Lovie Smith was defiant Sunday afternoon shortly after the Bears pulled a Houdini act in escaping with a 19-14 victory over the Lions.
The coach refused to budge over why he passed on a chip-shot field goal with his team trailing by one after Matt Forte had failed to score on three downs from the Lions' 1-yard line. Forte was stuffed on fourth-and-goal with 8 minutes, 58 seconds remaining and Smith reasoned his defense was playing so well another chance would come along.
"That call helped us win the game at the end," Smith said.
But not until Forte made a nifty 28-yard touchdown catch with 92 seconds remaining.
And none of it would have mattered if Smith would have been forced to answer why Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson — the only player on the field that could beat the Bears — was singled up with cornerback Zack Bowman in Cover-3 on a controversial call.
Officials ruled an apparent 25-yard touchdown catch with 24 seconds to play was incomplete when Johnson, who had two feet and then his butt on the ground, lost the ball out of his right hand as he rolled over.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson outmaneuvered the 6-1 Bowman in the air with no help for Bowman in sight. Side judge Mike Weatherford, the official closest to the play, immediately ruled touchdown. After the crew huddled it was called incomplete and the Bears survived a pretty clear replay review. The Bears did a terrific job blanketing Johnson (4 receptions, 45 yards) throughout the game.
"I thought he had a touchdown," Bowman admitted.
A blown coverage late in the opener at Green Bay last season cost the Bears and this time they came out on top, giving them a shot of confidence to begin the season.
It was a game the Bears dominated statistically, and they beat up the Lions, losers of 21 straight on the road. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford left in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury after Julius Peppers had clobbered him. A knee injury sidelined defensive end Cliff Avril.
The Bears racked up 463 yards of offense to just 168 for the Lions. They dominated in field position and held nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
But four turnovers and nine penalties for 100 yards nearly did in the Bears and ruined strong debuts by quarterback Jay Cutler (23-for-35, 372 yards) and Forte (50 yards rushing, 151 yards receiving) in the Mike Martz offense, not to mention a big return by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had eight tackles, three stops for loss and a sack in his first game in a year.
"We almost gave it away," said Forte, who scored in the second quarter on an 89-yard screen pass as the Bears dug their way out of a 14-3 deficit. "Just happy to get a win."
Smith chose the short field goal when the Bears drove the field on the game's first series, going ahead 3-0 on Robbie Gould's 20-yard kick. An interception by the Lions' Aaron Berry and a fumble by Forte set up touchdown runs of 7 and 3 yards by Detroit rookie Jahvid Best.
The Bears were wobbling until Cutler's short pass to Forte found him in space and he was quickly free in the open field after blocks by center Olin Kreutz and tight end Greg Olsen. Linebacker Landon Johnson dove and missed and Forte tiptoed along the Detroit sideline, outrunning cornerback Chris Houston for the 89-yard score.
Then Peppers KO'd Stafford with a blind-side hit that jarred the ball loose to Tommie Harris, and Gould hit a 31-yard field goal as the half ended.
The Bears were in command but trailed 14-13 with the majority of the second half played on the Lions' side of the field. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill had one first down in the first 28 minutes of the half.
Trailing 19-14 after Forte's score, the Lions mounted a drive. There were two more chances after Johnson's replayed down. The Bears went to Cover-2 and surrounded him on two more throws. In the end, the defense prevailed.
"That is what you do with your opportunities," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "I want to address some of the critics that say some of us are too old, we're too slow or this and that. Really, all the critics, you know what they can do. (Urlacher) went out and balled today. All the guys that people have question marks about went out and balled. We played good defense."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun