The Bears looked like a mistake waiting to happen Sunday.

Make that several mistakes.

They transformed an eminently winnable game on the road into a 21-16 loss to the Detroit Lions in the Silverdome. Three early scoring opportunities dissipated into nothingness as the Bears (4-3) fell from the NFC Central throne they had shared with the Minnesota Vikings (5-2).

It was a mistake-filled day for the Bears, whose defense gave up only one touchdown. Trouble is, the Bears' offense and their special teams also gave up one touchdown each.

"I thought defensively that might have been the best we've played all year, and against a very talented team," said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. "They came up with plays and we had opportunities early. Our youth and our immaturity was the biggest thing that showed up today."

The Lions ended their three-game losing streak with big plays, including a 102-yard kickoff return by all-time return leader Mel Gray, an 84-yard run by Barry Sanders and an astonishing stripped ball and 25-yard touchdown return by linebacker Chris Spielman.

In spite of themselves, the Bears were in the game until the final drive.

Quarterback Erik Kramer, starting his first game since Sept. 18, began the game 0 for 6 passing. But he settled down and wound up 29 of 48 for 309 yards and two touchdowns, although he was intercepted three times and sacked three times.

"Erik played OK," said Wannstedt. "At the end, he handled the team well. The one interception, I mean, the ball was thrown up there and Curtis (Conway) . . . it was a jump ball. We have to make a play on that ball. That's where we wanted to go. We tried to throw the ball deep.

"And the other interception bounced off of Jeff Graham's chest. We didn't make plays."

Early on, the Bears caught every break, but could not capitalize.

The Bears' Kevin Miniefield recovered Gray's fumble at the Lions' 29 on the opening kickoff. But a 46-yard Kevin Butler field-goal attempt sailed wide.

The Bears drove to the Lions' 11 on their next possession, only to have Robert Massey pick off a Kramer pass that caromed off the hands of Graham.

A blocked pass by Bears defensive lineman Albert Fontenot was nearly caught and run in for an easy score, but he bobbled it away before he crossed the goal line.

Chris Gardocki's 40-yard punt pinned the Lions back at their own 3. But Sanders, who gained 167 yards on 23 carries, responded with the 84-yard run to the Bears' 13.

"You know how fast Jeremy Lincoln is. He's the fastest guy on our team," said Wannstedt. "He stuck his nose inside and thought (Sanders) was going to bounce it inside. Then (Sanders) bounced it outside."

Cornerback Donnell Woolford wound up making the saving tackle, but a 6-yard pass from Scott Mitchell (6 of 17 for 59 yards, one interception) to Brett Perriman made it 7-0 at 14:09 of the second period.

"I was just chasing all over the end zone and Mitchell broke somebody's containment," said Lincoln. "I looked up and he made a good pass. I thought (Perriman) was out of bounds, but the official said his foot was in."

Twenty seconds later, Kramer's 5-yard pass to tight end Chris Gedney was stripped from him by Spielman, who ran like a thief with a stolen loaf of bread into the end zone.