Bears show some defense, end losing streak with 17-14 win
There was little to indicate an injury-ravaged, youth-infested Chicago Bears defense would snap back from its worst performance of the season last week to produce its best effort of the year.
And yet it did, leading a 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions that left both NFC North opponents at 1-3, the victory snapping the Bears' six-game losing streak at Soldier Field.
It came two days short of a year since their last home win, 22-20 over the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 4, 2015. It also stopped a string of six straight losses to the Lions.
Bears coach John Fox suggested it was the defense's uninspired outing in the 31-17 Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that motivated the rejuvenation against the Lions.
"It was pretty lights-out," Fox said of a defensive effort Sunday that didn't allow a touchdown. "Most of them weren't real pleased with our performance last week, and (they) responded with a very focused week of preparation."
The defense was without two of its best players -- nose tackle Eddie Goldman and linebacker Danny Trevathan -- and it started five rookies or second-year players and used three others in key backup roles.
Still, the Bears allowed a season-low 263 yards a week after being gouged for a season-worst 447. They held the Lions to 66 yards on the ground after giving up 199 to the Cowboys, also a season worst.
The Bears did it against a Detroit team that came in averaging 413.7 yards per game, No. 4 in the NFL, and was averaging 27.0 points per game, fifth best in the league.
"The Lions are a talented offense," Fox said. "They've got a lot of weapons; they've scored a lot of points."
But against the Bears, the Lions had just a pair of field goals until they scored on an 85-yard punt return and 2-point conversion with 1:52 left in the game.
Time and again big defensive plays kept the Lions at bay -- often by inexperienced players.
A 7-3 Bears halftime lead was in jeopardy when the Lions had second-and-goal from the 1-yard line midway through the third quarter. But nose tackle Will Sutton and linebacker Jerrell Freeman stuffed Theo Riddick for no gain.
Then, second-year linebacker John Timu, promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week and playing in his first game of the season, shot through a gap and stuffed Zach Zenner for a 2-yard loss, forcing the Lions to settle for a field goal.
"Timu might be one of the smartest people we have on our team," the veteran Freeman said. "You can bring him up, and he's going to fit right in. I trust him as soon as he lines up. I call him 'Shooter McGavin,' because he knows what to do, and he's going to shoot it. He's going to shoot it faster than I will sometimes because he recognizes stuff."
In addition to the impressive "Happy Gilmore" reference, Freeman was, as usual, the Bears' leading tackler. Second-year safety Harold Jones-Quartey matched Freeman's 7 solos. Going into the game, Freeman was tied for fifth in the league with 34 tackles.
Another Bears second-year player, cornerback Jacoby Glenn, kept the Lions off the scoreboard late in the first half after they reached the Bears' 22 with 16 seconds left. He got the first Bears interception since the opening possession of the season.
Later, with the Bears clinging to a 17-6 lead, rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall picked off Matthew Stafford at the Bears' 14 with 4:03 left.
Injuries have forced the Bears to use numerous young players on defense, some before they were ready, but the growing pains they experienced earlier paid dividends against the Lions.
"We have a lot of young guys," Fox said. "As I've told you, nobody has been pleased with our start. But in time they get better. I think you'll see those guys continue to grow and continue to improve."
The victory represented a breakthrough for the Bears, who had lost 11 of their previous 12 home games, but Freeman sees it as a steppingstone to better things.
"Even though it's a win," he said, "there are so many more things out there, so many more plays we left out on the field, so much better we can do.
"I love the win, but I'm always looking to get better."
On Sunday, Freeman and the Bears found what they were looking for.
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