Bear down: Lions complete 'difficult' division road sweep

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford slams down the ball after running back Ameer Abdullah took a reception into the end zone in the second quarter.

Chicago — For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the Detroit Lions have swept their division opponents on the road. It wasn’t pretty, but the Lions went into Solider Field and overcame some early deficits to rally past the Chicago Bears, 27-24, on Sunday.

“It’s not something that happens often because it’s so difficult,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

The outcome was in doubt until the closing seconds, when Bears kicker Connor Barth sent a potential game-tying field goal wide right from 46 yards.

On paper, the matchup looked like it might be a defensive struggle, but sloppy defense resulted in a high-scoring first half.

The Bears (3-7) got on the board the opening possession, taking advantage of the Lions’ difficulties covering tight ends and getting rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in space with misdirection. He completed an 11-yard throw out of a play-action bootleg, gained seven more on a read-option keeper and connected with tight end Adam Shaheen for 22 yards down the seam to get into the red zone. But the Lions tightened the screws near the goal line, limiting the home team to a 23-yard field goal.

BOX SCORE: Lions 27, Bears 24

Detroit (6-4) also moved the ball well its opening series, working across midfield, but on a third-and-8, the pass protection gave way and running back Zach Zenner struggled to pick up blitzing linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who punched the ball free from quarterback Matthew Stafford’s grasp. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks pounced on the loose ball ending the scoring threat.

Wasting little time capitalizing on the mistake, Bears running back Jordan Howard blasted through the middle of the Lions line for 50 yards down to the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Trubisky dropped a pretty pass over linebacker Paul Worrilow to Shaheen for a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Bears a 10-0 lead.

After the Lions stalled at midfield once again, the Bears had an opportunity to blow it open early, only to see Trubisky put a snap on the ground early in the second quarter, which cornerback D.J. Hayden scooped and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.

“It was one of those freak plays,” Trubisky said. “It was on me, I didn’t secure the snap. …I couldn’t fall on it and I didn’t know where it went. It bounced right to them, which is lucky for them, but unfortunate for us.”

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Not deterred by the blunder, the Bears offense resumed its efficient play, driving 78 yards on eight snaps. The big gain was an 18-yard screen to third-string running back Benny Cunningham, while Trubisky got another 10 yards on a read-option, setting up a 12-yard Howard touchdown run.

The Lions hardly looked prepared to respond to the punch in the mouth following an offensive pass interference call against Kenny Golladay and a hard hit that had Stafford slow to get off the ground put them in third-and-15 deep in their own territory.

But Stafford found TJ Jones for 17 yards to extend the possession, then Golladay for 40 more on a double-play action, including a fake end-around to cornerback Jamal Agnew. On second down from the 28-yard line, Marvin Jones got wide open on a double move down the right sideline and Stafford hit him for the touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-14.

“We seen that it was obviously man (coverage),” Marvin Jones said. “The safety rotated the opposite way and great execution.”

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The Lions took the lead before the half after forcing a punt with 3:35 remaining and driving 72 yards back into the end zone. Stafford, never facing a third down, completed six of his seven throws on the series for 70 yards, capping the action with a 2-yard toss to running back Ameer Abdullah, who leaked out of the backfield uncovered on the well-designed play.

“We just caught them in the right matchup,” Abdullah said. “That’s all (offensive coordinator) Jim Bob (Cooter).

Stafford finished the game 21-for-31 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

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The frantic scoring pace came to a screeching halt in the third quarter as the team’s combined for as many first punts, six, as first downs.  But the Lions entered the fourth quarter on the move and pushed deep into Bears territory on a 16-yard pass from Stafford to Golden Tate early in the frame.

Deep in the red zone, things went awry when guard T.J. Lang blew a block leading to Stafford getting dropped for a 7-yard loss. The Lions ultimately settled for a 27-yard Matt Prater field goal, pushing their advantage to 24-17 with 10:01 remaining.

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After stalling on the ground in the third quarter, the Bears got back on track the ensuing possession. Howard, who was held to zero yards on four carries in the previous quarter, gained 37 yards on four straight totes to open the possession.

A 15-yard personal penalty on defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga for a low hit on Trubisky got the Bears into the red zone, where the team got scatback Tarik Cohen into the open field on a misdirection to the pitch. He leaped into the end zone to complete the 15-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24 with 4:59 remaining.

Stafford responded by finding Marvin Jones for 17 yards on a third down and connecting with tight end Eric Ebron for 26 yards when his defender lost his footing. A holding call against Lang iced Detroit’s offensive momentum, but a 52-yard Prater field goal with 1:35 remaining put the Lions back up, 27-24.

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“It was pretty difficult with the winds gusting,” Prater said. “I couldn’t really tell what it was doing. Good thing I had (holder) Sam (Martin) kind of caddying me. He said, ‘Play it at the left upright.’”

Starting at their own 22, the Bears worked it to their 41 after cornerback Darius Slay dropped what would have been a game-ending interception.  After two incompletions and a no-loss sack on third down, the Lions had a second opportunity to end it, but couldn’t wrap up Trubisky as he weaved through defenders and gained 19 yards on a scramble across midfield with 15 seconds remaining.

“I was just going through my progressions and it felt like I had to scramble,” Trubisky said. “I saw a seam and figured I could pick up the first down.”

After a timeout, Trubisky fired a 15-yard bullet to Dontrelle Inman to set up a 46-yard field goal. But Barth sent the boot wide right, giving the Lions the win.

“I think I hit the ground a little bit, left it right,” Barth said. “That’s just the way it is. I signed up for this.”

The Lions return home to face the division-leading Minnesota Vikings (8-2) on Thanksgiving. The Vikings steamrolled the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, 24-7, to maintain a two-game lead in the NFC North.