Bears Gear Up for First Place Tilt

Lake Forest - Even though it's just the seventh game of the season, Sunday's NFC North showdown at Detroit qualifies as the biggest game of Lovie Smith's coaching career with the Bears.

And even though the Bears and Lions are both just 3-3, the game is still for first place in the division.

Smith declared Sunday's 10-6 victory over the Ravens as his biggest win since taking over as the Bears coach last season, and Sunday's game against the Lions represents his first opportunity to climb above the .500 mark. The Bears haven't been above .500 this late in the year since the 2001 playoff season.

"It's been a couple years," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "A few years, actually. It'll be fun."

Since the Bears pounded the Lions 38-6 in Week Two, another victory Sunday would give them a solid grip on first place, considering the division tiebreakers and that the Vikings are 2-4 and the Packers 1-5.

"This past one was the biggest win we've had, and the biggest game," Smith said. "We're going to say the same thing about the importance of this game and how big it is for us. This is the position we want to be in, going up to Detroit in first place. Each week you win, it gets bigger and bigger."

After the Bears' 1-5 start last season, there weren't any big games. But with back-to-back victories and a defense that is showing signs of dominance, expectations for this season are on the rise.

"It's been a long time," tight end Desmond Clark said. "If we go get one next week, then it's really going to be on."

This early in the season, Smith isn't as concerned with first place as he is with stacking wins, though.

"Where we are in our division will take care of itself," Smith said. "Right now it doesn't really matter what place we're in. We're playing a division opponent. This is a team that swept us last year. We had two tough losses against them (20-16 and 19-13), so it's a big game for us with a lot at stake."

Smith won't look past the Lions, but if he did, he'd see a perfect opportunity for piling up some wins. After the Lions, the Bears play the 2-5 Saints in Baton Rouge, La., and the 1-5 49ers at home.

Urlacher won't peer too far into the future either, especially since he still doesn't know if he should feel like he's on a first-place team because of the Bears' modest record.

"Ask me after next week, if we go out there and win," he said. "It's still so early in the season, so much can happen, especially in our (division). But if we keep playing well, we'll have a chance to win a lot of games."

SERIES HISTORY: 152nd meeting. Bears lead the Lions 84-62-5, including a 38-6 romp in Week Two. The Lions won both meetings in 2004, including a disputed 19-13 victory at Ford Field in which an apparent TD pass from Chad Hutchinson to Bernard Berrian with 1:33 remaining was disallowed even after the replay official challenged the call on the field. Bears players still insist that Berrian had both feet down inbounds and possession of the ball, and replays seem to indicate the same.


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