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Bears’ ball-hawking defense stifles Lions’ Matthew Stafford

Coach Lovie Smith greets DevHester after his 82-yard punt return for touchdown Sunday. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

Coach Lovie Smith greets Devin Hester after his 82-yard punt return for a touchdown on Sunday. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 15, 2011 10:06AM


Who needs an offense when the other team has one?

The Bears defense swiped two fumbles and four interceptions from the Detroit Lions and blew past the once-resurgent team from the Motor City 37-13 at balmy Soldier Field.

Yes, it was windy — a stiff, warm, breeze from the south, or somewhere. There were moments when the flags at each end of the field were blowing in opposite directions and debris was blowing up.

But the wind didn’t make Lions receiver Calvin Johnson fumble (Julius Peppers did), and it didn’t make Lions receiver Nate Burleson fumble (Tim Jennings did). Nor did the wind cause, I want to say, three of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s four interceptions. It probably didn’t cause any of them.

An country saying comes to mind here: The devil made me do it the first time, the rest of the times I done it myself.

Indeed, Stafford once was looking hot. Say, about one game ago, when the Lions thrashed the Broncos, 45-10.

Then he and his mates ran into a defense that was pure Lovie Smith: take-aways, take-aways, take-aways. In a 20-minute span covering the third quarter and part of the fourth, Stafford threw 27 passes and four were intercepted — one each by defensive backs Major Wright, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, and Corey Graham.

The first two were returned for touchdowns by Wright and ­Tillman, and the third was returned 52 yards by Jennings, after which a super-sized melee took place near the Lions sideline after the Bears’ little D.J. Moore (5-9, 180) took exception to the way the big Stafford (6-3, 232) fought off his return block.

Moore was tossed from the game, the return eventually was brought back to the Bears 16, and Stafford huffily gallumped to the sideline.

“What quarterback wants to see a man pick off the ball and run past him?’’ Graham offered as explanation.

Nobody. But when coach Smith’s attacking, grabbing, punching press defense is working at its highest pitch, that is what opponents often will see.

It’s been 16 years since the Bears had six takeaways in a game (Dave Wannstedt coaching), but when one of Lovie’s teams gets an early lead, especially against a team such as Detroit, which has almost no running game, watch out.

“Everybody out there was running around having fun,’’ said Jennings, who also forced and recovered Burleson’s early fumble.

Another note about chippiness here: Burleson dubiously shoved Jennings so hard on the sideline after the Bear’s 52-yard return that little Jennings (5-8, 185) flew an extra 10 yards, tumbling like a lost tire.

After that came the brawl, which was going to come sooner or later. Imagine, the Lions had 396 yards of offense to the Bears’ measly 216 yards — a high school number — and it mattered not a wit.

In fact, the more the Lions had the ball, the better the Bears chances of scoring or getting into scoring position.

If you add up yardage and points from interceptions, fumbles, and punt returns, the Bears had 208 yards and 21 points. That doesn’t count the field goals the “D’’ set up for Robbie Gould or the six-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte.

Besides punting to Devin Hester (idiots!), the Lions did several other stupid things, such as not tucking the ball away on offense, always.

And maybe huge wide receiver Johnson didn’t count on Tillman having one of the best games of his career and actually outscoring him 7-0. And maybe the Lions thought they could generally run all over the Bears smallish DBs. And maybe somebody forgot to tell them that not everybody plays in a dome and the wind blows outdoors.

No matter, because with the defense being led in pressure by defensive end Peppers and veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the Bears’ “O’’ and “D’’ have almost reversed rolls. That is, just don’t screw up, Jay Cutler and gang, and the defense will score all the points you need.

“It may not look as perfect, giving up a lot of yardage,’’ said Graham, who got his interception after replacing the disqualified Moore. “But turnovers don’t just get you the ball, they kill the other team’s momentum.’’

Certain statistics lie, in other words.

Or as Lovie put it, “It was about the defense tonight.’’

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