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Lions turn Bears’ third-down attack into a problem area

Updated: September 30, 2013 7:31PM

DETROIT — Kyle Long has no idea if his penalty for illegal hands to the face against Ndamukong Suh was legit.

‘‘I don’t know. I didn’t write the manual on holds,’’ Long said. ‘‘But who knows? There’s so much stuff going on with hands and all that . . . who knows? I was just trying to get him blocked.’’

Regardless of Long’s opinion, the call in the third quarter typified the Bears’ frustration and futility on third down in Sunday’s 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. They were 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) on third-down conversions.

Trailing 30-16 midway through the third quarter, the Bears had their best chance to put some real heat on the Lions since falling behind 30-10 in the first half. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw a 27-yard pass to Earl Bennett on third-and-eight for an apparent first down at the Lions’ 41. It was a momentum play. The Bears were 0-for-7 on third-down conversions to that point. Their fortunes were turning.

And then . . .

‘‘They threw a flag. You see the laundry on the ground. You ask the ref, ‘Who’s that on?’ And he points to you,’’ said Long, who had not been called for a penalty in his first three NFL games. ‘‘You say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it now’ [and] move on to the next play and continue trying to battle.’’

But on third-and-18 from the Bears’ 22, Cutler overthrew Alshon Jeffery and was intercepted by safety Louis Delmas. The Bears had another chance after Major Wright intercepted Lions quarterback Matt Stafford.

But on third-and-10 from their 16, Cutler fumbled when he was blindsided by Suh and Nick Fairley recovered at the 4-yard line and scored to give the Lions a 37-16 lead with 20 seconds left in the quarter.

The Bears were ninth in the NFL in third-down conversions (43.9 percent) coming into the game. Against the Lions, they were 0-for-12 until Cutler’s too-little-too-late 10-yard touchdown on third-and-7 with 43 seconds to play.

‘‘We had a few turnovers,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘They’ve got a good front. They didn’t do anything we had never seen or weren’t ready for.’’

That might be true, but the discouraging aspect of the Bears’ first loss of the season is that the Lions at least made it look like the Bears weren’t ready for them.

On a third-and-10 play in the second quarter — with the Bears leading 10-9 — Cutler ran the play clock down trying to get everybody in the right position and appeared to be changing the play at the last second when rookie right tackle Jordan Mills was called for a false start. It was the first false start for the Bears this season. On the third-and-15 play that followed, Cutler threw a two-yard pass to Brandon Marshall and the Bears punted.

Cutler came into the game as the third-leading passer in the NFL on third down — three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 123.5 rating. He also had scrambles of 13 and nine yards for third-down conversions.

But the Lions had his number on third down. Cutler was 5-for-11 for 30 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, two sacks and one fumble for a 43.2 rating — and that was with the late touchdown pass to Bennett. In the first three quarters, his rating was a paltry 10.7.

Until they see the film, the Bears don’t know what went wrong. But they know they have work to do.

‘‘We’ve got to convert on third down,’’ Mills said. ‘‘I had some mishaps during those [third-down] conversions. I’ve got to be better and more disciplined. As a team, we did a pretty good job. We’ve got to clean up a few things. We should be fine.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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