The hoped-for dominance of a retooled Bears defense has been a mirage in 2016. Before Sunday.
Facing a top-5 Detroit Lions offense putting up 27 points and more than 410 yards per game, an injury-riddled Bears defense missing multiple starters throttled quarterback Matthew Stafford with two interceptions and held the Lions to 263 total yards and no offensive touchdowns.
But it was far more than just the numbers. The Bears were at risk of cracking when the offense was able to score just once in the first half, and the Lions opened the second half by driving 71 yards and controlling the ball for 13 plays. But the Bears were able to stop, in succession, a play from the 5 and then two straight from the Chicago 1 to force a field goal.
The Lions offense never scored again.
“I think guys are becoming more calloused, more resilient, thinking, ‘OK, we’ve seen this situation before, let’s play even harder,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who collected his first sack as a Bear and had a tackle for loss among his three stops. “In this season already we’ve seen just about every scenario, and this is not a team that quits.”
The Bears had not intercepted a pass since the first series of the season, in Houston. They had two on Sunday, including one by rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall to end a 12-play drive in the fourth quarter.
The super-charged Detroit offense had no play longer then 22 yards.
“I think it was pretty lights-out,” said coach John Fox. “Most of [the defensive players] were not real pleased with their performance last week [at Dallas] and responded in a very focused week of preparation. The Lions are a talented offense. They’ve got a lot of weapons, have scored a lot of points and they are very capable.”
Defensive line: B+
Defensive linemen were involved in 10 tackles among the Lions 44 plays, and Lions running backs managed just 3.1 yards per carry as the Bears finally were able to stop the run and turn a team one-dimensional.
Akiem Hicks delivered his first sack as a Bear, fighting through a double team and taking down Matthew Stafford in the first quarter. Cornelius Washington committed an ill-advised encroachment penalty on a third-and-short to sustain a second-quarter Detroit drive. But Washington also broke through for his second career sack.
John Timu, a surprise starter at inside linebacker, delivered the play of the game with a stop for minus-2 yards at the Chicago 3 to force a third quarter field goal. Timu was beaten in coverage a few too many times but was able to make plays in key situations.
Jerrell Freeman tied for team high with 7 tackles, according to initial stats. Freeman gave the defense a boost with a third-down pass defense in the second quarter to end a Detroit drive.
Nick Kwiatkoski in his second NFL start stood Lions back Dwayne Washington up in the hole and held the point for a first-quarter stop that helped build momentum on that side of the football.
[RELATED: Check out the grades for the Bears offense]
Bryce Callahan moved into the starting lineup at right corner in place of Jacoby Glenn, with Cre’Von LeBlanc setting up as the nickel corner for the second straight week. Callahan’s open-field tackle of Golden Tate in the second quarter was textbook and his pass defense on Tate on a second-quarter third down ended a drive and forced the Lions to settle for a field goal.
Jacoby Glenn gathered in a Matthew Stafford pass in the second quarter at the Chicago 13 for the Bears’ second interception of the season, this on a clear mis-play between Stafford and Tate. “I read the quarterback’s eyes and I made a play,” Glenn said. “I took points off the board for my team.”
Rookie Deiondre’ Hall intercepted a pass toward Anquan Bolden, also deep in Chicago territory to end a scoring threat.
Special teams: D
Connor Barth has gone from solution to problem area since replacing Robbie Gould, whose picture happened to be on the game-day ticket Sunday. Barth was wide right from 50 yards, the second miss in his first three attempts as a Bear.
More concerning, punt coverage allowed an 85-yard touchdown return by Andre Roberts to let the Lions to close within a field goal in the fourth quarter. Eddie Royal managed a punt return to near midfield in the first quarter but an illegal-block on DeAndre Houston-Carson pushed the offense back to the Chicago 17 instead. Pat O’Donnell uncharacteristically put his first two punts beyond his coverage and into the end zone for touchbacks.
Deonte Thompson gave the Bears a 29-yard return of the opening kickoff that gave the offense a decent starting point. Sherrick McManis provided a momentum-builder with a kickoff-return stop at the Detroit 16 after the Bears first touchdown.