Commentary

Bad Boys no match for Bad Men

The Bears showed no fear against the allegedly-intimidating Lions on Sunday

Updated: November 14, 2011, 12:46 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It's safe to say Detroit's Bad Boys are back.

Led by the helmet-ripping Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley, the upstart Lions are a vicious bunch worthy of the sobriquet given to the old Pistons teams of Isiah, Rodman and Laimbeer.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireThe Bears' defense was rough and tough on Lions QB Matt Stafford.

These Lions tiptoe the invisible line between dirty and smashmouth, but on Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears were one better than the Bad Boys.

They were Baaaad Men.

"We played the way we wanted to play," Brian Urlacher said. "They were in our way today."

The Bears' 37-13 victory over Detroit certainly wasn't pretty, but if you like big hits, turnovers and general nastiness, this was a game for you.

If you like repeating the cliché "Chicago Bears football," this was a game for you.

If you had the Bears' defense and special teams in your fantasy league, this was a game for you.

If you were still hyped from watch the Pacquiao-Marquez fight Saturday night, this was a game for you.

"People were fighting and carrying on," Earl Bennett said with a smile. "A lot was going on tonight. It was a playoff atmosphere. This one we needed and we got it."

"It wasn't clean and it wasn't quiet, I know that," Jay Cutler said.

"There's just a lot of testosterone out there," Bears guard Lance Louis said.

"I would match our guys up against their guys any time," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "That is a tough, physical team. We're a tough, physical team."

If you like statement games, this was a game for you too.

The chippy Lions embarrassed Chicago on Monday night in a 24-13 win on Oct. 10, and back then it looked like the Bears were spiraling toward a lost season of frustrated timeouts, false starts and defensive breakdowns. But a funny thing happened on the way to disaster.

Things have changed dramatically since that game. The myriad problems facing the Bears have seemingly, or momentarily, melted away. Adjustments were made and so far, they seem to be working. Chicago has won four straight, all pretty convincingly, and looks like a legit playoff contender at 6-3.

There are still fresh problems. Guard Chris Williams is probably out for the season with a dislocated wrist suffered in the win. He underwent surgery Sunday. Tackle Gabe Carimi got his knee cleaned out this past week. Who knows when he'll play again. Familiar problems could return, but for now, the Bears are riding high.

None of the Bears would really cop to being worried about getting revenge on the Lions, or even admit this is any kind of abnormal rivalry. After all, these guys are used to drilling Detroit. This win just returned the status quo to normal.

"Of course you can only have one true rival," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It will always be Green Bay."

Smith isn't exactly Rex Ryan, so that's as close as he gets to a burn.

The Bears have a pretty easy road to their rematch with their one true rival on Christmas. The next five games are against San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver and Seattle.

With that in mind, the locker room was pretty subdued (several prominent Bears took off before the media arrived) everyone is aware the Bears are tied with Detroit for second in the NFC North and are looking good in the wild-card race.

"It didn't really feel like a revenge game," Tim Jennings said. "We just wanted to protect home field and try to get back in the race of things. You know Detroit was up on us one [game], so we wanted to take care of business and come out of the game 6-3."

The Bears won with familiar formula, takeaways and special teams. That's actually an undersell. Chicago forced six takeaways and got 191 return yards, led by a spectacular 82-yard Devin Hester punt return touchdown.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastDevin Hester's punt return for a TD in the second quarter was the 12th of his career.

"He's the Jordan of football," defensive tackle Anthony Adams said of Hester. "He had 'flu-like symptoms,' came out and gave us a touchdown. Even the one he didn't feel like running back, he still got 50 yards."

With Lake Forest exile Chris "The Hitman" Harris a non-factor on the Lions' sideline, the Chicago defense picked off four passes from Matthew Stafford, returning two for touchdowns in consecutive series, caused and recovered two fumbles, turning both into points, and generally made the new-look Lions look like the same cowardly cats we're used to seeing chilling in the NFC North cellar.

With the Bears up big, tension between the teams bubbled to the surface, and that's what I'll remember from this game.

A fight broke out early in the fourth quarter when D.J. Moore went after Stafford after a long Jennings interception return. Stafford threw Moore down by his helmet, and Moore jumped up and tackled the quarterback, setting off a fracas near the Lions sideline.

"We just don't back down from nobody," said Jennings, who actually got pushed far out of bounds during his return, and missed the fight.

Moore thinks there was a double standard at work -- Stafford didn't get tossed -- but he wasn't really upset about getting ejected. He was waving to the crowd and high-fived a fan as he ran through the tunnel.

"When you are going after my livelihood, my neck, and you're trying to hurt me, I just can't let that go," he said.

"He kind of blocked me and I was just trying to get him off of me the best I knew how," Stafford said. "I guess he didn't like the way I did it and he wanted to ask me about it."

At the beginning of that series, Lance Briggs got an unnecessary roughness penalty for drilling Calvin Johnson in the helmet with his shoulder on a 4-yard catch. The Bears scoffed at the penalty -- "What's he supposed to do," Brian Urlacher asked rhetorically -- but said the hit pumped the defense up. Not that they needed the fuel. They were up 37-6 at the time.

"You see me?" Adams said. "I almost got a penalty for hitting Briggs. I was ready to play after that."

Julius Peppers set the tone early when he stripped Johnson on the first series of the game. Urlacher scooped up the fumble and four plays later, Matt Forte scored. The next Lions series Tim Jennings punched the ball out of Nate Burleson's hands and the Bears kicked a field goal to go up 10-0.

At one point in the first half, a clearly rattled Stafford threw nine straight incompletions as the Bears went up 20-0 on a Devin Hester punt return touchdown.

This was an important reversal of fortune.

In the Lions win in October, the Bears were ahead, just barely, at the half, but Stafford started the game with a 73-yard touchdown pass to Johnson. The Bears got one sack that game and only three quarterback hits. Stafford added another touchdown pass to Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best scored on an 88-yard run.

That was the beginning of the end of Harris' Bears career and the wake-up call this team needed.

Stafford threw for an empty 329 yards in this game, but he only completed 33 of 63 passes and had a 46.3 rating.

"We knew we got to hit him early and get him uncomfortable," Israel Idonije said. "They're a rhythm offense, quick strike, get rid of the ball quick. You've got to disrupt the rhythm, so he starts seeing those ghosts and getting rid of the ball when the pressure's not there."

Stafford threw two of the worst interceptions you'll ever see in the third quarter. I thought he was throwing in slow-motion, but maybe it just seemed that way from the press box. Major Wright returned one 24 yards for a score, and on the next series, Charles Tillman took one back 44 yards for a score.

"It seemed like he was throwing the ball to us a lot more than his guys," rookie safety Chris Conte said.

That sounds like the Lions we know. New attitude, same results.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.