Winning ugly is still winning
December, 5, 2010
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
DETROIT -- The Chicago Bears reacted appropriately to their 24-20 harrowing escape of the 2-10 Detroit Lions, a team many expected the club to thoroughly destroy.
The Bears overcame a fourth-quarter deficit, and a regrettable first-half defensive showing in which they allowed the Lions to roll up 253 yards on the way to a 17-14 first-half lead. On the surface, the performance wasn’t becoming of a club on a five-game winning streak that entered the game coming off arguably its best outing of the season.
“I understand that the defense around here has a certain standard [and] people expect us to be solid each and every week,” Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen, and you need the offense to pick us up. Today, they saved our [expletive]”
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiBrian Urlacher led the Bears with 17 total tackles against the Lions on Sunday.
What’s important to recognize -- which the Bears do -- is that there’s going to have to be some of that in every facet for this team to reach its ultimate goal as the season lurches toward crunch time. The Bears don’t have to apologize for winning ugly. The fact the club recognizes that, acknowledges its shortcomings, and harps on them -- even while basking in the luster of victory -- speaks to this team developing the mentality needed to excel in the all-important stretch run.
“The Lions aren’t anybody to look past, so we’re just glad we came out with another win,” running back Matt Forte said.
Keep in mind, though, that Detroit isn’t the same team everyone has become accustomed to seeing.
Six of the Lions’ 10 losses have come by five points or fewer, and with 10 days to prepare for Sunday’s matchup against the Bears, they controlled the action for almost three and a half quarters.
“We started real slow for whatever reason, but we finished,” safety Chris Harris said. “The key to playing is to finish, and I think we did that today. We’re in December, man. A win is a win. I don’t care what somebody’s record is or what people expect from you or think you should do. Anytime you play a division game, it’s always tough. We have very high expectations. The bar is high. When we perform like that, it doesn’t meet our standards.”
It also serves as somewhat of a needed wake-up call for the Bears, who will now work feverishly to eliminate mistakes committed against the Lions in preparation for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, a team on a three-game winning streak going into their Monday night game against the New York Jets.
Leading by four points with less than a minute remaining in the first half Sunday, the Bears gave up 91 yards in 19 seconds on just two plays.
Calvin Johnson exacerbated Chicago’s defensive errors on a 46-yard touchdown catch with 34 seconds left that gave the Lions a 17-14 lead. Johnson stiff-armed Harris and nickel corner D.J. Moore to the ground on the way to the end zone.
Bears coach Lovie Smith was furious.
“Upset, you could say that,” Smith said. “It’s hard to stomach missed tackles on critical plays, letting a team go over 90 yards in two plays.”
Given their track record over the first 12 games, the Bears aren’t likely to repeat such errors over the final four contests. The team also knows it needs to shore up several other areas, too.
After drastically improving protection issues from a four-week span in which the offensive line gave up 23 sacks between Oct. 10 and Oct. 24, the Bears' problems on that front appear to have resurfaced somewhat over the past five weeks. Coming off the bye, the Bears allowed one sack against the Buffalo Bills.
Since then, opponents increased their sack numbers against the Bears in four consecutive contests, and Cutler has been dropped four times in each of the past two games.
“For whatever reason, they’ve happened,” left tackle Frank Omiyale said. “We’ve just got to get it fixed.
Cutler said the rough outing “knocked [the team] back down a little bit.”
“Coming off a high win against Philadelphia, it’s easy to have a letdown game,” Cutler said. “We weren’t going to come in here and just blow everybody’s doors off. [This game] gets our feet back on the ground. Every game is tough in the NFL, and we’ve got to prepare like it.”
Even on special teams, the Bears -- who typically dominate opponents in that phase -- received some needed humbling that should intensify their focus in the coming weeks. The Bears' kick-coverage units allowed Stefan Logan to rip it for a 38.7-average (including a 60-yarder) on kickoff returns, and 19 yards on one punt return.
The Bears even finished without a turnover for the first time for the first time since Oct. 17.
“I couldn’t believe we came out as flat as we did. We were very lethargic. The energy wasn’t quite there like it usually is,” Harris said. “We’re very happy with the win, don’t get me wrong. But the way we played in the first half, that’s not how we play. We’ll get back to our regularly-scheduled program next week.”
They’ll have to.