The Lions have won five straight meetings in this long-running (171 games) cage match with the Bears. The October 18th matchup at Ford Field was particularly frustrating in the first of three swings this season at the .500 mark. The 0-5 Lions didn't have Joique Bell, Eric Ebron or Brandon Petttigrew on offense. They didn't have Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy or James Ihedigbo on defense. The Bears even led 31-24 midway through the fourth quarter. But they needed a Robbie Gould field goal as time expired to force overtime, then played two possessions conservatively before a bomb to Calvin Johnson set up Matt Prater's winning field goal with four minutes remaining.
The Lions would go on to lose twice more amidst the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and their offensive line coach, and the front office firings of president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew (replaced, respectively, by Rod Wood and Sheldon White, the latter on an interim basis). While Martha Ford's taken control from the rest of the family in overseeing the team, the future Jim Caldwell (and his 17-14 record over two years) hangs in the balance until Mayhew's permanent replacement is found. But the team has rallied to win five of seven, making Sunday's finale at Soldier Field decide third and last place in the NFC North.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
This 5-2 run began a week after quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter was elevated to offensive coordinator. Check out quarterback Matthew Stafford's numbers before and after:
|Completion percentage||Pass yards/game||TD/INT||Rating|
|Last 7 games||69.7||269||16/2||108.7|
|First 8 games||64.5||260||13/11||84.1|
Keep in mind the first meeting between these teams came during those first eight, and Stafford chewed the Bears up by going 27-of-42 for 405 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Matter of fact, before last Sunday in Tampa Bay, it was the only other game this season the Bears had three takeaways, and they couldn't take away a victory. Stafford also ran six times for 37 yards that afternoon. He ranks in the top ten in all the major passing categories, but is the seventh-most sacked signal-caller, going down 40 times. The Bears could only get him down twice in Motown, and despite some youth and talent on the interior, the edges remain shaky - and old friend Michael Ola has taken over at right tackle for LaAdrian Waddle, who was released.
Rookie Ameer Abdullah has run for 553 yards (4.2 average) while catching 24 balls out of the backfield and losing two of his four fumbles. Bell is averaging 3.5 a carry, totaling 302 yards and four touchdowns. But the biggest weapon out of the backfield is Theo Riddick, who had a crushing 34-yard reception late in regulation back in Week Six. He leads all NFL running backs with 76 receptions for 668 yards (a franchise record for a running back).
Golden Tate's controversial scoring reception in the first meeting was one of six TD's and 86 receptions (ninth in the NFL). Ebron is starting to come around (42-512, four TD's) but Pettigrew is done for the season. T.J. Jones out of Notre Dame has stepped into playing time after Lance Moore was injured in Week 12 and has ten receptions for 132 yards.
Then there's Megatron. As he turns 30, his salary cap hit for next season is $24 million, so a decision on his future, or a renegotiation, looms. He's still productive (78-1,077, eight touchdowns) and remains a focus for opposing defense's, opening things up for Stafford's other weapons. The 57-yard bomb versus Harold Jones-Quartey set up the deciding field goal. The rookie hadn't started again until his strong performance last Sunday, leading HJ-Q to state afterwards he was looking forward to his rematch with Johnson this week. Okay. Have at it, kid.
The Lions lead the league in red zone touchdown percentage (68.1) but are 30th in opponents red zone TD percentage (64.9).
Ziggy Ansah has stepped into the defensive spotlight vacated by Ndamukong Suh's departure. He's third in the league with 13.5 sacks. The only marks he made on the stat sheet versus Charles Leno, Jr. in Detroit were two quarterback hits. Devin Taylor (six sacks, including 3.5 in the last five) is taking snaps on the opposite end from Jason Jones (4.5 sacks). Ngata is back in the lineup, while Ivy Leaguer Caraun Reid starts at the other tackle after Tyrunn Walker landed on injured reserve.
That's also where stud linebacker Levy is after playing in just one game (17 snaps) this season before surgery for a hip injury sustained shortly after signing a four-year, $33 million contract extension in August. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is their tackles leader, flanked by Tamir Whitehead and Josh Bynes.
The talented safety tandem of Ihedigbo and Glover Quin (three interceptions) is back in place, but Darius Slay now works in tandem with Nevin Lawson at cornerback after Rashean Mathis was lost for the season with an injury. Sixth-round rookie Quandre Diggs is just 5'9, but has four pass breakups and 14 tackles his last four games.
The weekly Burn Notice the Bears' Teams experienced early in the season came in the form of a 30-yard gain by Isa Abdul-Quddus on a direct snap out of punt formation with the Bears trying to protect that 31-24 fourth quarter lead. Jones struggled filling in for Abdullah (who was dealing with a hand injury) in the first meeting, but Abdullah's now leading the NFL with a 30.7 kickoff return average (no touchdowns) while Tate averages 7.5 per punt return. Prater went 3-for-3 in the first encounter and has connected on 21 of 22 field goal attempts on the season.