Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson thought he had a 25-yard touchdown catch that would lead to an upset victory over the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s season opener. He didn’t. An obscure rule took away his TD and ended his victory lap around Soldier Field prematurely, allowing the Bears a 19-14 win.
CHICAGO — Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson thought he had a 25-yard touchdown catch that would lead to an upset victory over the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s season opener.
An obscure rule took away his TD and ended his victory lap around Soldier Field prematurely, allowing the Bears a 19-14 win. Johnson came down with a jump ball with two feet in the end zone with the ball in one hand with 24 seconds left, but when the ball grazed the ground, the ball skidded out of his grasp.
The rules say a player must maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch.
"I saw the play exactly the way they did," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said after his team outgained Detroit 463 yards to 168. "I didn’t even think we needed a replay."
"I found out after I sprinted halfway across the field that it didn’t count," Johnson said. "It is what it is, and now it’s over."
The Lions, who led from early in the second quarter until the final 1:32, saw their once 11-point advantage disintegrate when Jay Cutler connected with running back Matt Forte on a 28-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.
"I went around (the safety), and Jay made a great throw and I caught it," said Forte, who accounted for 201 yards and two TDs. "It’s always good to get a win no matter how the game goes or ends."
As Detroit built up a 14-3 lead, the Bears turned the ball over four times and twice got to the 1-yard line to come away with three points total. Chicago’s first failure came on third-and-goal at the 1, when Forte was stuffed in the backfield and Robbie Gould booted a 20-yard field goal on the game’s first possession.
Cutler’s first interception of the season quickly cost the Bears seven points. It was thrown into triple-coverage and batted up in the air by two different Lions before Aaron Berry came down with it. The Lions took a 7-3 lead a few minutes later on the first of rookie Jahvid Best’s two first-half touchdown runs.
Cutler wasn’t the only Bear to make mistakes. Tight end Greg Olsen, the Bears leading receiver last year, coughed up a fumble on the 8-yard-line early in the second quarter, and Forte lost the ball on a 12-yard screen-pass completion later in the period that led to another Detroit TD.
"We moved the ball quite a bit throughout the game, but it’s a turnover game and the turnover ratio is always big on who wins the football game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "That hurt us quite a bit early on."
The Bears began to turn it around late in the first half.
Forte took a short screen pass and turned it into an 89-yard TD with 1:25 to go in the second quarter, cutting the Lions lead to 14-10. Then, a jarring hit by defensive end Julius Peppers put a halt to Detroit QB Matthew Stafford’s day.
A 13-yard completion to Olsen set up a 21-yard Gould field goal on the final play of the half to cut the deficit to 14-13.
Shaun Hill took over at quarterback for Detroit, and Chicago’s defense shut down the Lions the rest of the day. That is, until three straight completions for 58 yards in the game’s final 1:27 set up the play to Johnson.
In the end, the Lions’ rally was denied, as Detroit threw one final incomplete pass to Johnson after his TD catch was denied.
"That was one of those weird finishes, but a win’s a win for us," said corner Zack Bowman, who was covering Johnson on the catch that was taken away. "I don’t know the rules. They called it an incomplete pass, so let’s just leave it at that."
Bears reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1384 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bears Report Card
Passing offense — B+: Jay Cutler (23-for-35 for 372 yards and two TDs) had an ugly interception and threw into danger two other times, but overall looked better than he ever did during the preseason.
Rushing offense — C-: Matt Forte and Chester Taylor were both good receivers out of the backfield, but they got very little going for the ground game. Forte was stuffed on four runs from the 1-yard line, one on the opening drive and three in the fourth quarter. The Bears ran for 101 yards and averaged 3.3 per carry.
Passing defense — B: It’s hard to tell how good you are against Detroit’s backup QB in the second half. Julius Peppers knocked out Detroit’s starter Matthew Stafford, and the Lions passed for just 171 yards with no TDs and one interception.
Rushing defense — A: Detroit rookie Jahvid Best scored two TDs on the ground, but he had just 20 yards rushing. The Lions gained less than a yard per carry with 21 runs for 20 yards.
Special teams — C+: There were no glaring special teams’ mistakes, but no big plays or game-changing moments either.
Coaching — B-: Bears head coach Lovie Smith decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 on the goal line early on, then rushed the ball right into the middle of the Lions’ defense three times to turn it over on downs late in a close game. Hmmm? The coaching staff did stick to its game plan throughout, however, and it worked. (Barely.)
Overall — B+: A high grade for such an ugly game – Chicago turned it over four times and nearly lost to the lowly Lions – but a strong defensive effort and, most importantly, a win in Game 1, boosts the grade to a respectable mark.
— Jay Taft