For the second time in three games, the Chicago Bears appear to be catching a big break.
Coming off a victory that appeared to confirm them as top NFC contenders, the first-place Bears look to win their fifth straight when they visit a Detroit Lions team that will start third-string quarterback Drew Stanton(notes) on Sunday.
After climbing to the top of the NFC North by beating teams such as Carolina, Buffalo, Minnesota and a banged-up Miami club, many wondered if Chicago could be taken seriously as one of the best teams in the conference. The Bears (8-3) seemed to answer the doubters Sunday by beating red-hot Philadelphia 31-26, moving them one game ahead of Green Bay into sole possession of first.
Chicago, second in scoring defense at 15.6 points and fourth in total defense at 315.3 yards, allowed Michael Vick(notes) to throw for 333 yards, but prevented the high-powered Philadelphia offense from momentum-shifting big plays. The Bears sacked Vick four times and forced him into his first interception in four years.
After frustrating one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, Chicago’s defense now turns its attention to Stanton, thrust into the starting role for the Lions (2-9) after injuries to Matthew Stafford(notes) and Shaun Hill(notes).
Stafford originally hurt his shoulder in a season-opening 19-14 loss to the Bears and Hill had done an admirable job as his replacement. Hill, though, injured a finger on his throwing hand in a 45-24 loss to New England on Thanksgiving, Detroit’s fourth straight defeat.
Stanton has played in three games this season, completing 20 of 36 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The fourth-year player, who has one career start, came on in relief of Hill in a defeat to the New York Giants on Oct. 17 and replaced an injured Stafford late in an overtime loss to the Jets on Nov. 7.
“Our offense isn’t going to change,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Drew’s going to go in and he’s going to execute. The guys around him are going to make plays. Other than a different number on the quarterback, there’s not going to be any change there.”
The Bears also faced a third-string quarterback Nov. 18, holding Tyler Thigpen(notes) to 187 passing yards and intercepting him once in a 16-0 win in Miami. Chicago sacked Thigpen six times and limited the Dolphins to 187 yards of offense.
While Detroit’s passing game might take time to get going under Stanton, the ground attack could also have difficulty taking shape against a Chicago rush defense ranked second at 80.5 yards a contest.
Jahvid Best(notes), Detroit’s leading rusher with 382 yards, sat out against the Patriots because of turf toe but could return for this game. He ran for 20 yards on 14 carries against Chicago in Week 1 as the Lions were limited to 168 yards.
Despite outgaining Detroit by 295 yards in the season opener, Chicago barely won, needing a rules technicality to wipe out what appeared to be go-ahead touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson(notes) with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
That game went down to the wire because turnovers prevented the Bears from scoring more points. Jay Cutler(notes) threw an interception and lost a fumble, and Matt Forte(notes) and Greg Olsen(notes) also lost fumbles.
Chicago is doing a much better job of protecting the football, turning it over four times during its four-game winning streak after having 13 giveaways in its previous four contests.
“We have to keep going,” said Cutler, who has nine touchdowns to three interceptions in his last four games. “The true test in this league is consistency, especially in November and December, whether it’s third downs, red zone, turnovers or winning ballgames. We just have to keep going.”
Cutler threw for a season-best four touchdowns against the Eagles, and also had four TD passes in a 37-23 win at Detroit in Week 17 last season. He passed for a season-high 372 yards against the Lions in Week 1.
The Bears have won five straight in this series and four of the last five meetings in Detroit.