CHICAGO – The Detroit Lions might have the monkey off of their back but they still have a target on their chest as far as the Bears are concerned.
So don’t expect any victory parties or pregame affection for the long-suffering Lions (1-2), who won last week to snap a 19-game losing streak. The Bears (2-1) felt neither warm nor fuzzy to see their division rivals win a game for the first time since Dec. 23, 2007.
“Truth of the matter, I never cheer for anybody in the NFC North to win,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said about the Lions’ 19-14 win against Washington. “I didn’t think much about it, to be truthful. I’m really interested in trying to stop that streak this week.”
That should not be much of a problem, as long as you believe Las Vegas oddsmakers who pegged the Bears as 11-point favorites for today. But Bears players insist that the Lions have improved dramatically from a 0-16 season that made them a national laughingstock.
“It’s a new regime over there right now,” said Bears tight end Desmond Clark, who should play today after a rib injury kept him out for two games. “It’s not the same old team.
“They lost the first two games, so everybody pretty much figured, ‘Same old Detroit,’ “ Clark said. “But when you look at their team, they’ve got 31 new players over there. It’s a different energy coming from that Detroit team.”
Strong-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom the Lions selected first overall this spring, has forged a quick relationship with receivers Calvin Johnson and Bryant Johnson. The Bears hope consistent pressure and a rowdy crowd will rattle the 21-year-old Stafford.
Bears quarterback Lance Briggs said the formula to beat a young quarterback was simple.
“Get your hands on them,” Briggs said. “Get your hands on them and bring them down. Young guys, especially guys with good arms, can tend to try to squeeze plays or try to make something out of a small window.”
Although the Lions have not made the playoffs since 1999, they have played the Bears well throughout the past decade. In their last meeting, the Bears scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to rally for a 27-23 win at Soldier Field.
Early deficits have plagued the Bears again this season. Opponents have scored first in each of the first three games, while the Bears have yet to score in the first quarter.
“I don’t know [why],” said Bears tight end Greg Olsen, who hauled in his first touchdown last week at Seattle. “That’s kind of the $1 million question. [We] really just do a better job early in the game of settling down.”
The Lions might have settled down after their first win in 19 games, but Briggs said neither team deserved to puff its chest heading into Week 4.
“I don’t think the monkey is ever off your back until you have that winning season,” Briggs said. “[Not until] you have a winning season, you get in the playoffs, and you become a [Super Bowl] contender. We’re the same way.”