The Chicago Bears took care of business this afternoon, beating the Detroit Lions 26-24 on the road at Ford Field. The Bears, who finished 10-6 on the season, had to win this game in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Chicago will need the Green Bay Packers to beat the Minnesota Vikings this afternoon in order to make the postseason.
Never in the history of the Windy City have there been so many fans rooting for the Packers.
-Chicago came away from the game relatively healthy, with only TE Matt Spaeth leaving the game with a concussion.
Week 17 Game Notes
-As has been the case with nearly every Bears win this season, the defense led the way. The group forced four turnovers – three fumbles and one interception – and gave Chicago's offense the ball inside Detroit's 25-yard line all four times. Yet the offense could muster just 16 points – one touchdown and three field goals – from those four trips.
In what is has become a trend this season, coordinator Mike Tice's game plan, scheme and play calling all were lacking. The passing attack consisted mainly of QB Jay Cutler launching the ball 40-50 yards down the field and bubble screens to WR Earl Bennett.
The Bears' only touchdown-scoring drive of more than 10 yards came on a three-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 60-yard TD to Bennett on a wide receiver screen. After catching the swing pass out of the slot, WR Earl Bennett sealed the cornerback to the inside, allowing Bennett a clear lane down the sideline.
Other than that, Chicago's passing game was ineffective. Cutler finished the game 18 of 31 for 257 yards and 1 TD, good for a passer rating of 95.8. He forced far too many passes to Marshall and was off-target on a number of throws. Yet he did not turn the ball over, which was crucial in the victory.
Cutler's biggest play came with his legs, not his arm. On a 3rd and 3 with 3:30 left in the game and the Bears trying to finish out the game, Cutler scrambled for 19 yards and a first down. Chicago would go on to run the clock out, finalizing the victory.
-Cutler talked this week about getting the ball to his second and third receivers. He did just that, with Bennett and WR Alshon Jeffery combining for nine catches for 185 yards and a TD. Bennett was targeted five times, catching all five for 109 yards. Jeffery was targeted seven times, catching four balls for 76 yards.
Yet despite their numbers, the 12 combined targets of Jeffery and Bennett were two less than the 14 times Cutler threw to Marshall, who caught five passes for 42 yards. Particularly in the red zone, Cutler repeatedly tried to cram the ball to Marshall, ignoring everyone else on the field. It was the main reason the Bears couldn't capitalize on the defense's turnovers.
-Cutler only needed to throw the ball 31 times because Chicago was very effective running the ball. RB Matt Forte finished the game with 24 carries for 103 yards, his second highest single-game total of the season. As a team, the Bears rushed for 144 yards, with the offensive line opening up massive holes all day.
Forte was at his best in the club's final drive of the contest. With 2:38 left in the game, after Detroit used its final timeout, Forte took a run off the right side, broke a tackle and dragged a Lions defender, picking up 13 yards and first down that sealed the game.
-Today's starting offensive line: LT J'Marcus Webb, LG James Brown, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer, RT Jonathan Scott. This group played well all day, mauling in the run game and allowing just two sacks. Considering the injuries and defections that have crippled the offensive line – forcing Tice to roll out a different starting five each of the past five weeks – they have steadily improved late in the season.
-With 1:59 left in the first half, Chicago's defense had allowed just three points. The Lions subsequently went 80 yards in 12 plays for a TD, cutting the Bears' lead to 20-10 at the half. The Lions scored two more touchdowns in the second half, keeping the game within reach until the final whistle. In the end, it all came down to turnovers.
-The key to this game on defense was stopping WR Calvin Johnson, who needed just 108 yards to become the first receiver in NFL history to break the 2,000-yard receiving mark. CB Charles Tillman was up to the task of keeping him from that plateau, holding Johnson to just five catches (on 14 targets) for 72 yards and 0 TDs. Johnson was nearly invisible for most of the game, which is a credit to Tillman and Chicago's game plan in shutting down Megatron.
-CB Tim Jenning picked up his league-best ninth interception on an errant Stafford pass in the second quarter. Yet Jennings also gave up two touchdowns, which is disappointing, as Detroit's No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 receivers are all on injured reserve.
-With the Lions down nine points midway through the fourth quarter, Staffored scrambled on third down and slid well short of the marker. Yet LB Lance Briggs hit the quarterback, which is illegal for a signal caller that is sliding. This extended the drive, which resulted in a touchdown that cut Chicago's lead to just two points. Briggs has been outstanding all season but that was a mental lapse that nearly cost his team a shot at the playoffs.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.