How much difference can six days make in the fortunes of an NFL team? Heading into Monday night, Bears fans were jumping off the bandwagon at an impressive rate.
Aaron Rodgers got hurt, the Bears pulled off a shocking upset, and now the Bears, Packers and Lions find themselves in a three-way dead heat atop the NFC North. All three are 5-3, and the Bears have a win over the Packers but a loss to the Lions, and the Packers hold a win over Detroit.
Now, if the Bears can knock off the Lions – hey, they just soundly beat the Packers, didn’t they – they will find themselves with a firm grip on a division title with seven games to play, the hope of getting healthy and reinforcement in the form of Jeremiah Ratliff on the way.
Now Jay Cutler is back, just 17 days after the injury, that would keep him out a bare minimum of four weeks. With the Bionic Man on their side, what more can go right for the Bears?
Charles Tillman could prove he’s 100 percent for the first time since training camp, since he is the key to the Bears beating the Detroit Lions.
Certainly, the Bears will have to find a way to deal with Reggie Bush, who torched them in their Week 4 meeting in Detroit, and Cutler will have to be a lot better than he was in the first half last time.
Nobody plays Calvin Johnson as effectively as Tillman, and he is going to have to do it again.
Detroit will be coming off a bye, and Johnson’s most recent muscle memories will be of the second-best receiving day in NFL history with 14 for 329 and a touchdown in their last-second victory over the Cowboys.
Even if Cutler is 100 percent, is he ready to get into a shootout with Johnson and Matt Stafford?
Stafford is on pace to throw for over 5,200 yards with 2,617 in his first eight games along with 16 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 94.6 passer rating. And the Lions’ offensive line is doing a great job of protecting him, allowing just 10 sacks the first half of the season.
Bears fans can take solace in the fact the Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace five times last week after managing just nine sacks in their first seven games. The Rodgers sack, however, was after Shea McClellin had been blocked out of the play and Rodgers ran back to him. All but the Corey Wootton sack were coverage sacks and now McClellin is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
The Lions are third in total offense, sixth in average gain per offensive play, first in percentage of QB sacks allowed, fifth in time of possession and sixth in points per game. They will pose a much stiffer test for the Bears defense than the Wallace lead Packers did.
The matchup between the Bears’ offense and the Lions’ defense should be kinder to the Bears. Matt Forte had his best game of the year in Green Bay with 24 runs for 125 yards, 5.2 yards a carry, with one touchdown on the ground and five catches for 54 yards. The Lions may not have an answer.
Detroit’s defense is porous, 25th in total defense, 30th in average gain per play allowed, 28th vs. the run, 30th sacking the quarterback and 18th in points allowed. The one category they are very good in is third-down efficiency where they’re second, but that’s because they so rarely get to third down with all the big plays they give up.
I know the shootout we expected in Green Bay didn’t happen. But if Matt Stafford lasts four quarters, expect this to be a different story ,and the winner may well again be the last team to touch the ball.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him a firstname.lastname@example.org.