The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears were a combined 2-8 coming into their game Sunday, so it’s safe to say that expectations were not terribly high on Game of the Year scale. Anyone who chose to watch this game — not under any duress and of their own free will — would’ve been mentally prepared for a very average game, the kind of midseason NFC North game that doesn’t involve the Packers and therefore will have no great bearing on all that many lives.
But this Lions-Bears game was much, much worse than that. It was a very real abomination of football, the kind that makes you understand how someone would want to burn game tape, collect witness affidavits for the record, and impose a gag order prohibiting all parties from speaking of the proceedings in public.
Here’s the thing: You could easily look at the box score of this game and think to yourself, Hey, looks like a fun time of sport was had by all! I know, you might infer that from a glance at the numbers. There was 990 yards of offense combined. There was 50 first downs. Matthew Stafford threw for more than 400 yards; Jay Cutler topped 350. Calvin Johnson had a game-tying TD catch with 21 seconds left, and the Bears still managed to tie the game and send it to overtime. I mean, what more could you want from an inter-divisional contest where both teams are trying to salvage their disappointing season?
Fact is, the football in this game was just not good. The majority of Johnson’s big plays were more of a result of the inherent badness of the Bears’ secondary and not his undeniable talent. He just made them look as bad as they actually are. Stafford, by all rights, should’ve been credited with an interception in the end zone as the first half was coming to an end, but the officials ruled it a touchdown. Cutler then most definitely threw an interception in the end zone four minutes into the third quarter.
Then there was this sequence of events:
- Lions go three and out, punt.
- Bears advance 11 yards, punt.
- Lions muff punt, Chicago recovers.
- Chicago advances negative-one yard, kicks field goal (21-16, Detroit).
- Detroit has touchdown called back on offensive pass interference, kicks field goal (24-16).
- Chicago punts, but Detroit muffs it again, Chicago recovers.
- Chicago gets TD called back on offensive P.I., but scores on next play (24-22).
- With 12:27 left in game, Chicago does not go for two, kicks extra point (24-23).
- Stafford is intercepted deep in his own territory.
- Chicago needs eight plays to go 24 yards, scores the touchdown, and makes the two-point conversion (31-24, Chicago).
Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that this here is a painful series of circumstances in relatively quick succession over the third quarter and part of the fourth. Penalties, turnovers, questionable coaching decisions — this game was a football buffet of everything awful you never want to consume. And really, we were only just getting started.
Detroit then went 13 plays over the next five-plus minutes to run off a ton of clock in the hopes — you would think — of tying the game. They almost did the unthinkable, setting in the punt formation on their 38-yard line with 5:18 to go, but a direct snap to Isa Abdul-Quddus resulted in a 30-yard gain and the drive was alive. But then Lions coach Jim Caldwell — mind you, down by seven points — opted to kick a field goal with just 2:46 to play. They had given up 31 points already to the Bears, which is bad enough as is, and now you’re going to gamble that your defense can make a stop and get you the ball back with, what, barely a minute or so left on the clock?
Somehow, it worked out even better than that for the Lions, who used all three of their timeouts, but forced the Bears to punt, so Stafford had the ball back with a whopping 2:23 left, and if you’re a Lions fan, your confidence at this point is, what, relatively high? Maybe only because you’re playing the Bears and their terrible defense? Well, it’s also a good thing Bears coach John Fox presumably forgot that he had three timeouts to play with, and that he could use them in such a way as to secure his team some time left after whatever it is Detroit would ultimately do, which was still very much in question. Fox finally called a timeout with the Lions at the Bears 2 and 49 seconds to play. Three plays later, after an intentional grounding by Stafford (of course) and a roughing the passer penalty on Chicago (of course!), Stafford found Johnson in the back of the end zone with 21 seconds to play.
Detroit wins! Maybe?
Ah, but the Bears didn’t actually need all that time on the clock anyway. After a touchback, Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for 25 yards. He ran out of bounds, and then Cutler hit Jeffery again for 24 yards. He was pushed out of bounds, so, with nine seconds left, Cutler went deep toward the end zone and drew a defensive pass interference call, which placed the ball at the 11-yard line. Robbie Gould hit his fourth field goal of the game as time expired.
Inexplicably, improbably, the game went to overtime, and what more can we say about this football-themed embodiment of hell on Earth other than that the first four possessions (two for each team) all ended with punts, and it certainly seemed as if we’d be headed for the wonderful, elusive overtime tie. But then, miracle of miracles, Stafford hit Johnson on a deep route along the right sideline for 57 yards. There was no penalty, no official’s review, nothing that could keep Detroit from mercifully ending the game.
And finally, with 2:33 left in OT, Matt Prater kicked a 27-yard field goal to end the game. It was a completely uneventful kick, but with it came a rush of relief, that the game had been survived more than it had been won or lost.
Football is not supposed to present an existential crisis, but the Bears and Lions did their best not to win this game, but to not lose it. In that respect, only the Lions fared slightly better, and so they collected their first win of the season, presumably said thank you very much, and got the hell out of there.
If there’s merit in recounting this game just so that we can teach people the folly of simply judging a game based on its box score, fine. If it serves some greater purpose to have similarly god-awful games in the future, but then some courageous soul can stand up, clear their throat, and start recounting the tale of the Great Lion-Bears Unfootballing of 2015, so we always know it can be worse than what we think? Fair enough.
Otherwise, this game never happened. We shall never speak of it again. Promise.