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'Got a long way to go': Lions unravel in fourth quarter, drop opener to Bears

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Detroit — For the second consecutive year, the Detroit Lions jumped out to a three-score lead in the season-opener. And for the second consecutive year, they suffered a meltdown in the fourth quarter. 

Following a Matthew Stafford interception on a forced throw into a nonexistent window, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky connected with wide receiver Anthony Miller from 27 yards out to seal the improbable comeback.

A Stafford pass into the end zone was deflected away as time expired, sealing the 27-23 loss on Sunday at Ford Field.

"We tied that game in Arizona, but, yes it feels similar to that," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. (The Lions tied the Cardinals 27-27 in 2019's opener.) "We were up, trying to make plays, trying to run some clock out, move the chains, and play good football. It goes to show how close every game here in the NFL is and one mistake here, one mistake there is costly. We just have to buckle down, play consistent. We got a long way to go, so back to work this week."

BOX SCORE: Bears 27, Lions 23

And to think, the Lions had everything going their way entering the final quarter. Riding a wave of momentum from a quick-strike touchdown late in the first half, and a defense that repeatedly bent but didn't break until late, the Lions found themselves up 23-6. 

Bears' Akiem Hicks (96), Bilal Nichols (98) and Barkevious Mingo try to stop Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter.

In front of 65,000 empty seats — a reminder of the ongoing pandemic — both offenses struggled to find their footing in the early going of the contest, trading three-and-outs and field goals through much of the first half. But the Lions found a spark at the end of the second quarter when Jamal Agnew returned a punt 16 yards with under a minute remaining. 

Stafford took advantage of the starting field position just across midfield, connecting on three quick passes, including a 24-yarder to tight end T.J. Hockenson down to the 1-yard line. Rookie running back D'Andre Swift took it from there, punching it across the goal line to put the Lions up 13-6. 

Getting the ball to start the third quarter, Detroit built on the lead, driving 72 yards on eight plays. Again, Stafford was sharp, connecting on all four of his throws and capping the series by squeezing one into Hockenson from 4 yards out. 

More:Adrian Peterson's veteran poise shines through in Lions debut

Making his first start since Nov. 3, 2019, Stafford was enjoying an efficient afternoon before the critical mistake late in the contest. He finished completing 24 of his 42 passes for 297 yards, one touchdown and the interception. 

Following a Bears punt, recently acquired running back Adrian Peterson went to work for the Lions, touching the ball four straight plays for 41 yards. A pair of penalties against the Bears pushed the Lions across midfield, where they eventually settled for a 44-yard Matt Prater field goal and the 23-6 edge with 3:24 left in the third quarter.

Peterson was excellent in his Detroit debut, rushing for 93 yards on 14 carries. 

"I told (running backs coach Kyle Caskey), 'I'm ready for whatever,'" Peterson said. "I was coming in with the mentality that I was going to be part of the game plan and they're going to utilize me. I don't know what the numbers were, right now or anything, but I was ready, up to bat, whenever they needed. That's what I'm all about."

But the three-score lead was short-lived as the Bears whittled away at the advantage through a tense fourth quarter. 

Taking advantage of a depleted Lions defense, which lost cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant to injury and linebacker Jamie Collins to a first-half ejection for contacting an official, Chicago finally found pay dirt early in the final frame. And much like Detroit's first touchdown, the scoring drive was jump-started by a good return as Cordarrelle Patterson brought a kickoff out of his own end zone to the 41-yard line. 

Trubisky completed back-to-back throws for 40 yards and a pitch to Patterson converted a fourth-and-2, setting Trubisky up to find tight end Jimmy Graham from 2 yards out on a fade route, cutting the Lions' lead to 10. 

Again riding Peterson, the Lions looked to respond by driving into Chicago territory, but were left to settle for a 55-yard Prater field-goal attempt after Stafford was sacked. The veteran kicker ended up sending his effort wide right, giving the Bears a short field, which they turned into another touchdown in five plays when Trubisky found receiver Javon Wims in the back corner of the end zone from a yard out. 

"We probably could’ve gotten another five yards on the next play and we’re in better range for him," Stafford said. "I definitely wish I had thrown that one away."

More:Lions' second-half collapse has similar ring to last season's opener

Detroit finished the collapse when Stafford tried to force a ball to Marvin Jones across the middle into double coverage. The pass deflected off the arm of rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson and was corralled by Kyle Fuller. 

Three plays later, Trubisky found Miller down the right sideline for the go-ahead touchdown, beating the coverage of Amani Oruwariye. 

Stunningly, it was nearly an identical route in a nearly identical situation in the game between the two teams last season. 

“Yeah, it was actually the same exact route," Trubisky said. "We just dressed it up a little different with the formation and all that. It was the same end zone and same side of the field, so it was kind of weird that happened. I just trusted him. He kept telling me all game, ‘Just trust me, just trust me. Stick with me,’ and I did. I just looked off the safety and put it in a place where he could make a play. He made a phenomenal catch."

More:Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Fourth-quarter implosion sinks marks for defense, coaching (subscription required)

The Lions had two shots to reclaim the lead in the closing seconds, but Swift couldn't hang on to a pass while spinning around to make a grab in the end zone and Stafford's final throw, to Jones as time expired, was easily deflected away by Johnson.

"Yeah, what a break," Bears coach Matt Nagy said about Swift's drop. "I saw that ball on the corner route go right in his hands. And you could see, I think you could feel for a second, the whole sideline for Detroit just start jumping up and down and going crazy. And then it was, they started like grabbing their heads, because they saw him drop it. And then we started cheering. And now you know there’s one play left, and that’s just, that’s the breaks. It is what it is.

"We just feel very lucky and fortunate that we were able to get out of there."

The Lions travel to Green Bay to play the Packers (1-0) next week.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers