Notebook: Division Rivals Pulling Away

It only took five weeks but the hot starts of both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions have placed the Chicago Bears, the defending champs of the division, three games out in the NFC North.

With almost three months left in the season, it might be a bit much to call the Bears' Monday night loss to the undefeated Lions a season-ender, but the 24-13 defeat leaves them at 2-3 and in sad shape in the all-of-a-sudden ultra-competitive NFC North.

The problem for the Bears is that the competition appears to be between the 5-0 Packers and the 5-0 Lions.

Big plays have been a huge problem for a hugely disappointing Bears defense all season, and that was the case Monday night. The Lions scored on a 73-yard pass play from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson and an 88-yard run by Jahvid Best.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher pointed out that last year's NFC North champions were 4-3 heading into the bye week, and this year's team can get there by defeating the Vikings and Bucs the next two weeks before the bye. But a lot has to change.

"That's still possible," Urlacher said, "but we're not going to win any games if we don't play any better. Defensively we stink. We stop the run; we can't stop the pass. We stop the pass; we can't stop the run. We're just all over the place."

As has been the case in four of five games, Matt Forte was clearly the most productive player in a Bears uniform. Forte produced 151 of 359 total yards (116 yards on 15 carries and 35 yards on four receptions), but he wasn't nearly enough in a sloppy, mistake-filled game that included 14 penalties for 104 yards. Nine of the penalties were for false starts, including seven by offensive linemen or tight ends.

The difference was the Lions' big plays and the Bears absence of same.

Coach Lovie Smith was hopeful this season that his team had upgraded the problematic safety position, which has seen a total of 47 lineup changes since he became head coach in 2004.

They still haven't found the answer, and that was apparent early in the second quarter when the Lions' 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson was able to get behind strong safety Chris Harris and free safety Brandon Meriweather to catch the bomb that opened the scoring.

"Our defense can't give up big plays like that," Smith said. "To have a base run go 88 yards untouched is hard to swallow."

While Jay Cutler was sacked three times, face-masked and roughed, he still completed 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards and a passer rating of 99.6. He made several plays by eluding the rush and buying time in the pocket until his receivers could come open.


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