Forget the recent history of bad blood between the Bears and the Detroit Lions.
The Bears love the Lions. The Lions love the Bears.
“Yeah,” Bears nickelback D.J. Moore said with a grin. “Hugs and kisses. Birthday wishes.”
If insincerity were a penalty, Moore could have been flagged for 15 yards.
A pair of divisive games between the Bears and Lions last season renewed a rivalry that long had gone dormant. Both teams won on their home field and they combined to commit 34 penalties for 288 yards, including an on-field brawl Nov. 13 that led to Moore’s ejection.
Moore was kicked out of the game for charging at Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had thrown him to the ground by his helmet during an interception return in the fourth quarter. A melee broke out as players from both sides piled on top of each other.
That sequence came after Bears linebacker Lance Briggs’ high and hard hit on Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, which followed Bears quarterback Jay Cutler having his helmet ripped off by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at the end of a scramble.
Another high-stakes, high-profile game could bring out more animosity.
The Bears (4-1) need to win to stay in first place in the NFC North, while the Lions (2-3) need to win to climb back to .500 after a disappointing start. One of the league’s toughest divisions showed its strength again Sunday as the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) and Green Bay Packers (4-3) posted wins against Arizona and St. Louis, respectively.
An intense atmosphere is expected in front of 60,000-plus fans at Soldier Field and millions more watching on national TV, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. The key is to remain disciplined and avoid bad penalties that ruin scoring drives.
It’s a mantra that Tice and his fellow coaches have emphasized during practice.
“We want to be able to match that intensity no matter what,” Tice said. “At the same time, we want to play smart, play intelligent, and we want to play our football before the whistle blows.”
So far this season, the Bears have proved to be better behaved than the Lions.
Through five games apiece, the Bears have committed 39 penalties for 263 yards while the Lions have committed 46 penalties for 404 yards. The Lions have been flagged four times for unnecessary roughness, while the Bears have been flagged twice.
Despite beating Philadelphia last week, the Lions committed 16 penalties for 132 yards.
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the high number of penalties was unrelated to discipline problems.
“I don’t think you really saw any of those penalties,” Schwartz said. “Because only one of them had anything to do with [player conduct]. I mean, we had two pass interferences and an offensive holding and we had line-of-scrimmage issues. …
“We had one personal foul, and that was probably the officials throwing a penalty early in the game just to try to make sure that things didn’t get out of hand. But we didn’t have anybody lose any composure. We didn’t have anybody lose their temper. I mean, the Philadelphia Eagles had a player kicked out of the game, not us.”
Defensive? Yes. Chippy? Seems that way.
The Bears expect the same in-your-face style from the Lions on the lakefront.
“It’s football,” Bears running back Matt Forte said. “It’s supposed to be football. Nobody’s out there to play patty-cake. If somebody’s going to be physical on the other side of the ball, obviously on your side of the ball, you want to be physical right back.
“It’s going to be a physical game. We expect that.”
Hugs and kisses. Birthday wishes.
Five things to track during today’s Bears game.
Monday night lights. Jay Cutler has struggled on Thursday nights and Sunday nights, but he has fared much better on Mondays. Cutler has passed for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 career Monday night games, and the Bears are 8-2 under Lovie Smith on Mondays.
Stopping Megatron. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has had success defending Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the past, but that will not make his job any easier today. Johnson is a 6-foot-5, 236-pound target who has caught more touchdowns (46) than anyone else since 2008.
Getting defensive. Speaking of touchdowns, the Bears’ defense has a league-leading five scores in five games. Tillman and Lance Briggs have scored in each of the past two games, and another defensive touchdown today could seal a win. Since 2004, the Bears are 21-5 when the defense scores.
Missing Alshon. The Bears will be without rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who injured his hand Oct. 7 and is expected to miss the next several weeks. The absence of Jeffery means that veteran teammates Earl Bennett and Devin Hester will have to step forward in the passing game.
Finish strong. The Lions have saved their best for the fourth quarter, including a 17-point comeback last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. Meanwhile, the Bears have limited opponents to 25 points in the fourth quarter. The team that finishes better likely will be the team that wins.
– Tom Musick,email@example.com