It took 10 years for the Detroit Lions to return to Monday Night Football, but the wait was more than worth it. The Lions rolled the Chicago Bears by a score of 24-13 on Monday night to improve to 5-0. This is the first time they have been 5-0 since 1956, and it's their first win on Monday Night Football since a 1998 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Lions got off to a slow start in Monday's game. Unlike the last couple of weeks, the slow start didn't put them in a 20-point hole, though. In fact, the slow start simply meant that the game was scoreless after the first quarter. The Lions and Bears opened the game with punts on the first three drives, and the only thing the two teams were doing effectively was shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
The Bears only started moving the ball on their second possession because of Lions penalties. After a stop on third-and-one, for example, a Cliff Avril face mask penalty kept the chains moving. Willie Young also kept the chains moving after a stop on third down with an illegal use of the hands penalty, and he was flagged for roughing the passer on the very next play. These penalties helped the Bears move all the way down to the Detroit 26, where they faced fourth-and-one. Despite Matt Forte being stuffed on third-and-one, the Bears went for it and tried Forte again. Just like third down, Ndamukong Suh stuffed Forte, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Lions wasted little time in capitalizing on the momentum from the defense's stop. On the third play of the drive (and the second play of the second quarter), Matthew Stafford threw a bomb downfield to Calvin Johnson. He caught it in stride and stiff-armed a defender before running into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown. Just like that the Lions went from struggling in a 0-0 game to leading 7-0.
Chicago responded with a solid drive that didn't rely on Lions penalties. The Bears used a 14-yard run by Forte, a 17-yard pass to Kellen Davis and a 15-yard pass to Dane Sanzenbacher to move into Lions territory. The drive stalled as soon as they got past the 50, and once again they found themselves facing fourth-and-one at the Detroit 26. Lovie Smith made the right call this time and settled for a 44-yard field goal to get on the board.
After a Lions punt, the Bears continued to play well offensively. Cutler led the Bears down the field with a 26-yard pass to Devin Hester, and Forte picked up 23 yards on the very next play. Eventually the Bears were inside the 10-yard line, and Cutler found Davis in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 10-7 lead.
The Lions had enough time to pick up points before the half, but Stafford threw a pass in the direction of a covered Nate Burleson and was intercepted. Chicago decided to take the lead into the half and took a knee to run out the final 31 seconds of the second quarter.
Although the first half didn't go all that well for the Lions outside of one big pass play, the good news was they only trailed by three points. The Lions have been a second half team the last two weeks, and with that being the case again on Monday, a three-point lead was nothing for them to overcome. In fact, the Lions forced a three-and-out on the opening drive of the third quarter and took the lead less than three minutes after getting the ball back. Stafford moved the ball very well primarily out of the shotgun, and on the seventh play of the drive he found a wide-open Brandon Pettigrew for an 18-yard touchdown.
Chicago was forced to punt after moving into Lions territory, and Detroit took over at its own 12. This was the Lions' chance to pad their lead and start to run away with the game, and that's exactly what they did -- in one play. Jahvid Best took a handoff out of the shotgun and ran through a huge hole in the middle of the line. He burst past the second level and outran the Bears' safeties for an 88-yard touchdown. He was never even touched on the play, which ended up being the second-longest run in Lions history.
With a 21-10 lead, the Lions went into run-out-the-clock mode. The Bears went three-and-out, and the Lions got down to the Chicago 30 before a penalty backed them up out of field goal range. Actually, Jason Hanson probably could have made a 55-yard field goal attempt, but the Lions decided to play it safe and punt the ball away instead.
With the Bears offense struggling so much to do anything because of all the pressure the Lions were putting on Cutler, punting wasn't a bad decision at all. Chicago went three-and-out and punted the ball away on fourth-and-30, and the Lions were able to run more time off the clock before they had to punt again.
Chicago did manage to add a field goal on its next drive, but they ran 5:03 off the clock in the process. The Lions got the ball back and got another big run from Best on the first play of the drive. He went 43 yards this time, and he also picked up 15 yards on third-and-nine a few plays later. The Lions ran the ball a few more times before Hanson made a 31-yard field goal attempt that put the Lions up by two possessions.
The Lions went into prevent mode with a 24-13 lead and fewer than two minutes remaining on the clock. The Bears got down to the 14-yard line, and they almost scored a touchdown on the final play of the game. Sam Hurd was tackled two yards short of the goal line by Ndamukong Suh, keeping the score at 24-13 as time expired.
Once again, the Lions didn't necessarily play their best game, but they still beat a decent Bears team by two scores. The theme of this season has been the Lions finding a way to win despite not bringing their A game, and that was really the case again on Monday. We still haven't seen them play lights out in all phases of the game, but they comfortably won on Monday night to improve to 5-0. That's a good sign going forward.
Also a good sign going forward is the sudden emergence of Jahvid Best. He hadn't done much this season running the ball, and he didn't do much in Monday's game before he broke free for an 88-yard touchdown. After that he started finding more holes, and Best finished with a career-high 163 yards on 12 carries. That was good for an average of 13.6 yards a carry. Obviously that's not something you will probably see again, but it would be great going forward if the Lions could sprinkle in a few big runs to go along with their stellar passing game.
On defense, the story of the game was all of the pressure Jay Cutler faced. He actually played pretty well given the circumstances, completing 28-of-38 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. Cutler's problem was he got no help from his offensive line and had a tough time getting in any kind of rhythm since Lions defenders put him on the ground seemingly every time he dropped back to pass.
The other big story of the game with the Bears offense was all of the false start penalties they had. The Ford Field crowd made a lot of noise every time the Bears had the ball, and in turn Chicago had a total of nine false start penalties (eight on offense and one on special teams). This made it tough for the Bears to put together anything on offense, and the fans in attendance deserve a lot of credit for truly being a "12th man" on Monday night.
The fans will have to bring it again on Sunday when the Lions take on the San Francisco 49ers. As Jim Schwartz said after the game, the preparation for the 49ers game will start almost immediately since the Lions have a short week. San Francisco is coming off a 48-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that improved their record to 4-1 on the season. Jim Harbaugh has his team playing very well, and the 49ers will present a tough challenge on Sunday.