Lions throw away chance at Thanksgiving win over Bears
Detroit — As the bones of the turkeys around Metro Detroit were being picked clean Thanksgiving afternoon, the Chicago Bears polished off the Detroit Lions by picking off quarterback Matthew Stafford twice in the fourth quarter of a 23-16 victory at Ford Field.
The Lions (4-7) had tied the game at 16 with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter on a chip-shot field goal from Matt Prater after stalling out just short of the goal line. And after the defense forced a quick three-and-out, the offense had an opportunity to maintain the momentum and retake the lead the team lost earlier in the quarter.
Chicago safety Eddie Jackson had other ideas.
As the Bears (8-3) blitzed, Jackson read Stafford’s eyes and jumped a short throw to tight end Michael Roberts, returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. The pick-six put the Bears back on top with a little more than six minutes remaining.
"We just do a lot of different blitzes," Jackson said. "We just disguise and that’s when I see (Roberts) going to the flat. I just kept my eyes on him and turned my head at the right time."
The Lions had one last drive in them, and thanks in large part to a 27-yard run by LeGarrette Blount, the offense found itself with a fresh set of downs at the Chicago 12. After a short Blount run, Stafford fired a touch wide to a slanting Kenny Golladay on second down; a fastball the receiver couldn’t corral.
"I kind of wanted it down and in," Stafford said. "I mean, high ball, tip, pick situation. So down and in, maybe I’d move it a foot, I don’t know."
On third down, Stafford attempted a fade to Roberts in the end zone, but cornerback Kyle Fuller muscled the tight end off his route and intercepted the pass, effectively ending the game.
It was an unusual decision, throwing to the second-year tight end who was lined up outside, one-on-one with Chicago's best cornerback.
"It was more so what I didn’t like about the other side," Stafford said. "You know, I had quite a few defenders (to the left) who were going to cover up, I think, what we had going pretty good. It was one human on one human to my right, so I felt pretty good about it. Mike’s a big guy, I was going to try and get my high ball and go up and jump and get it. Just didn’t throw a good enough pass."
The flurry of a finish overshadowed the game's painfully slow start.
With the Lions missing their top running back and wide receiver, and the Bears down starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the offenses plodded through the opening quarter. Forgive the holiday joke, but if the tryptophan didn’t put you in a holiday-induced coma, the first 15 minutes might have been enough to land the knockout blow, where the five combined first downs were matched by the number of punts.
Things picked up quickly to start the second quarter. On the first snap, Lions cornerback DeShawn Shead punched out what would have been a drive-extending third-down reception to tight end Trey Burton. The fumble was recovered by linebacker Jarrad Davis, who returned it to the Bears 40.
Overcoming a pair of penalties, the Lions faced third-and-1 in the red zone, only to see Blount stuffed on the short-yardage attempt.
Instead of staying true to personality and settling for the field goal, Lions coach Matt Patricia opted to go for it, but the Bears sniffed out the play-action attempt and deflected Stafford’s pass. That should have ended the possession, but fullback Nick Bellore came out of nowhere to make a diving grab of the redirected throw, setting up Blount's 4-yard touchdown run two plays later.
"Just thought it was a good opportunity for us to go for it and we’re lucky that we got it converted," Patricia said. "We were just fortunate to keep that drive alive."
The Bears nearly knotted it up on the ensuing possession, when running back Tarik Cohen got wide open behind the coverage of defensive back Quandre Diggs, but quarterback Chase Daniel put the ball just beyond his target’s fingertips and forced the Bears to settle for a field goal.
A quick three-and-out for the Lions gave the Bears the ball back with 2:10 remaining in the half and Daniel went to work, completing all four of his passes for 54 yards and capping it with a 10-yard touchdown to third-string running back Taquan Mizzell.
"We added that call literally yesterday morning," Daniel said. "It was one of these pick plays. We felt really good about our matchups on their linebackers and with our running backs."
The officials initially threw a flag on the play as Mizzell ran around a screen by wide receiver Allen Robinson to get open, but after talking it over, the crew opted to pick the flag up.
"There are judgments on all that stuff and that’s what the officials do when they take a look at it," Patricia said.
Chicago surprisingly attempted a two-point conversion after the score. The Bears failed to convert and led 9-7 at the half.
The second half started the same way as the first, with the teams trading three punts, before the Lions offense landed a haymaker. On second-and-2, Stafford threw across the grain to Golladay for 43 yards. A 17-yard pass to Theo Riddick put the Lions inside the 10 and Blount finished the scoring drive with another 4-yard touchdown.
Blount had his best game of the season filling in for injured starter Kerryon Johnson. The veteran finished with 88 yards on 19 carries and the two touchdowns.
"He’s a great player," Patricia said. "He’s tough, he’s competitive, he works hard and tries to do everything the right way. We know what it is. It was going to be tough early and he has a great knack for continually going after it and eventually, at some point, he was able to break a couple."
The Lions also attempted and failed a two-point conversion, leaving the lead at 13-9 with 1:35 left in the third quarter.
Chicago was able to counter early in the fourth quarter on a drive aided by a pair of 15-yard penalties against the Lions. The second, a facemask call against Romeo Okwara, put the ball in the red zone. And when Cohen beat his defender again, this time Daniel didn’t miss, connecting for a 14-yard score to put the Bears up, 16-13, with 13:40 to play.
"We’ve had that play in our playbook for several weeks now, and I was not going back to the game plan with the quarterbacks next week with that play (still) on the call sheet," Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
Matthew Stafford finished 28-for-38 passing for 236 yards, no touchdowns and the two interceptions. Daniel, who was making his first start in four years, completed 27-for-37 passes for 230 yards, two scores and no picks.