|The Bears' playoff hopes were shortlived once the Vikings beat the Packers later Sunday afternoon. (US Presswire)|
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith didn't try to cast his team's 26-24 win over the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday as anything more than what it was -- a game that kept his team's slim playoff hopes alive. Those hopes died later in the afternoon when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers 37-34 and knocked the Bears out.
Evaluating the game, Smith said, “When we needed to make a play, we were able to do that."
Smith's sentiments were echoed in reverse by Lions' coach Jim Schwartz, who could only lament the lack of execution that left his team's final record at a dismal 4-12.
“We were one play short,” Schwartz said.
The reason the game boiled down to a single play -- a 19-yard game-clinching scramble by Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler on the game's final drive -- was that neither team was able to take advantage of the opportunities they had to take control. Chicago forced three first-half turnovers in Lions' territory, but a resolute performance by Detroit's defense -- Chicago was just 4 of 15 on third downs -- held Cutler and the Bears offense to one touchdown and two field goals on the ensuing possessions.
Buoyed by the defense's effort, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford led Detroit on a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives on both sides of the half that turned a 20-3 second-quarter Chicago lead into a three-point game halfway through the third quarter. Stafford's third-quarter fumble -- Detroit's fourth turnover of the day and his third of the game -- gave the Bears the breathing room they needed in the second half, and Cutler was able to run out the clock against a Lions' defense that simply had nothing left.
“I wasn't worried,” Cutler said when asked how he felt when Detroit cut Chicago's lead to two points with 6:55 to play. “We'd moved the ball well on their defense all game. ... I knew we would move the ball well, it was just a matter of us putting together some drives, and not killing ourselves. It didn't necessarily happen like that, but we picked up a few first downs when we had to have them and got a win.”
Detroit's frustrations at ending the season on an eight-game losing streak were compounded by the fact that both Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson were denied the individual milestones they were chasing. Stafford finished with 272 passing yards on the day, 33 yards short of becoming the first player in NFL to throw for 5,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Johnson's 72 receiving yards doubled his total production from Detroit's Week 7 loss to the Bears, but he finished 36 yards shy of becoming the only NFL receiver to break the 2,000-yard plateau.
Schwartz, who wouldn't comment on pregame reports that his job was in jeopardy, said the Lions' individual efforts this season will be overshadowed by their unfulfilled expectations.
“When the story of the season is written, it's going to say ‘4-12,'” he said. “Nobody's happy with that.”
When the game turned: The Lions' D-line did an excellent job of collapsing Cutler's pocket all game, but the unit's tendency to allow him running lanes to escape the rush cost them dearly on the game-clinching scramble with 3:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. DE Lawrence Jackson chose to use a wide rush on the play, allowing Cutler to find space on the inside to get a crucial first down.
Highlight moments: Bears' WR Earl Bennett's 60-yard TD catch in the first quarter was the early spark Chicago needed to take the Ford Field crowd out of the game. Bennett broke a pair of tackles on the play, and he was able to take advantage of poor coverage by Lions safeties to find the end zone. ... Lions' WRs Brian Robiskie and Kris Durham both caught their first touchdowns of the season -- Durham's was the first of his career -- as part of a solid effort for Detroit's injury-depleted WR corps.
- Lions WR Calvin Johnson -- 5 catches, 72 yards
- Bears WR Earl Bennett -- 5 catches on 5 targets, 109 yards, TD
- Bears RB Matt Forte -- 24 rushes for 103 yards, TD
- Bears WR Alshon Jeffrey -- 4 catches, 76 yards
What they said about Cutler's game-clinching scramble:
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz: “At that point of the game we needed to be in man coverage to play tight. Any time you're in man, you do run the risk of what the quarterback can do once he escapes, and [Cutler] escaped.”
- Bears QB Jay Cutler: “They covered [receivers] up well, they played man. I had [WR Brandon Marshall] on a cross, kind of looked back at him, they had him covered. I had a nice crease back side, the guys blocked it well and whatever it takes to get a first down at that point.”
Numbers you should know: 727 -- number of pass attempts for Stafford this season, breaking Drew Bledsoe's NFL record total of 691 attempts set in 1994.
Injury update: Lions -- TE Shaun Chapas suffered a knee injury. Bears -- TE Matt Spaeth left the game with a concussion.
Going forward: Both the Lions' and Bears' seasons ended Sunday. Detroit's 4-12 record saw them eliminated from playoff contention long ago, and the Bears' playoff hopes were dashed by Minnesota's win over Green Bay.
Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSLions and @JohnKreger.
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.