The Bears' offense didn't do much to impress a national-TV audience Monday night against the Lions, but the defense clearly was ready for prime time.
The defense has carried the Bears all year and Monday night was no different in a 13-7 victory that elevated the winner to 5-1 and kept them in first place in the NFC North. The loss dropped the Lions to 2-4.
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The Lions had 340 yards of offense, but 143 came in desperation time late in the fourth quarter. Through six weeks the Bears were tied for the NFL lead with 17 takeaways, and they added 4 more against the Lions.
"There's no explanation for it," said defensive end Julius Peppers, who had 1 of the Bears' 3 sacks. "But when you're coached the right way, that's what happens. We do it all day, every day at practice, so when we get in a game, it just happens."
The defense's signature effort came late in the third quarter. With the Lions at the Bears' 1-yard line and poised to reduce their 13-0 deficit, the defense did what it's done better than any team in the NFL this season. It took the ball away.
Lions running back Joique Bell attempted to extend the ball over the goalline but tackle Henry Melton was credited with forcing the fumble that Brian Urlacher recovered for the second takeaway of the evening. As it had all night, the home crowd saved its loudest applause for the defense, which forced 3 of the turnovers in the red zone.
Almost as big as the fumble recovery was the play that preceded it. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw high to 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson, but cornerback Charles Tillman broke up the pass. Tillman showed why he made the Pro Bowl last year, shadowing the Lions' perennial All-Pro and holding him to 1 catch for 6 yards midway through the fourth quarter.
"That's tough duty playing against one of the best players in the league, matching up all night with him," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It was an outstanding job holding him to very little."
Johnson finished with 3 catches for 34 yards, but he was targeted 11 times and didn't get in the end zone, as he did 16 times last season.
"It's hard for Detroit to win without him getting big production," Smith said. "That's why you need a guy like Charles Tillman. That makes them look at other players."
With quarterback Jay Cutler back from a first-half rib injury to start the second half, the Bears' offense continued to have its problems but it controlled the ball for 34:35, giving the defense enough down time.
Even after the newest Bear, cornerback Zack Bowman, recovered a muffed Stefan Logan punt at the Lions' 27-yard line, Cutler and Co. had to settle for Robbie Gould's 21-yard field goal, which gave them a 13-0 lead with 11:20 left in the third quarter.
The Bears' defense was especially stifling early, permitting the Lions just 1 first down and 29 yards of offense on their first five possessions, and allowing the sputtering offense to build a 10-0 lead.
But silence fell over the capacity crowd at Soldier Field when Cutler was sacked hard by Ndamukong Suh late in the second quarter and failed to get off the turf, grabbing the back of his head, although the injury was to his ribs. After several anxious moments, Cutler jogged off and was replaced by Jason Campbell.
The Bears' medical staff took the quarterback's helmet and made him throw a pass on the sideline to gauge his fitness to return. Cutler fired a bullet, took his helmet and went back on the field. But, after throwing 1 pass, he went to the locker room with just under 2:00 remaining to have his injured ribs checked.
Gould's first field goal, his 11th of the season in as many opportunities, was set up by a 24-yard Cutler scramble. The Bears got an extra 15 yards when Lions defensive tackle Corey Williams shoved wide receiver Earl Bennett in the back during Cutler's run.
Matt Forte's 39-yard run, his longest of the season, set up the first score, Cutler's 7-yard TD pass to Marshall, his team-best fourth score of the season. Forte, who burst untouched through the line of scrimmage, was sprung by key blocks from tight end Kyle Adams and right guard Lance Louis.