.

As the game wore on, he wasn't as effective, hurried and hit by the Lions defenders.

"It's difficult on any quarterback to throw the ball that much, especially under a pass rush like this," Trestman said. "I thought he did a good job of standing in there; he did the best he could. We got down by two scores and felt we had to throw it a little bit more by just kicking the ball out and some short throws.

"We just didn't get it done; we didn't convert."