Pisa Tinoisamoa remained calm, while thousands of Bears fans at Soldier Field held their breath.
Lions quarterback Shaun Hill's pass in the end zone to receiver Calvin Johnson looked remarkably like a touchdown, judging from the groans of those fans and the reaction of the media members in the press box. With 25 seconds left in the game, a score would put the Lions ahead of the Bears by a score of 20-19.
Things looked bleak for the Bears, until the call was curiously overturned by the officials on the field and then upheld by the replay assistant in the booth. Even though Johnson clearly caught it and had both feet down in the end zone, because he let the ball loose upon hitting the turf, a recent rule change that even some of the players weren't totally keen on, the Bears came away with a 19-14 victory and at least a temporary lead in the NFC North.
For Tinoisamoa, it was all in a day's work.
"I looked at the big screen when they ran the play over and over again," Tinoisamoa said in the locker room after the game. "I immediately thought to myself, There's no way that's a touchdown. Johnson didn't have full control of the ball. It was the right call, the correct ruling. I knew it would come out in the Bears' favor all along."
The last-minute touchdown attempt by Detroit was one of a series of memorable moments in a game that had been predicted to be both high-scoring and a relatively easy win for Chicago. Neither assumption proved to be correct.
"We put a lot out there today," said Tinoisamoa. "But this is an accomplished defense, and that's the way we are expected to play."
The Bears were able to keep Detroit's time of possession to 25:18, compared to Chicago's 34:42, and held Detroit to 13 first downs. The Bears came away with 463 total yards of offense to the Lions' 168.
"I hope that sets the tone for this season," Tinoisamoa said. "We didn't have the results we really wanted to have last year, so this year we plan to go out there and make a statement. There were some great stops. [Lance] Briggs had an important takeaway, which is something we're always after. The Lions fumbled. We were able to hand Detroit a number of three-and-out situations. Our effort was far from perfect, but it definitely was a step in the right direction."
Sunday was the first time that Tinoisamoa, Briggs and Brian Urlacher have lined up together for an entire game. Tinoisamoa and Urlacher were hurt in the season opener last year, with both eventually landing on injured reserve.
"Wow, I loved being out there with those guys," said Tinoisamoa. Briggsie took it to [Lions quarterback] Matthew Stafford and put him out of the game right before the half. Once he was out, Lance brought it to Hill. Urlacher was a complete beast. Pass deflections, tremendous pressure on the passer – he did it all. I did my best to keep up with them, but I have to admit that at this point I'm a little loopy. It was hot out there, and we worked hard. Briggs and Urlacher still look fresh. I'm both physically and mentally exhausted."
Nick Roach sustained a hamstring injury during the first half of play and Hunter Hillenmeyer left the game with an undisclosed illness, so the pressure to perform at linebacker rested squarely on the sizable shoulders of Urlacher, Briggs and Tinoisamoa. By the second half, special teamer Brian Iwuh was the only other healthy linebacker on the sideline.
"We do have Brian Iwuh as a backup, so we aren't completely on our own," said Tinoisamoa. "But I think it's a situation the three of us starters are capable of handling. We're strong, and we're ready to go."
Both Urlacher and Briggs notched nine tackles, with Tinoisamoa recording three of his own. Urlacher also recorded a sack. Briggs forced and recovered a fumble. It was a solid day all around for the linebacking corps, but improvements can always be made.
"Always," said Tinoisamoa. "I'm speaking about myself, of course. I can do better, and I will do better. We have a big game coming up in Dallas next weekend. Tony Romo is sharp, and he has some good receivers. It'll be our job to shut them down, to take their hometown crowd out of the game. You can be sure that's something we'll be strategizing all week."
With an improved performance by Jay Cutler and the offense this week, minus the four turnovers that held them back from scoring a bunch more points Sunday against Detroit, perhaps Tinoisamoa and Co. will have more margin for error against the Cowboys.
"No way," he said. "We are a team, and if anything, the way our offense played today puts additional pressure on the guys of the defense. We want to give our offense the best possible field position, the best opportunities to showcase their talents. That's what I like about this team. If the guys on one side of the ball do well, the other side plays even harder. We're out to raise the level of this team as a whole and to earn the respect the Bears deserve."
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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
Tinoisamoa, LBs Dominate Detroit
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