'Needed to make more plays': Stafford-less Lions punchless in loss to Bears
Chicago — The Lions started hot but faded as fast as a Michigan autumn, falling to the Bears on Sunday, 20-13.
Like every Lions game this season, it went down to the wire. But this time it ended after quarterback Jeff Driskel's illegal fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
Even if it had been completed, it would have been negated because Driskel was penalized for making the throw beyond the line of scrimmage.
"We needed to make a few more plays, needed to obviously not give up a couple plays," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "The big thing for me right now coming out of the game was probably penalties. I think that was probably the thing that hurt us the most in this game, either getting us in backed-up situations or getting us off track on offense or giving extra chances to their offense."
Due to a serious back injury, the Lions were playing without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford for the first time in more than eight years. Driskel looked up to the challenge on the game's opening drive, completing five of his six passes before the offense stalled in the red zone and settled for a short Matt Prater field goal.
"It's always the goal to start fast," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "We got some points early, but we've just got to finish."
A second Prater field goal, a booming 54-yard effort in the uncharacteristically calm conditions at Soldier Field, put the Lions up 6-0 late in the second quarter while Detroit's defense frustrated Chicago's struggling offense, which couldn't find its way across midfield while mustering a single first down through its first four possessions.
But things started to crumble for the Lions (3-5-1) just before the half and the team never recovered.
After Prater's second field goal, the Bears put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive. After converting on a fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory, three quick completions and a defensive holding penalty put the Bears into the red zone with a minute remaining.
On second-and-5, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky looked to little-used tight end Ben Braunecker, who made a diving grab in the end zone for the first touchdown of his four-year career.
"Just something we schemed out this week," Trubisky said. " I just put it in a spot where he could make a great play, and he made an awesome catch. We just liked that matchup and they gave the look we wanted, and that's what happens. Great call, great execution, plays like that will be made."
Up 7-6 coming out of the half, the Bears quickly extended the lead by leaning on star receiver Allen Robinson. He beat cornerback Darius Slay for a 33-yard completion before drawing a 22-yard pass interference call against the Pro Bowl corner, setting up first-and-goal from the 5.
"That (stuff) was weak," Slay said about the penalty. "(The official) told me when I talked to him that I didn't play the ball."
An effective pick play, which redirected Lions linebacker Christian Jones into teammate Justin Coleman, freed up running back Tarik Cohen to take a quick pass out of the backfield from Trubisky into the end zone, making it 13-6 following a missed extra point with 12:25 left in the third quarter.
"They drew up some excellent plays," Slay said. "The one with (Cohen) out of the backfield, they triple picked us. It was hard for a guy to get over there."
On the ensuing possession, Driskel was intercepted by linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who read the quarterback's eyes and jumped a short route intended for receiver Kenny Golladay.
Three plays later, Chicago was in the end zone again. Speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel beat the coverage of cornerback Mike Ford for the 24-yard score, putting Chicago up 20-6 at the 9:38 mark.
Trubisky was 16 of 23 passing for 173 yards and the three touchdown passes.
After a series of punts, the Lions broke their lengthy scoring drought with 5:53 remaining when Driskel connected with Golladay on a 47-yard bomb.
Escaping pressure from his right, Driskel rolled to that side and heaved it up to Golladay. He was working one-on-one against cornerback Kyle Fuller, who stumbled in coverage and allowed the receiver to easily make his team-leading eighth touchdown grab of the year.
The Lions had a chance to tie it, moving into Bears territory after a punt, but a pair of mistakes by Golladay killed the drive.
On third-and-1, the receiver dropped a wobbly pass that hit him in hands, then was called for offensive pass interference for an illegal pick on fourth-and-1, negating a conversion by J.D. McKissic.
On fourth-and-11, Driskel's pass to Golladay was behind the receiver, giving the Bears the ball back with 2:13 remaining.
Golladay declined interview requests after the game.
The Bears punted again, giving the Lions possession at their own 10-yard line with 1:41 on the clock. After two incompletions to begin the series, Driskel connected on passes of 16, 19 and 15 yards to move the Lions across midfield before a spike stopped the clock at 42 seconds.
On fourth-and-7 from the 25, Driskel rolled left but illegally crossed the line of scrimmage before firing a pass into the end zone to end the game.
Driskel finished 27 of 46 passing for 269 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Golladay had three catches for 57 yards and the one score.
With the loss, the Lions slip behind the Bears (4-5) into the NFC North cellar.