Lions storm back, overcome Bears’ Justin Fields to end road skid

Detroit News

Chicago — On a brisk, Sunday afternoon in November, the Detroit Lions were able to exorcise some demons at Solider Field.

That 13-game streak without a win on the road? That’s done. Securing back-to-back wins for the first time since October 2020? Check that one off the list, too. And the Lions did it all by rallying from 14 points down entering the fourth quarter, a feat the team hadn’t accomplished in their last 98 tries, dating back to Halloween, 1993.

It certainly didn’t come easy. Bears quarterback Justin Fields proved to be every bit the dual-threat nightmare the Lions anticipated. But despite a stellar encore on Sunday, following his record-breaking performance a week earlier, it was the Lions defense coming up a critical score and a stop in the fourth quarter, completing an unexpected and impressive rally to walk away with a 31-30 victory.

BOX SCORE: Lions 31, Bears 30

“We’ve gotten back in a lot of games, but we haven’t been able to finish them out,” coach Dan Campbell said. “We got ourselves back in the game and won it. That, more than anything else, means everything to me, to this team.”

The Lions (3-6) scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with the offense and defense both doing its part. Cornerback Jeff Okudah capitalized on one of Fields’ rare mistakes, intercepting an errant throw and returning it 20 yards into the end zone to tie the game at 24 less than five minutes into the final frame.

And while Fields was able to quickly break the tie with a 67-yard touchdown run, he failed to break Detroit’s spirit. Down six after Bears kicker Cairo Santos missed the extra point, the Lions drove 91 yards in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead.

“Man, we needed the drive of our life,” Campbell said. “We got it, 91 yards, go all the way down, and score there.”

The big play came on third-and-eight, from their own 42, when quarterback Jared Goff feathered a perfect pass in stride to Tom Kennedy, who turned the short throw into a 44-yard gain. Two plays later, running back Jamaal Williams punched it across the goal line, putting Detroit in front for good.

“Yeah, it was a great play call,” Goff said about the throw to Kennedy. “Something we talked about all week was if we do get man coverage there, how do we want it approach it. There was a couple different ways, and we decided on that one. And I thought Tom ran a great route. The game was somewhat on the line there and found him open.”

The go-ahead score came with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game, giving the Bears plenty of time to respond. But after struggling to bottle up Fields much of the afternoon, the Lions got home for two sacks on three plays, with linebacker Julian Okwara dropping the QB on fourth down after he escaped the clutches of a Detroit defender twice before finally being corralled.

The past month, Fields has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL. Including Sunday against the Lions, the Bears (3-7) have scored at least 30 points in each of the past four games, largely thanks to unleashing the quarterback’s running ability. Last week against Miami, he set the NFL’s single game record for his position with 178 rushing yards. And he threatened it again, gaining 147 yards and scoring twice on 13 runs against Detroit.

Fields’ elusiveness showed up on the first snap of the game as he kept a zone-read and ran around the left edge of the formation for a 28-yard gain. He would carry it three times that possession, gaining 47 of the Bears’ 70 rushing yards during the drive, which was only derailed due to a holding penalty in red zone. That led to settling for a 33-yard Cairo Santos field goal.

The Lions managed to counter punch with a versatile offensive attack that saw five different receivers targeted by Goff and four different ball carriers taking handoffs. Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown did the majority of the damage, catching three throws, including two for third-down conversions before the drive stalled deep in Chicago territory, resulting in a 25-yard field goal by Michael Badgley that tied the game at three.

After surviving a long kickoff return and forcing a punt, thanks to a drive-killing facemask infraction against the Bears, the Lions grabbed the lead midway through the second quarter with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.

Goff connected with Kalif Raymond for a 22-yard gain on third-and-15 to extend the possession and the quarterback followed it up with a trio of completions to St. Brown for 56 yards. A defensive pass interference call in the end zone set the Lions up with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but it still took four snaps to punch it in with Goff finding tight end Brock Wright leaking across the formation for a 2-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.

“He’s our best pass catcher, certainly, and getting him in a rhythm and making sure he’s feeling it a little bit is important,” Goff said about St. Brown’s early impact in the game. “I think (offensive coordinator) Ben (Johnson) did a great job with our plan this week. It was my favorite plan of the year. It was really well done.”

Chicago was able to tie it back up with 21 seconds remaining in the half thanks again to the slipperiness of Fields, who used his feet to convert three third downs. The first was a designed run, before he wriggled free from sacks on the other two, darting around the left edge for a 1-yard touchdown to cap the series after breaking free from the grasp of Lions defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs.

The Lions also lost starting safety DeShon Elliott on the play. He suffered a concussion after colliding with Fields at the goal line.

Coming out of the locker room, Detroit failed to maintain its offensive momentum, going three-and-out when Williams was dropped for a loss on third-and-1.

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Chicago, meanwhile, continued to move the ball well, with Fields leaning more heavily on his arm. The dual-threat QB completed three quick throws for 47 yards into Lions territory and finished the drive with a 6-yard toss to tight end Cole Kmet on a designed rollout after safety Kerby Joseph lost his footing in coverage.

Detroit’s ability to respond on the next drive was hurt by a botched handoff on an end-around to Raymond. The receiver was able to recover the loose ball, but the play lost 11 yards, leading to punting the ball back to the Bears.

Chicago needed just three plays to widen their lead. After a pair of successful runs to open the possession, Joseph bit hard on a play fake, allowing Kmet to run free beyond Detroit’s secondary. Fields found his wide open tight end for a 50-yard touchdown, putting the Bears up, 24-10, late in the third quarter.

“Crazy thing is on that touchdown, I think we ran that route after practice like three times after Wednesday or Thursday and we missed on every one,” Fields said. “It was kind of cool to see us connect on that one.”

Attempting to stay within reach, the Lions drove to midfield, but tight end Shane Zylstra couldn’t hold on to a third-down pass while sliding to his knees, leading to another punt. But Detroit’s defense quickly got the ball back, forcing a three-and-out for the first time in the game.

Chicago penalties played a critical role in Detroit getting back on track. A 15-yard late hit on Goff pushed Detroit across midfield, and an illegal hands to the face wiped out an interception. One play later, running back D’Andre Swift scampered through a huge hole on the left side for a 9-yard touchdown, slicing the deficit to seven with 11:37 to go.

For the game, the Bears were penalized nine times for 86 yards, contrasted against the Lions, who were only flagged twice in the contest.

Penalties continued to plague the Bears as a holding infraction erased a first-down run, instead putting them in a second-and-long situation. Pressure up the middle by Buggs forced Fields to overthrow his target on the next snap and the errant pass was picked off by Okudah, who returned it for the touchdown, tying the game following the extra point.

“I think it definitely gave us a lot of energy, especially where that game was at,” Okudah said. “They had built a lead, and one thing I got to just commend our team was for our resiliency. We’ve been in that position earlier this year and we haven’t been able to capitalize, but today I didn’t see anyone waver. We looked at the challenge straight up and we embraced it.”

But the good vibes for the Lions were quickly halted, even if it was temporary. Three plays into the ensuring series, Fields found a lane around the right side on a zone-read, avoided a diving tackle attempt by Joseph and outran the remaining defenders for a 67-yard touchdown to put the Bears back on top, 30-24, after Santos sent the extra point wide.

“It’s just reading the block, really,” Fields said. “So after I pulled it, I usually go to the outside, and then that corner (Mike Hughes) just kind of played it to the outside, kind of guessed that I was going to go outside, so I just cut it upfield and at that point just made the safety miss and then just took off.”

The two sides traded punts, before the Lions marched 91 yards to take the lead. Following Kennedy’s long grab, a 13-yard tap pass to St. Brown down to the 1-yard line set up the Williams’ scoring plunge, while Badgley’s extra point put the Lions up, 31-30.

Following Okwara’s sack, which gave the ball back to Detroit’s offense, Williams sealed the victory with a first-down run on third down, allowing Goff to take a knee to end the game.

The Lions head to New York next Sunday to face the 7-2 Giants.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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