The Chicago Bears understand where they were and can appreciate how far they've come.
Charles Tillman and Major Wright returned interceptions for touchdowns early in the third quarter, and Chicago picked off Matthew Stafford four times to beat the Detroit Lions 37-13 in a heated game on Sunday.
"We're getting better," Brian Urlacher said. "No doubt about that. We're not done yet. We've still got a long way to go. But we're going the right direction, that's for sure."
Beating Detroit was another big step.
The four interceptions by Stafford matched his season total entering the game and helped knock the Lions (6-3) into a second-place tie with the Bears in the NFC North. Stafford was also involved in a skirmish that led to an ejection of Chicago's D.J. Moore early in the fourth quarter.
By then, the Bears (6-3) had locked up their fourth straight win thanks to a dominant defense and another punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester, who ran one back 82 yards. That extended his NFL record for punt-return TDs to 12 and combined kick-return touchdowns to 17.
Julius Peppers and Tim Jennings forced turnovers on Detroit's first two possessions, leading to a touchdown and field goal by Chicago. Wright and Tillman returned interceptions for touchdowns on the Lions' first two possessions of the second half to put game out of reach.
In between turnover binges, Hester caused his usual havoc before leaving with an undisclosed illness.
For a guy who was listed as questionable with a sprained left ankle, Hester sure looked good while he was in the game. He had already set up a field goal by Robbie Gould in the opening seconds of the second quarter with a 29-yard punt return before his long TD return along the left sideline, giving the Bears a 20-0 lead.
The idea that the Bears would be tied with the Lions seemed far-fetched after their 24-13 Monday night loss at Ford Field last month, but the teams have gone in different directions since.
"We had a lot riding on this game," Smith said. "NFC division game at home we just couldn't afford another loss. We've gotten better and better each week."
Detroit has dropped three of four after winning its first five, and this one was brutal - particularly for Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Johnson had 81 yards on seven catches with Tillman locking him down.
Stafford, playing with a fractured finger in his right hand, completed 33 of 63 passes for 329 yards, and any shot the Lions had at a comeback ended when Wright and Tillman picked him off early in the third.
Wright returned his interception 24 yards and Tillman ran his back 44 yards for TDs that made it 34-6, sending the Lions to their first road loss after they won their first four away from Ford Field.
Stafford said the finger wasn't really a factor, but the strong wind was.
"Wind was blowing the ball around, and they had a tough time throwing it and we had a tough time throwing it," he said.
Things really got chippy early in the fourth quarter after Stafford threw his third interception. Jennings picked him off and got shoved hard out of bounds by Nate Burleson. While that unfolded, Stafford grabbed Moore by the helmet and threw him to the ground, setting off a confrontation involving players from both teams that ultimately led to Moore's ejection.
"When you are going after my livelihood, my neck, and you're trying to hurt me, I just can't let that go," Moore said.
Stafford said he wasn't trying to injure Moore.
"He kind of blocked me and I was just trying to get him off me best I knew how," Stafford said. "And I guess he didn't like the way I did it. He wanted to ask me about it."
There was also some tension earlier in the game.
And a few plays before Jennings' interception, Chicago's Lance Briggs had a hard hit on Johnson.
"It wasn't clean and it wasn't quiet," Cutler said. "I know that. That's just how it is."
Those incidents aside, there was little drama in this one.
The Bears pulled out an easy win even though Matt Forte and Cutler did not have big games.
Forte scored the game's first touchdown on a 6-yard run but finished with 64 yards - 40 of them on one run.
Cutler was consistently under pressure while throwing for 123 yards, but for one game it didn't matter.
-Smith said LG Chris Williams was undergoing surgery Sunday after leaving the game with a wrist injury.
-Tillman tied Mike Brown and Bennie McRae for the club record with his fourth career interception return for a touchdown. He has 28 interceptions and ranks fourth on the Bears' all-time list.
-Peppers had an 11-yard sack on third down at the six that forced Detroit to kick a field goal in the second quarter.
-The Lions had won six straight road games dating back to last season.
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