Detroit – It’s not a moniker used as often these days, but Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell reminded his players that everyone used to know the NFC North as the “Black and Blue Division.” And even though the Chicago Bears came to Ford Field with a dismal record and low expectations, he warned of an impending dog fight.
That’s exactly what the Bears brought Sunday afternoon, but the Lions pushed through multiple injuries at key spots to deliver another comeback victory, 20-17.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who injured the middle finger on his throwing hand in the first quarter, orchestrated a record-breaking eighth fourth-quarter comeback. His seven-yard touchdown scamper with 3:17 remaining put the Lions up for good. The win moved the Lions to 9-4 and helped maintain a stranglehold on the division.
“It’s fourth quarter, go time, you’ve got to make a play,” Stafford said. “I surely wasn’t going to slide on the two.”
But it wasn’t easy. The Bears (3-10) showed no interest in rolling over, punching the Lions in the mouth early.
After knocking Detroit out of field-goal range with a third-down sack on the opening possession, the Bears moved 60 yards into the red zone before shooting themselves in the foot with a pair of penalties and settling for a 38-yard Deonte Thompson field goal.
Stafford was hurt on the second Lions’ possession, smashing his hand on the outstretched arms of oncoming rusher Leonard Floyd. To add insult to injury, the quarterback was flagged for intentional grounding, dooming the drive.
Stafford returned with a glove on the team’s next series, and while he fidgeted with it to begin the drive, he managed to steer the offense 84 yards with the biggest gain coming on a 38-yard pass interference penalty committed against receiver Marvin Jones.
But the Lions, too, stalled in the red zone, leading to a 29-yard Matt Prater field goal to knot the score at three.
According to ESPN, Stafford suffered a dislocation and torn ligaments in his middle finger. He will be required to wear a glove on his throwing hand the remainder of the season. That could be problematic for the quarterback, who has historically struggled with his accuracy and velocity while wearing one.
And not long after Stafford’s injury, Detroit suffered another big blow as Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah was forced to the locker room with a shoulder injury.
The Lions still managed to take their first lead before the half, marching 81 yards for a touchdown. Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin for a first down on third-and-10 and capped the series by going back to the veteran on a 16-yard scoring strike. The two receptions moved Boldin past Andre Johnson for 10th place all-time on the career receptions list.
Detroit expanded its lead in the third quarter with a 54-yard field goal from Prater. The defending NFC special teams player of the week is a perfect 6-for-6 on attempts from 50 yards and beyond this year.
After nearly two quarters of fruitless football, the Bears responded quickly with a pair of 31-yard plays. Running back Jordan Howard burst through the line for the first big gain before quarterback Matt Barkley delivered a perfectly-placed touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith down the right sideline, cutting the Bears’ deficit to 13-10.
Looking to put away the pesky Bears, the Lions offense put together another long drive into enemy territory, but on third-and-4 from the Bears’ nine, Stafford’s pass intended for Golden Tate was deflected in the end zone and intercepted by safety Demontre Hurst.
Unable to capitalize on the turnover, the Bears punted the ball back to the Lions, but one of Stafford’s glove-induced, off-target throws came back to bite him as cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc stepped in front of a pass intended for Boldin, racing down the sideline for a 24-yard pick-six, putting the Bears in front, 17-13.
But as Stafford has done so many times this season, he took the ball down in the fourth quarter and calmly steered the Lions down the field. Aided by a pair of Bears penalties, the Lions worked their way into the red zone, and when the coverage took away all his reads, Stafford scrambled seven yards through traffic for the winning score.
The Bears had a final chance to tie the game, but were undone by penalties. Twice the team appeared to navigate into field-goal range, only to have the plays wiped out by holding infractions. Ansah, who returned to the game after sitting most of the second half, generated one of the flags.
Instead of attempting a 62-yarder to tie it, the Bears went for it on fourth-and-11, only to see Barkley’s pass knocked away, ending the game.