The Bears survived arguably the toughest two-game stretch of their 2009 season with a 1-1 record, no minor feat considering they had to defeat the Super Bowl champion Steelers 17-14 at Soldier Field on Sunday to get to .500.
Quarterback Jay Cutler, on whom many hopes are pinned, rebounded from a season-opening four-interception disaster in the loss in Green Bay to play like the guy the Bears gave up three high draft choices and quarterback Kyle Orton to get.
"It means a lot (to me), and it means a lot to this team," Cutler said. "We've had a lot of pressure and expectations on us since I got here, since Orlando (Pace) got here, since the defense has stepped it up. It's good to get this one off our back and move on. We went to Green Bay with the whole city of Chicago on us, which is fine. We love it, we expect a lot out of ourselves. To get this first one behind us and get rolling it's good for us."
Cutler's 104.7 passer rating was 61.5 points higher than his 43.2 against the Packers.
"I thought Jay was outstanding all day," coach Lovie Smith said. "We as an offense, as a team, have a long ways to go. But he's a pro. I think he handled the week well."
That's a good thing since the Bears must play the remainder of the 2009 season without six-time pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is on injured reserve with a dislocated right wrist. And defensive end Alex Brown, who had two sacks vs. the Steelers, suffered a sprained ankle of indeterminate severity.
With the running game languishing, Cutler and the passing game are even more crucial as the Bears prepare to head for the West Coast and a date with the Seahawks.
"We haven't had a lot of (rushing) yards," coach Lovie Smith said. "Some days a team will gang up on the run and we'll (have to) beat them passing the ball. I'm still pleased with what we're doing with the running game."
The team that "gets off the bus running the football," according to Smith, has pulled up lame. In two games against 3-4 defenses, the Bears have rushed for just 129 yards on 49 carries, a 2.9-yard average. Featured ball carrier Matt Forte has just 84 yards on 38 carries for a 2.2-yard average.
On Sunday, the Bears had 39 passing plays and just 18 runs.
UNDER THE RADAR: Second-year man Kellen Davis moved into a more prominent role as the team's No. 2 tight end on Sunday because of the cracked rib that kept Desmond Clark sidelined. Davis stepped up big time with five catches for 38 yards, including a 6-yard TD pass.
LINEUP WATCH: Hunter Hillenmeyer filled in for MLB Brian Urlacher and helped hold the Steelers to 308 yards of total offense with four solo tackles and a pass break-up. Nick Roach and Jamar Williams filled in for injured starter Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) at strong side linebacker and neither distinguished himself.
The Lions' losing streak is 19 now.
Their next chance to snap it is Sunday against Washington, and there is some hope that they might be able to do it. They're at home; they've never beaten the Redskins on the road. They showed some improvement Sunday in a 27-13 loss to Minnesota; the ‘Skins were unimpressive in a 9-7 victory over lowly St. Louis.
The Lions haven't won since Dec. 23, 2007, against Kansas City. They suffered the NFL's first 0-16 season last year. And though they have many new coaches and players with no connection to the past, the record book draws no distinction.
The 19-game losing streak is the second-worst all-time, tying the 1961-62 Oakland Raiders and 1942-43 and ‘45 Chicago Cardinals. Only one team has ever lost more consecutive games than the Lions: the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 26 straight.
"It's a different attitude and everything," said kicker Jason Hanson, in his 18th season with the Lions. "But we've got to fight right now before this starts to snowball and media and fans, rightfully, are going to be like, ‘Oh, here we go ...' We've got to cut that right now and do whatever it takes to win."
The Lions did some good things Sunday, but they still lost for the 25th time in their past 26 games and 14th time in their past 15 against the Vikings.
They limited Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher last year, to less than 100 rushing yards. They sacked future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre three times and didn't allow him a completion longer than 13 yards. They rushed for 129 yards against last year's top rushing defense. They took a 10-0 lead.
But the Lions made too many mistakes. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions. Running back Kevin Smith lost a fumble.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the difference in the game was the beginning of the second half. In a matter of minutes, a 10-7 lead turned into a 17-10 deficit.
"I think all in all, we (don't) make those errors, we win the game," center Dominic Raiola said. "I don't think I'm talking about this. We're talking about our first win in 19 tries. It's just frustrating. We lost again."
Schwartz refuses to look for silver linings or moral victories. But that's all the Lions have these days.
"I don't know if you call them growing pains," Hanson said. "But there's some fight. There are some good things. And then there's some disintegration out there."
TRENDING: A week after rushing for only 33 yards at New Orleans, the Lions rushed for 129 yards against the team that had the NFL's top rushing defense last year. The Lions were creative and committed against the Vikings, using pitches and end arounds along with straight power plays. Running back Kevin Smith had 24 carries for 83 yards. Receiver Calvin Johnson had two carries for 16. Running back Maurice Morris had two carries for 15.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 — Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown five interceptions in two NFL games, including two Sunday against the Vikings; counting the exhibition season, he has nine through about 14 quarters. But coach Jim Schwartz wrote them off to aggressiveness and isn't entertaining the idea of switching to veteran Daunte Culpepper. "Matt's our starting quarterback," Schwartz said.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers' single-season record for sacks allowed is 62 in 1990.
After two games this season, Green Bay is on pace to obliterate the dubious standard. Aaron Rodgers has been dropped 10 times, including a personal-high six in the Cincinnati Bengals' 31-24 win at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
"It's very tough," Packers tight end Donald Lee said. "That's the guy we all depend on (to) take us to the Super Bowl. And, when you're running routes or blocking and look back and see him getting off the ground, it's kind of hurtful. You've got to keep the quarterback safe if you want to win in this game."
The Packers' inability to keep Rodgers clean after he wasn't sacked in the preseason has raised red flags.
"Our pass protection is a negative right now," head coach Mike McCarthy lamented.
Green Bay's retooled offensive line has been maligned by the pressure applied by the defensive fronts of both the Chicago Bears and the Bengals in the first two weeks.
After Allen Barbre struggled at right tackle in his starting debut against the Bears, Daryn Colledge felt the heat following his subpar performance against the Bengals, particularly with defensive end Antwan Odom.
Colledge moved from left guard to left tackle to replace veteran Chad Clifton, who suffered an ankle injury early in the second half. Odom, in turn, recorded four of his five sacks — the most by an opposing player against the Packers in one game.
"I had some complete meltdowns," said Colledge, adding of the line, "We're just not playing up to our abilities. There's no excuses — it doesn't matter how young you are or if you have to move positions. We need to find a way to perform."
Clifton's availability in the short term — starting Sunday at the St. Louis Rams — is up in the air, although X-rays on his right ankle were negative.
Despite his poor outing, Colledge would be the starting fallback at left tackle for Clifton.
The domino effect created by Clifton's injury Sunday also had center Jason Spitz moving to left guard and onetime starter Scott Wells going in at center.
A battered Rodgers can only hope things improve with whoever is lined up in front of him.
"We just need to do a better job as a whole unit — myself and the guys up front," Rodgers said.
LINEUP WATCH: The Packers are facing a dire situation at safety. A week after losing Atari Bigby for at least four weeks to a knee sprain, fellow starter Nick Collins left Sunday's game with a chest injury in the second quarter. Aaron Rouse started in place of Bigby, and Jarrett Bush took over for Collins, whose status wasn't immediately known. Having both front-line safeties injured in the first two games comes after the Packers cut Anthony Smith at the end of the preseason. Smith, a free-agent addition in the offseason, played well in the exhibition games and since signed with the St. Louis Rams, Green Bay's next opponent.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Catches by top wideout Greg Jennings in the loss to the Bengals. It was the first time Jennings went without a reception since breaking into the league in 2006 - a total of 47 games, including playoffs.