Updated: December 6, 2010 3:07PM
DETROIT -- With 5:17 left in the game, after forcing a key punt, veteran Tim Jennings gathered all of the defensive backs around him.
He led a quick meeting, which included defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, to review the team's two-minute defense and the tendencies of the Lions' offense.
''Just kind of get everyone on the same page,'' Jennings said, ''so we all know what we've got to do.''
The Bears' defense had been forced to preserve victories numerous times this season, oftentimes without much help from its offense in the fourth quarter. But on Sunday, in a 24-20 victory at Ford Field, the Bears' defense didn't have to do anything down the stretch except find a spot on the sideline and revel in its offense playing defense.
''There have been games where we had the ball on offense, with the lead, and we've stalled and gave the ball right back to [the other team] to put the pressure on our defense,'' tight end Greg Olsen said. ''But this game, to finish it out and kill over five minutes and kneel it out and not give them an opportunity to try a desperation play, was an improvement for us.''
Added Jennings: ''It felt good just to sit there and relax.'' Patriots matchup looking big
Every minute counts, because the countdown now begins for a highly-anticipated matchup Sunday against the New England Patriots -- a team that will host the New York Jets tonight for sole possession of the AFC East lead. The Bears gained the respect of many skeptics by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 31-26 on Nov. 28. But they could propel themselves into the conversation as a Super Bowl contender by upending the currently 9-2 Patriots.
There remains only a small margin for error since the Green Bay Packers still are just one game behind the Bears in the NFC North after handling the San Francisco 49ers 34-16 Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Lions (2-10) host the Packers on Sunday. 'It was going to be a fight'
The Bears didn't overlook the Lions, and Cutler acknowledged that it would have been easy for his team to have a ''letdown game.''
''We knew going into it, and this team is veteran enough to know, what type of game we were in for,'' Cutler said. ''It was going to be a tough one. It was going to be a fight. It was going to be four quarters.
''We weren't going to come in here and just blow everybody's doors off.''
Especially on defense.
They allowed the Lions to ring up 253 yards in the first half, including 110 on the ground. That's an alarming figure since the Lions were lining up their third-string quarterback, Drew Stanton.
Operating largely out of the shotgun formation, Stanton kept the Bears off-balance, and he performed admirably in only his second NFL start, completing 16 of 24 passes for 178 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers.
Lions rookie running back Jahvid Best picked an optimal time to come up with his longest run of the year. With the ball at their own 9, the Lions dialed up a run up the middle; Best ran into a mass of bodies but then somehow bounced outside to his right with nothing but space in front of him.
Bears safety Danieal Manning forced Best out of bounds after 45 yards, but Stanton connected with Calvin Johnson on the next play, and he worked his way to the end zone -- shedding a Chris Harris tackle attempt around the 24-yard line -- for a 46-yard touchdown.
Two plays, 91 yards, 19 seconds.
But the Bears were still in the game because of the offense.
''They definitely bailed us out in the beginning and kept putting points on the board,'' Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said of his team's offense. ''Defensively we got off to a slow start, but thank God there's two halves in football.'' Manumaleuna TD caps it
In the second half, though, the defense forced a field goal when Cutler was sacked and coughed up the ball, which the Lions recovered at the Bears' 9-yard line. The Bears' defense also snuffed out a fourth-down play early in the fourth quarter.
But for a change, the Bears' offense carried the team, putting together an efficient, six-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by a Brandon Manumaleuna touchdown.
On the ensuing series, the Lions got into Bears' territory but were forced to punt the ball.
They never got it back.
''We can't finish the game with the opponent taking a knee,'' Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.