Football in the black and blue division is seldom pretty, especially when Detroit and Chicago play. That's especially true this season, when few NFC teams stand out.
Gus Frerotte threw two touchdown passes as Detroit jumped to a 21-0 lead, then held on for a 21-17 win over the Chicago Bears today. The victory gave the Lions a half-game lead in the slug-it-out NFC Central--at least temporarily.
"There haven't been any blowouts in the NFC this season, except maybe Washington's big [48-22] win over Chicago," Frerotte said. "This is a year when every team is in it, and the games are going to be close."
Detroit (7-4) broke a two-game losing streak that had dropped it into a tie with Tampa Bay and Minnesota, both of which play Sunday in a bunched division. The last-place Bears (5-7) started the day only 1 1/2 games behind.
Frerotte, making his third straight start while Charlie Batch's strained right thumb heals, completed 29 of 42 passes for 309 yards without an interception. He hooked up with Germane Crowell for a 45-yard touchdown and hit Johnnie Morton with a two-yarder. Greg Hill rushed for 68 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown.
"I didn't play my best game today, but we never gave up, and we were able to fight through it," Frerotte said. "That's how we win games--we grit them out."
Jim Miller, a career third-stringer who had passed for 779 yards and four touchdowns in the Bears' previous two games, rallied Chicago back with help from some Detroit mistakes. He was 25 of 37 for 204 yards with one interception, and had a three-yard touchdown pass to Alonzo Mayes and a 23-yarder to Marty Booker.
"I really felt we'd win in the second half," Bears Coach Dick Jauron said. "We just made too many errors."
The Lions scored on their fourth snap of the game. Frerotte hit Crowell on a slant and Crowell, who had two steps on cornerback Terry Cousin, easily won the footrace to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
"We weren't playing that well. What can I say?" Miller said. "That's our job--to go out and execute. We didn't do that."
Detroit's defense held the Bears without a first down on four first-quarter possessions. But the Lions weren't doing much until midway through the second quarter when the running game got in gear.
With Hill picking up 61 yards on five carries, the Lions drove 73 yards in six plays, taking a 14-0 lead on Hill's touchdown sweep around left end. Hill faked out safety Chris Hudson with a cutback at the 14 and scored untouched.
On the first snap of Chicago's next possession, Robert Porcher hit Miller's arm during his throwing motion. The ball fluttered into the arms of linebacker Scott Kowalkowski, who returned it 29 yards. Three plays later, Frerotte tossed a touchdown pass to Morton, and the Lions led 21-0 with 1 minute 37 seconds left in the half.
Suddenly, the Bears' offense caught fire.
Miller completed five straight passes in a 53-yard, five-play scoring drive, narrowing the gap to 21-7 with the touchdown toss to Mayes. Marcus Robinson had a 37-yard catch in the drive, which took 1:15.
Chris Boniol's 26-yard field goal made it 21-10 with 7:29 left in the third quarter.
Detroit had the Bears backed up to their 3 in the third quarter. But when Iheanyi Uwaezuoke fumbled a punt at midfield, Keith Burns recovered at the Detroit 49, and the Bears had new life.
"You just can't do that," Detroit Coach Bobby Ross said. "We had the lead, and we had good field position, and you have to be careful in that situation. We didn't play that one very smart."
Five plays later, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Miller hooked up with Booker, and it was 21-17.
But the Lions' patchwork defense--playing without injured cornerback Bryant Westbrook and suspended safety Mark Carrier--shut down the Bears the rest of the way.
"We had a chance to win, and we just didn't finish it out at the end," Miller said.
The Lions' offense was just good enough. Detroit took over at its 35 with 6:09 remaining and managed to run out the clock as Frerotte hit key third-down passes of 12, 15 and 13 yards. For the game, Detroit had the ball 38:16.
"I knew Thanksgiving was a big day for the Lions," said Chicago defensive tackle Mike Wells, who played for Detroit from 1994 to '97. "We knew it was going to be tough coming in. We just simply made too many mistakes to win today."
CAPTION: Glyn Milburn (24) is trapped as J.B. Brown (31), Cory Schlesinger (30), Lamar Campbell combine on tackle for Lions, who lead NFC Central by a half-game.