Bears roll to North lead without 3 starters

Tribune reporter

Defensive end Alex Brown wanted to clarify for those who figured the Bears didn't miss Tommie Harris on Sunday.

"I wouldn't go that far," Brown said of his suspended teammate. "You don't find a guy with Tommie's ability every day. You can't just walk down the street and get it."

Maybe not, but the defense didn't look too shabby with Harris and starting cornerback Nathan Vasher out. In fact, the Bears yielded just 185 total yards in a 34-7 thumping of the winless Lions at Ford Field. That's the lowest total since giving up 145 to Buffalo in October 2006.

"We have guys that are capable of handling the job," Brown said. "To not have Tommie, that's big. We'd love to have him. … When [other guys] get their numbers called, you're supposed to step up."

The Bears took a big step by improving to 3-2 and taking sole possession of first place in the NFC North. They did so without three starters. Harris served a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, Vasher was sidelined with an injured right wrist and receiver Brandon Lloyd rested his sprained left knee. Corey Graham replaced Vasher, Israel Idonije replaced Harris and Devin Hester subbed for Lloyd in the starting lineup.

Cornerback Charles Tillman was questionable coming off a shoulder injury but started and returned an interception 26 yards for a third-quarter score, all but putting the game out of reach at 31-0.

"You see what happens when we play great, but I still think there's room for improvement," Tillman said. "The sky's the limit, and we haven't reached that sky yet."

Quarterback Kyle Orton tried to, though. He aired it out, completing 24 of 34 passes for a career-high 334 yards and two touchdowns, even without top target Lloyd. He was sharp throughout and had four completions of 30 yards or better, including a season-long 52-yard connection to tight end Greg Olsen. Orton completed passes to seven receivers on his way to a career-high 121.4 quarterback rating.

Rookie running back Matt Forte continued his ascent despite rushing for just 36 yards on 15 carries. He had two touchdowns, including a 9-yard reception in the first half on which he lunged to the goal line while wearing two defenders. Forte's knee appeared to be down before he crossed, but a challenge by the Lions failed to get the call changed.

"Oh, yeah, I was in," Forte said. "You can look at the replay. I jumped, and my knee wasn't down when the point of the ball crossed. It was a good effort by myself. I just thank God for the opportunity."

Forte's play was upstaged by receiver Marty Booker, whose acrobatic, one-handed grab down the left sideline in the third quarter conjured up memories of his old Pro Bowl self. Booker's 30-yard reception, cleared after a replay challenge, set up Forte's 1-yard touchdown blast.

Robbie Gould field goals of 45 and 37 yards and a 12-yard touchdown reception by Hester accounted for the rest of the Bears' scoring. They didn't need many points against a listless Lions offense.

The Bears rattled quarterback Jon Kitna early, as Lance Briggs sacked him on the game's third play. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich's aggressive, blitzing game plan resulted in four sacks, including Brown's forced fumble, which was recovered by Mark Anderson.

About the only thing that went wrong for the Bears was Hester's third-quarter fumble on a punt return. Daniel Bullocks forced the fumble, which was recovered by Ramzee Robinson. It set up the Lions' only score, a 12-yard touchdown run by rookie Kevin Smith.

The biggest roar from the home crowd came when backup Dan Orlovsky replaced Kitna on Detroit's first possession of the second half. The change wasn't enough to ignite the Lions, as Orlovsky's second pass bounced off Roy Williams and into the hands of Tillman, resulting in his touchdown.

"It was just a bad throw, [Williams] tipped it, I caught it and I went into the end zone," Tillman said. "It was pretty simple."

The Bears certainly made it look that way.

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