The Bears are still alive, and a victory like their 27-20 squeaker over the Packers at Lambeau Field could be just the jump start they need to what had been a depressing, disappointing season until the second half Sunday, when they overcame a 17-7 deficit to escape with a 2-3 record and drop the NFC North first-place Packers to 4-1.
"This was as much of a must win as you can get," said quarterback Brian Griese, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 214 yards for a passer rating of 97.8, surpassing Brett Favre's 83.5. "We needed the momentum, and we needed the confidence."
Lovie Smith, normally even-keeled and calm, became animated and emotional as he addressed his team's underwhelming first-half performance.
"It wasn't happy or friendly," said tight end Desmond Clark, who caught the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass from Griese with 2:05 left to give the victory. "It was probably the most animated I've ever seen him."
Whatever Smith said, it worked. The Bears considered themselves fortunate to be trailing only 17-7 at halftime, even though they had been outgained in yards 341 to 122. Only two lost fumbles by the Packers kept the Bears from being blown out in the first half.
"We were lucky to be where we were at halftime," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "We could've easily been down by 27-3 or so. We squeaked one out. We stole one. You usually don't come back from being in a hole that deep."
The win wasn't secured until Brandon McGowan intercepted Favre in the end zone with one second left on a desperation throw from the Bears' 32-yard line.
The Bears knew from past experience they could force Favre into mistakes if they pressured him, and it took a long time before he even came close to making an error. But, after playing nearly flawlessly for almost three quarters, Favre threw an ill-advised pass across his body while rolling out and hit middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in the chest. Urlacher's interception at the Packers' 19-yard line gave the wheezing Bears life. On the next play they chopped seven points off a 20-10 deficit when Griese threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Greg Olsen (four catches, 57 yards) with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter the Packers turned the ball over for the fourth time when Charles Woodson fumbled on a hit by Brendon Ayanbadejo after a 25-yard punt return and punter Brad Maynard recovered at the Packers' 41-yard line. Griese's 17-yard pass to Mark Bradley, his first reception of the season, set up Robbie Gould's 36-yard field goal that tied the game at 20-20 on the third play of the fourth quarter.
"Turnovers told the story for us," Smith said. "Even though we didn't play well early, we were able to force some turnovers."
Reversing a trend that had haunted them most of the season, the Bears played the style of football that got them to Super Bowl XLI, taking the ball away five times while giving it away just once.
The Bears ended the first quarter with 20 total yards on nine plays and no first downs, while the Packers, on just 20 first-quarter plays, rolled up 191 yards.
Already leading 7-0 after a score on their first series, the Packers threatened on their next two possessions but stopped themselves on fumbles by wide receiver James Jones, both of which were forced by cornerback Charles Tillman.
"Charles Tillman is the best player I've ever seen when it comes to stripping the ball," Smith said.
The first fumble was recovered by Ricky Manning Jr. at the Bears' five-yard line and returned to the 16. The second was pounced on by Adam Archuleta at the Bears' 38, but the offense was unable to take advantage of either.
It saved that for the second half, when it was really needed.
So who are the Detroit Lions? Are they the team that moved the ball well, made big defensive plays and came through in the fourth quarter in victories over Oakland, Minnesota and Chicago? Or are they the team that looked inept in blowout losses at Philadelphia and Washington?
The Lions are 3-2 heading into their bye week. They are ahead of schedule, considering many preseason prognosticators figured they would be 2-3, at best, by this point. But they also have serious flaws — pass protection, pass rush, pass coverage and turnovers, to name a few.
Consistency is the No. 1 thing Rod Marinelli has preached since becoming the Lions' head coach last year. The Lions have been burdened by their history — one playoff victory since 1957 and a 24-72 record in president Matt Millen's first six years. They have tended to overreact to everything. Win, and they're turning the corner. Lose, and they're the same, old Lions.
In 2004, the Lions started 2-0. Then the Eagles embarrassed them, 30-13. This year, almost the same thing happened. After the Lions started 2-0, the Eagles embarrassed them, 56-21. Marinelli came to his news conference that Monday with a message: The Lions played a bad game, but they weren't a bad team.
"This is a good team, and I feel very good about it," Marinelli said. "I want to make sure I state that. I felt good all the way through off-season, I felt good preseason, I felt great after our first two games and I still feel good. It's a good team. The thing is, it's about being consistent."
Marinelli moved his hand up and down.
"You can't be here one week, and you can't be here one week, and you can't be here, because men don't know how to respond when you're like that," Marinelli said. "A man doesn't know how to respond in that type of room. So they're going to get a consistent leadership role from me, and they'll respond that way."
But after the Lions beat Chicago the next week, Marinelli used the "E" word for the first time.
"We will be an elite team here," Marinelli said. "We've just got to clean up some of the other issues, and once we get those cleaned up, then we're going to be really, really humming."
Asked what the word elite meant to him, he said: "I think an elite team is one of the better teams in the league — you know, that upper echelon."
The other issues Marinelli mentioned weren't gaping holes in the roster, either. He said they were things like penalties, fundamentals and ball security. In essence Marinelli was saying the Lions aren't far from being one of the best teams in the NFL.
Marinelli didn't get an argument from quarterback Jon Kitna, who said in the off-season the Lions would win more than 10 games.
"Listen, we're trying to peak at the right time," Kitna said. "Have we played our best yet? No. We haven't played our best yet. But we're 3-1 without playing our best. We're going to continue to get better each week. We're gaining confidence, and we're learning how to win. We were a team that was 3-13 last year."
The Lions promptly suffered a 34-3 loss to Washington.
"The thing I'm disappointed in is, we're up and down each week," Marinelli said afterward. "I'm not that way. I want to be a consistent team. The last two road games have gotten away from us, and then at home we seem to generate some great energy. You can't win consistently in this league doing that."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers may have taken the first step to get their anemic running game on track, but they'll have to try to begin anew in the victory column.
Green Bay failed to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1965 when it squandered a 10-point, second-half lead and lost 27-20 to the rival Bears on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
"We had a shot to blow these guys out; we let it slip away," safety Nick Collins said.
The Packers, who remained in first place in the NFC North by a game over the Lions, will try to bounce back against Washington on Sunday.
Their initial defeat, which ended an eight-game winning streak dating to the end of last season, was underscored by five turnovers. Green Bay lost three fumbles and has put the ball on the ground seven times in the last two games.
"You cannot turn the football over and win in this league. It's evident week in and week out, and that's the game we played," head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Rookie receiver James Jones was guilty of two miscues in the first half, although the Bears didn't capitalize on either. McCarthy then briefly banished his No. 3 wideout to the sideline.
"The fumbles are my fault. The mistakes are my fault," Jones said. "Everybody makes mistakes. No one goes through the game perfect, and I made two mistakes, maybe three mistakes. We've just got to move on to (the next game)."
One of the few positives in the game was the emergence of a rushing attack.
The Packers came in averaging a league-worst 54.3 yards. Rookie DeShawn Wynn eclipsed that after the contest was only four plays old, with runs of 12 and 44 yards.
The 44-yard run was the longest by a Packer since Ahman Green had a 70-yard touchdown in a win at Miami on Oct. 22, 2006.
Wynn had to leave after capping the game-opening drive with a 2-yard touchdown because of leg cramps, which kept him out until the start of the second half.
The first 30 minutes featured a 102-yard rushing outburst by Wynn and Vernand Morency, in just 13 carries.
The Packers hadn't rushed for 100 yards in six straight games.
Green Bay reverted to its lethargic ways in the second half, however, and finished with 121 rushing yards.
"We just got off our tempo," said Wynn, who had 13 carries for 78 yards. "We had a good tempo going in the first half. For some reason, we didn't have that same tempo and intensity in the second half."