DETROIT – Matthew Stafford has not been giving the football away much this season. His five interceptions before Sunday were a big part of why the Lions win close games, and win them late.
So it was particularly frustrating for the Bears, among the NFL’s poorest at catching opponents’ passes, who intercepted Stafford twice in the second half, once in their own end zone, the second returned all the way into the Lions’, and still lost despite leading in the fourth quarter.
The reason was defensive failures to end Detroit drives sooner rather than later. The Lions converted 50 percent (6 of 12) on third downs and had 34 minutes time of possession, to 26 for the Bears.
“We had an opportunity defensively to close it out,” said linebacker Willie Young said. “We have to close it out.”
Five of Detroit’s first six possessions went nine plays or longer, plus one of seven plays that covered 76 yards for the Lions’ final and winning touchdown, a seven-yard scramble by Stafford picking his way through a broken-down Bears defense that missed tackles and could not react decisively enough.
“I just was trying to stay on my feet and find that goal line,” Stafford said, “and it worked.”
The defense looked to wear down in the third quarter as the offense, which had stayed on the field for more than seven minutes on its first-quarter scoring drive, increasingly failed to sustain much behind inexperienced Matt Barkley against a road crowd and division leader.
The defense put San Francisco quarterbacks down six times last Sunday and shut off the first Detroit drive with a third-down swarm that got to Stafford three times. The aggressive mindset was evident early as the front seven drew five flags (three holding, one intentional grounding and one hands-to-the-face) in just the first three Detroit possessions.
But mistakes, including penalties totaling 28 yards on Detroit’s winning drive, were too frequent even in a game holding Stafford and the Lions to 20 points.
“Something that we struggle with, something that every week we go in and we say, ‘This is what we’re going to do better, and this is how we’re going to prepare in order to capitalize on those moments,’” said defensive end Akiem Hicks. “We had a great play by our defense, Cre’Von [LeBlanc] snagged that ball, took it back to the house. It’s in our hands at that point, you know what I mean?
“We have to finish together, and this is not a pointing finger of blame. This is both sides of the ball, special teams, we all need to put it in the pot and finish these games out. That’s what makes a difference between the team that’s three and whatever, and guys going to the playoffs.”
Defensive line: C
Pressure from Akiem Hicks produced the third-down sack of Stafford that ended Detroit’s first possession. Hicks broke up a third-down pass attempt in the third quarter, although Matt Prater was then able to convert a 54-yard field goal.
Mitch Unrein forced Stafford out of bounds with pursuit for a first-quarter sack. Losing nose tackle Eddie Goldman to an ankle injury was a setback in the second half, and the Lions did rush for 115 total yards.
Leonard Floyd continued his upward development, with repeated pressures on Stafford as well as solid recoveries against Lions rushing attempts. Floyd did allow Stafford to break contain for a long completion in the second quarter but he was utilized in multiple packages and roles, and disguised one rush showing pass coverage, then blitzing but adjusting to make the tackle on a Detroit run. Floyd had a hand in the first Bears sack, with pressure that sealed Stafford in the pocket and pushed him toward Akiem Hicks.
Floyd’s run defense was solid as well as his general discipline, with some exceptions in losing contain on pass rushes. Floyd did deflect one pass and was credited with 3 tackles.
Nick Kwiatkoski was solid starting again inside, netting a sack with a pursuit of Stafford in the second quarter and adding a second quarterback hit to go with a team-high8 tackles.
John Timu, filling in at the other inside linebacker spot, had 6 tackles, one for loss, but missed a tackle of Stafford on the quarterback’s winning scramble.
Pernell McPhee was an occasional factor in pass rush, getting some penetration although without credit for a hit or sack of Stafford. Willie Young was credited with 1 tackle and did not collect a hit on Stafford.
“It wasn’t a difficult task, it was just a matter of us closing it out,” Young said. “[Stafford] obviously beat us with his feet in that one particular play, but other than that that’s a great team.”
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The Bears still only have 7 interceptions on the season but two on consecutive Detroit possessions were nearly enough to take the game from the Lions. Cre’Von LeBlanc’s interception and 24-yard return for the Bears’ final points provided a lead, with LeBlanc getting the better of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin and breaking perfectly on Matthew Stafford’s pass.
“Being that I’m smaller than he is, I knew he would try to get into me to try to get separation,” LeBlanc said. “But I was firm with my coverage.”
Bryce Callahan deflected and Demontre Hurst intercepted a Stafford pass in the end zone to save a possible touchdown that would have put the Lions up by two scores early in the fourth quarter.
Callahan delivered a crucial pass breakup on third down in single coverage vs. Golden Tate to force the Lions to settle for a second-quarter field goal. LeBlanc timed his break perfectly to deflect a third-quarter slant to Tate
Tracy Porter was flagged for a pass-interference infraction and holding penalty in the second quarter that advanced Detroit’s second scoring drive. Porter was forced out of the game with an undisclosed illness late in the half.
Adrian Amos’ lack of impact plays over the last season-plus got him out of the starting lineup in favor of rookie Deon Bush (third straight start) and Harold Jones-Quartey back in the lineup. Amos started the second half after HJQ slipped down covering Anquan Boldin on Detroit’s touchdown pass at the end of the first half.
Stafford was able to elude the Bears’ pass rush on multiple occasions and found receivers open with the help of his self-generated extra time. “I think he did a great job of keeping plays alive,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee. “We knew that coming in, but I think our DB’s played a great game.”
Special teams: C
Connor Barth was able to salvage a penalty shortened opening drive with a 38-yard field goal. Pat O’Donnell and the punt team put two of four punts inside the Detroit 20
Punt coverage was undisciplined in allowing a long return in the second quarter that was nullified by block in the back but missed tackles and lanes lost could have been disastrous. Punter Pat O’Donnell showed his athleticism running down returner Andre Roberts. Coverage failed to get to O’Donnell’s first punt of the second half, resulting in a touchback. Kickoff return started the offense at the Chicago 18 from Detroit’s third-quarter kickoff.