Two of the NFC North's top squads face off for the second time this Sunday afternoon at legendary Soldier Field when the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears take on each other in a scheduled 4:15 PM contest. The early NFL odds favors the home-standing Bears by -1 point.
The Detroit Lions, along with the San Francisco 49ers, have been the NFC Conference's surprise teams in the 2011 season. Coming off their bye week, the 6-2 Lions are eager to get back into action. Their final game before taking a week off was a 45-10 thrashing on the road at Denver. QB Matthew Stafford, showing very little lingering effect from a sprained ankle, completed 21 of 30 passes for 267 yards and 3 TDs in the rout, which happened to be Denver QB Tim Tebow's second NFL start. RBs Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams, subbing for injured starter Jahvid Best (concussion), combined for 83 yards on 24 carries, while Stafford's receivers, AllPro Calvin Johnson and rookie Titus Young, teamed up for 2 TDs on 10 receptions, good for 191 yards. Johnson's TD was his NFL-leading 11th of the season. Best is listed as probable for Sunday's game, and if he's able to play, Lions fans hope he can come close to duplicating his career-best 163 yards in the first Bears vs Lions contest.
The Lions defense, fearsome up front with the beast-also-known-as Ndamukong Suh, sacked Tebow 7 times, while harassing the young QB all afternoon. DE Cliff Avril returned a fumble 24 yards for a TD early in the 3rd quarter, and Chris Houston returned a Tebow interception 100 yards for a score early in the fourth, long after the outcome of the game had been decided.
The Bears, behind QB Jay Cutler, rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, 30-24. Cutler, on several occasions displaying his remarkable ability to make something of nothing, hit on 18 of 32 passes for 208 yards and 2 TDs as the Bears improved to 5-3, keeping them within shouting distance of division foes Green Bay and Detroit. Chicago started off terribly, appearing determined to give the Eagles the win. RB Matt Forte, the league leader in yards from scrimmage, uncharacteristically coughed up the ball twice, his first miscues in 374 touches. He finished 4th for the NFL most rushing yards last weekend.
Philadelphia appeared to have the contest under control, leading 24-17 after LeSean McCoy's 33-yard scoring run, but Cutler was about to begin his heroics. With clutch plays by Forte (133 yards on 24 carries) and his back-up, Marion Barber (31 on 9), and some sleight-of-hand passing from Cutler, the Bears moved the chains and got 2 field goals from Robbie Gould, sandwiched around a TD pass to Cutler's fellow Vanderbilt alumnus WR Earl Bennett to take back control.
Chicago's defense did something no other team has done this season, and that's to somewhat contain the Eagle's McCoy, who finished with 71 yards on 16 carries, although he was stymied in the final quarter. LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs combined for 16 tackles, while DE Julius Peppers recorded a sack in dropping the pre-season "Dream Team" Eagles to 3-5. The Bears defense appears to be solidifying after some early season adjusting.
At 3 games behind Green Bay and 1 game behind the Lions, the Bears need wins over both to remain in the playoff conversation and have a shot at the Super Bowl. Cutler continues to amaze both fans and opponents with his ability to escape tackles, and Forte, although embroiled in a contract dispute, is having a "career" year.
The Lions, meanwhile, hope the week off won't slow down their high-octane offense and that their fearsome pass rush continues to make life miserable for opposing QBs. Detroit's 24-13 win in the two team's first meeting gave them a 5-0 mark for the first time since 1956, and it's been nearly that long since this long-time rivalry game actually meant something.
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