Some Bears players said last week that, with a 2-3 record, they didn't feel like a first-place team. But Sunday's waterlogged 10-6 victory over the Ravens kept them at the top of the NFC North and gave them a more regal feeling, especially the defense, which did not allow a touchdown for the second straight week.
It was a statement game for the defense, which is now No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed per game, trailing only the Colts by a fraction of a point. The Bears allowed a season-low 199 total yards, the fifth straight week they've permitted less than 285, in a league where the average is 322.
"Hopefully it'll start to get us a little more attention, a little more respect," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "I think the guys have earned it. They played extremely hard, and that's the one thing we've asked from them time in and time out, is just give us your best effort. That's what they continue to do week in and week out. I think they should get some credit, some recognition for how hard they play."
The Bears again got minimal contributions from the offense, but once again the defense made a little bit go a long way. The general tone of the defense is that 10 points is plenty.
Sunday's game showed that this is a defense worthy of being considered with the best in the NFL. With the focus on defense, considering the Ravens also came in as one of the league's top units, the Bears defense was prepared for a showdown.
"We knew what type of game it was going to be going into it," safety Mike Brown said. "We know they have a good defense, and obviously we feel like we have a good defense. We knew both teams were going to try to run the rock, so we just needed to come up big for our team today, and I think we did that."
A pair of 14-yard runs by Thomas Jones (139 yards on 25 carries) and a 13-yard reception by tight end Desmond Clark (four catches, 50 yards) set up the first score of the game, Kyle Orton's 9-yard touchdown pass to fullback Marc Edwards with 19 seconds left in the first quarter. After Orton faked a handoff to Jones and rolled left, he found the nine-year veteran wide open inside the 5-yard line.
Two Baltimore second-quarter field goals narrowed the gap to 7-6, as the Bears offense completely bogged down, sputtering to minus-6 yards for the entire quarter. Most of the third quarter wasn't much better. But finally, late in the period, thanks to two huge 15-yard penalties against the Ravens, the offense capitalized.
Baltimore, which was penalized 21 times in a 35-17 loss to the Lions in Week 5, drew 11 flags for 100 yards Sunday. The 30 yards in penalties they contributed to the Bears' third-quarter scoring drive represented 1 more than the 29 yards the offense advanced on the game's final scoring drive. Robbie Gould kicked a 23-yard field goal with 2:52 left.
Assuming he can stay healthy, Jeff Garcia will be the Lions quarterback — probably for the rest of the season, undoubtedly for the game against Chicago on Sunday.
Coach Steve Mariucci didn't put it in those exact words, but Garcia's performance in the Lions' 13-10 victory at Cleveland and Mariucci's glowing praise afterward left little doubt regarding his status.
"He didn't get sacked," Mariucci said. "He's got some great escapability, as you know. He can improvise, he makes plays with his legs, along with his arm and his head and his smarts.
"But he's made plays with his legs, and that puts him into that athletic quarterback category you saw today. I just think if he's healthy, he'll get better and better."
Although his performance against the Browns isn't likely to win Garcia a fourth Pro Bowl trip, it was a shot of adrenalin and energy for the Lions, whose offense had been sluggish and unproductive in the first five games of the season.
His numbers were adequate — 22 completions in 34 passing attempts for 210 yards. No touchdowns, no interceptions. He netted only 1 yard on four rushing attempts, but his yard was the result of a dive into the end zone when he couldn't find an open receiver.
Not bad for a player with just one week of practice, just seven weeks removed from a broken left fibula and badly sprained left ankle suffered in the Lions final preseason game Sept. 2 at Buffalo.
Garcia split the reps last week with Joey Harrington, the Lions starter since the third game of his rookie season in 2002, and was amazingly effective in his first start of the season against the team that cut him at the end of the past season.
What made his first start particularly impressive was the fact he made three or four plays when it seemed there was no play to be made — connecting with Mike Williams for a 49-yard completion when it looked as if the Browns had him trapped for a sack, getting a 10-yard gain on a shovel pass to running back Shawn Bryson as he was being dragged down by Browns defenders, and avoiding a safety with a 10-yard throw to wide receiver Scottie Vines.
The job won't get any easier for Garcia. The Lions receiving corps is in a state of disarray with Roy Williams recovering from a quadriceps injury that has cost him the past two games, Charles Rogers three games into a four-game substance abuse suspension, veteran Kevin Johnson suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in the Cleveland game and rookie Williams playing with a tight hamstring and a sore back.
The Lions got a new quarterback and a new lease on life in their 13-10 win at Cleveland. The victory lifted Detroit to 3-3 and kept the Lions on top of the NFC North.
The defense contributed significantly to the win with three interceptions (pushing the season total to 13 in six games), four sacks against Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer and by stopping the Browns on all eight third-down plays.
Two Pro Bowl defenders finished the game on the sidelines, however. Cornerback Dre' Bly, who has four interceptions in the past three games, suffered a wrist injury, and tackle Shaun Rogers suffered a knee injury. Their status for this week's game against Chicago is uncertain.