DETROIT -- An opportunistic defense kept the Chicago Bears in the playoff hunt all season. They forced four more turnovers on Sunday with their season in the balance.
The Bears turned those turnovers into 16 points in a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday. Chicago had 44 takeaways on fumbles and interceptions this season.
"Taking the football away, we've been doing that all year," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. "With the game on the line, you want to put it on the back of the defense to do it again and they were able to do that."
Jay Cutler passed for 257 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown to Earl Bennett, and Matt Forte rushed for 103 yards and scored a touchdown. Olindo Mare kicked four field goals for the Bears (10-6), who needed a Green Bay victory over Minnesota later in the day to gain a wild-card berth.
"We realized going into the game it was out of our hands as far as what happened after the game," Smith said. "We just needed to take care of what we could control and that was winning the game."
Cutler was disappointed the offense couldn't produce more touchdowns from Detroit's giveaways.
"I know it's frustrating for the defense to set us up like that and not being able to convert them into touchdowns," he said. "We got the job done but I wish it would have been a little easier."
The Lions' Calvin Johnson came up 36 yards shy of 2,000 receiving yards in a season. Johnson, who caught five passes for 72 yards, broke Jerry Rice's single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards against Atlanta last weekend. He was targeted 14 times.
Matthew Stafford passed for 272 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions (4-12), who finished the season with an eight-game losing streak. Stafford said he wasn't focused on Johnson's bid for 2,000 yards.
"I was trying to win the game," he said. "If he got one-on-one coverage, I was trying to throw him the ball. If he didn't, other guys had to step up and they did."
Johnson caught 122 passes for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
The Bears were up by as much as 17 before things got tight in the second half. Will Heller's 10-yard touchdown catch with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter pulled the Lions within 20-17. But Mikel Leshoure fumbled on Detroit's next possession and safety Major Wright recovered at the Lions' 13. Detroit managed to limit Chicago to a 28-yard Mare field goal.
Mare's fourth field goal, a 20-yarder, gave the Bears a 26-17 lead with 10:47 left. Stafford responded with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie but the Lions only had one more possession. The Bears ran out the final 3:40 by picking up two first downs.
Chicago cashed in on three turnovers to take a 20-10 halftime lead.
"They've been doing it all year," Stafford said. "That's what they live by, creating short fields for their offense. Our defense did a good job, when there were turnovers, to hold them to three points. We still had a chance to win the game."
Bennett gave the Bears a 7-3 lead when he caught a pass just beyond the line of scrimmage, eluded linebacker DeAndre Levy and raced down the left sideline.
"That play wasn't designed to go the distance but a great block by Brandon Marshall allowed him to do that," Smith said.
Eric Weems recovered a Joique Bell fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Lions 24, leading to Mare's 33-yard field goal.
Forte's 1-yard scoring run gave the Bears a 17-3 lead with 3:26 remaining in the half. Israel Idonije's strip-sack of Stafford and Julius Peppers' fumble recovery at Detroit's 10 set up the touchdown.
Tim Jennings' ninth interception this season led to a 40-yard Mare field goal. The Lions cut the deficit to 10 with 12 seconds remaining on a 25-yard reception by Kris Durham, his first career touchdown.
NOTES: Stafford set an NFL single-season record for pass attempts with 727. Drew Bledsoe previously held the record with 691 attempts for New England in 1994. ... Hanson set a franchise record with 134 points this season. He held the previous record of 132 points, set in 1995. His 44-yard field goal in the first quarter was the 188th of his career, breaking Morten Andersen's NFL record. ... Forte surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the third time in his five-year career. He finished with 1,094 yards. ... Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher missed his fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury. ... Detroit has won five games or less in 14 seasons since 1986.