Going south in North

Tribune staff reporter

The Bears landed with a sickening thud Sunday in their 23-20 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions. It was the sound of them falling below the once lowly Lions in the NFC North with their fourth straight defeat.

Early in the game, the Bears turned the ball over twice, enabling the Lions to take a 14-3 lead on drives that totaled 22 yards.

Late in the game, they enabled the Lions to drive 72 yards in 12 plays to tie the score with a 24-yard field goal by Jason Hanson with two seconds remaining.

Then in overtime, Paul Edinger's kickoff bounced out of bounds, giving the Lions the ball on their 40. They needed to drive only 30 yards to set up Hanson's 48-yarder that won the game.

"It was the same kick I've been doing all day long," Edinger said. "I just tried to put it over by the numbers but just came across it too much. It was just a bad kick."

Added coach Dick Jauron: "He wasn't trying to kick it into the corner, just to an area of the field."

The Bears left Ford Field at 2-4 and for the moment are behind the 2-4 Lions by virtue of a head-to-head defeat. And they have lost virtually all of the confidence that fueled last season's successes and this season's optimism.

The frustration is beginning to show in a team that a year ago expected someone to make a play to win a game but now is spiraling toward its late-1990s mind-set of expecting someone to make a mistake or something to go wrong.

Even when the Bears make a play, something … happens.

With the Bears leading 20-17 and five seconds left in the fourth quarter, safety Larry Whigham blitzed and sacked Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington, who had no timeouts to call. But Detroit tight end Matt Murphy was guilty of a false start, and instead of ending the game, the penalty allowed Hanson to kick his tying field goal.

"The mistakes are killing us," defensive tackle Keith Traylor said. "We can't all take turns having a mistake."

The Bears are breaking down. They are a team built around a dominant defense and a ball-control offense. Now the defense, which yielded 362 yards Sunday after 410 to Buffalo (in another OT loss) and 457 to Green Bay, is in shambles. The offense is not designed, or good enough, to make up for it.

The Bears totaled a season-low 224 yards against the No. 30 Detroit defense, which was yielding 395 yards a game before Sunday. The Bears' defense, which yielded to the Lions at least one first down on 10 of 13 possessions, can't cover for the offense when it needs to.

Edinger's 53-yard field goal gave the Bears a 3-0 lead in the second quarter. Before the period was over, however, Anthony Thomas had lost a fumble at the Bears' 6 and quarterback Chris Chandler had thrown an interception to give Detroit the ball at the Bears' 16. Running back James Stewart, who rushed for 172 yards and added 28 more on pass receptions, finished both possessions with scoring runs.

"You cannot turn the ball over and have opponents run like that and expect to win," Jauron said. "That's the football game right there."

Not quite. The Bears still had chances to seize the game but managed instead to make the crucial mistake at just the pivotal moment. Chandler, who completed 16-of-25 passes for 163 yards, rebounded from his interception to direct a six-play, 79-yard drive to cut the Bears' deficit to 14-10 at halftime.

Thomas then finished a 75-yard drive to open the third quarter by getting in from 1 yard out and the Bears led 17-14. Then defensive end Bryan Robinson sacked Harrington and knocked the ball loose. It was recovered by tackle Alfonso Boone at the Detroit 25.

But the Bears managed just one yard on three plays and settled for a 42-yard Edinger field goal instead of a decisive touchdown against a wobbling Lions team.

"We are just not firing on the right cylinders at the right times," Chandler said.

After a 30-yard Hanson field goal, Ahmad Merritt made his first NFL kick return a memorable one, going 63 yards to give the Bears the ball at the Detroit 32. Thomas then crashed through a hole in the middle of the Detroit line for 10 yards, but then lost the ball when he was hit by cornerback Corey Harris.

After that third turnover, the Bears never advanced beyond their 38-yard line on their final two possessions.

They were left to ponder a future that next plays out in Minnesota on Sunday. Chandler did no better with the Bears' offense than Jim Miller and the defense is still without key cogs Ted Washington inside and R.W. McQuarters in the secondary. And they know that there are not many teams that respect them.

"We get those guys back, we'll get the respect back," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "But until we get those guys back, I don't see any team respecting us. We've got to go out and make that happen. We've got to earn respect. It's not given to you."

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