After performing just well enough to win against the Packers on Monday, the Bears' secondary tipped it the other way Sunday and underperformed just enough in the loss to the Lions.
The stakes were just as high this game. With the Packers dropping Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, the Bears could have taken sole possession of the NFC North with a win against Detroit at Soldier Field.
Instead, it was another close loss for the Bears, their fourth in six games. The average margin in those losses has been 5.5 points.
At least Chicago’s defense did not get totally burned by Detroit’s stable of receivers. Coming in ranked 23rd in the league in passing defense and allowing an average of 253.6 yards going into the game, the Bears faced the league’s third best receiver in Calvin Johnson, who could have put up more than just the 83 yards he finished with Sunday.
Just ask the Dallas Cowboys, who he lit up for 329 yards just two weeks ago.
The yardage he collected off the Bears secondary on Sunday was well short of the 117 yards he’s averaged this season. And the six passes he came up with were only about a third of the throws Lions quarterback Matt Stafford made to him.
It was the ones he caught — one a 4-yard touchdown pass and another a 14-yard grab with 3:06 left in the game against veteran cornerback Charles Tillman — that were just enough to beat the Bears and put the Lions alone in first place of the NFC North with a 6-3 record.
“He is one of the best receivers in the league,” said Bears safety Chris Conte, who knocked away three throws by Stafford and took an interception for a 35-yard run back that led to a Bears field goal in the fourth quarter.
“He is always going to pose a threat and always going to get his plays.”
Plus the record stat come with it. His two touchdowns put him at 63 scores for his career, enough to pass Herman Moore to lead the Lions in touchdown receptions. He became only the second player in NFL history after Lance Alworth to reach 6,000 yards over the past 60 games.
There’s another handful of marks Johnson made Sunday, a point not lost on Conte and the rest of the Bears secondary. They’ve seen improvement to this point in the season, and they believe playing against the likes of Johnson and crew could bring even more upside.
“We just got back to fundamentals,” Conte said, comparing the first meeting with the Lions on Sept. 29, when they gave up 228 yards passing. They cut that margin slightly on Sunday, allowing 219 yards passing.
“We knew we didn’t play (well) the last time we came out and played against them. We just wanted to improve on that and I thought we had a good game plan and good energy on defense today.”
Just not quite enough to get the win, and the division lead. At least for now.
“It always hurts to lose,” Conte said. “But I think there are things we can take from this game that are encouraging and we see that we can be a really good team. But we just have to go back and go to practice and watch film and improve on some little things and get better."