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SportsMonday: Bears Break Through Before Lions

At some point soon, the Lions will break through, especially if they can ever keep a competent quarterback healthy for a half-dozen starts in a row or so. And surely that will happen soon, what with three quarterbacks (original starter Matt Stafford, back-up Sean Hill and Sunday's signal-caller, Drew Stanton) now all having played at least one decent game for Detroit so far this season despite the team's 2-10 record.

The Lions have put together a scary group of playmakers on offense (Calvin Johnson at receiver, Stefan Logan on returns and reverses and Jahvid Best in the backfield), and they have that absolute powerhouse named (Ndamukong) Suh to continue to build their defense around. But the breakthrough won't happen against the Bears in 2010 (phew!) after Sunday's 24-20 result. The Lions have now lost an unbelievable 19 in a row versus NFC North foes since 2007.

The team from Detroit would have you believe they didn't break through this time because they still can't catch a break. The squad got screwed in the season opener in Chicago, no doubt about it. A poorly written rule led to Johnson's last-minute, potential game-winning touchdown catch being ruled incomplete.

That was a travesty. Sunday's most controversial call was not. For one thing, even if the personal foul flag in question hadn't flown, the Bears would have been in great shape facing second-and-two at the Lion 14 trailing 20-17. Even if they hadn't managed a first down in that series, they were way inside Robbie Gould's range for a tying field goal.

And I hate to break this to Tim Ryan and the Lions who were whining after the game but at regular speed, Suh's hit on Jay Cutler late in the Bears' final touchdown drive was a personal foul, plain and simple. After viewing a replay in super slow motion, Ryan (the analyst who called Sunday's game for Fox along with play-by-play man Sam Rosen) tried to construct a case for Suh's action being a very violent shove and not a forearm shiver and therefore not a penalty.

But the result of Suh's action was Cutler's head snapping forward, even in super slo-mo. It was a penalty, especially at regular speed. Any referee in the league would have called it unnecessary roughness. The Lions lost this game because the Bears defense and offense were just good enough to overcome their foes and a rare sub-par outing for a portion of their special teams (giving up multiple big returns to Logan).

When the Bears had the ball, Matt Forte continued to impress. That's a couple weeks in a row now the Bears have identified a play that would work for him and then gone back to it multiple times. This time it was a quick sweep that enabled him to get out into space and into the open in a hurry. The same thing happened on a couple slick little receptions.

As for his touchdown, it was the same perfect counter pitch to the weak side that resulted in a double-digit-yard touchdown run against Carolina earlier in the season.

As for Cutler, the run that led to the penalty on Suh was especially revealing. It would have been so easy for him to just throw the ball away after he rolled out and could not find an open receiver. Instead, he put a move on the defender who had been shadowing him and slipped through for an eight-yard gain.

It reminded a fan of the end of the first half, when the Bears suffered through a sequence that could have been fatal. After a promising Bear drive that almost put the visitors in position to add to a 14-10 lead was snuffed out near midfield, the Lions took over inside their own 10-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. The Lions weren't going to do anything stupid but at least they didn't give up, i.e., take a knee. They ran a running play and caught a massive break.

Facing a defense that had responded to an injury to back-up linebacker Nick Roach by not putting in another linebacker but instead employing nickel defensive back D.J. Moore on virtually every play, the Lions' Best bounced an inside run outside. There was no linebacker there to contain him and a couple Bear defensive backs took poor angles and allowed Best to get around them and eventually gain more than 50 yards.

When Stanton then tossed a touchdown pass to Johnson for a 17-14 lead, it felt a little like the Eagles must have felt the previous Sunday when the Bears grabbed an interception to prevent their foes from taking the lead and then drove down for a touchdown of their own for an eight-point lead. The moral of the story? Never give up on a play or a half.

The Johnson touchdown could have been a killer for the Bears, especially after Lovie chose to do the opposite of what the Lions had done to great effect moments earlier. He had his team take a knee from just inside its 30 with 29 seconds on the clock rather than try to have his team string together a few completions and at least get into field goal range.

Then again, the Bears did bounce back in the second half, so maybe we have a small exception to the earlier rule, i.e., "don't give up on a play or a half unless your team is shell-shocked; is particularly more likely than usual to make a big mistake; and after all will receive the second-half kickoff." It isn't just a small exception, it is tiny.

Moving right along, let's hear it for Earl Bennett on the offensive side. The Vanderbilt connection is stronger that it has ever been, with Cutler hitting his former collegiate teammate to convert third down after third down all game long.

And how about that Gould guy? His 54-yard field goal squeaked inside the post by at least two inches, maybe even three. And he launched several huge kickoffs to force touchbacks - touchbacks that were especially big against Logan, who leads the NFL in returns.

And while we're talking about kickers, Brad Maynard looked as good as he has all season. He put a couple kicks comfortably inside the 10 and his first punt in particular was a boomer. The Bears coverage sucked and Logan almost returned the kick for a touchdown, but Maynard, who has had a mediocre season at best, had a good day.

In other important developments, has anyone ever seen a worse end zone dance than the one Drew Stanton busted out after his touchdown run Sunday? The extended caressing of his helmet, first with one hand, then the other, then the other, then the . . . make it stop! Stanton ought to be forced to watch endless reruns of Dancing With The Stars until he swears on his life never to gyrate like that again.

You would have thought the Bear defense would have taken one look at that monstrosity and vowed to pummel the guy for the rest of the game. But that unit seemed stuck in "facing Michael Vick" mode, playing carefully and trying to limit options rather than attacking aggressively.

Still, it was good enough to win a road game and guarantee a winning season that no one saw coming. It is Jay Cutler's first such season as a starter; someone other than the Lions had the breakthrough again.


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Jim "Coach" Coffman brings you SportsMonday in this space every week. He welcomes your comments.

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