Lions receiver Calvin Johnson entered Monday night’s game in Chicago averaging 112 receiving yards a game. Then he went up against Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
The result was a bad game for Johnson, who caught just three of the 11 passes thrown to him, for 34 yards, and a bad game for the Lions’ offense. The Bears shut Detroit down until the Lions finally got into the end zone with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and when the Bears recovered the ensuing onside kick they had earned a hard-fought 13-7 victory.
The story of the game was Tillman. In each of the Bears’ last two games he had an interception return for a touchdown, but tonight was his best game of the season. Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL, and Tillman dominated him. Tillman belongs in the conversation for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.
And it’s that defense that’s leading the Bears toward the playoffs. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler played reasonably well despite suffering a rib injury on a hard but clean hit from Ndamukong Suh, but the Bears are a defensive team. If they can control the ball and avoid turnovers on offense, this defense can carry the Bears a long way.
The Lions made too many mistakes, as they have so often this season. Detroit had six fumbles and lost three of them, and the offense took most of the game to get going, with six punts and one first down on their first six possessions. Once the Lions finally did start moving the ball, their sustained drives ended in turnovers. By the time they finally marched into the end zone, it was garbage time.
At this point it’s hard to imagine the 2-4 Lions returning to the playoffs. But at 5-1, the Bears seem destined for the postseason. It helps having Tillman, the best cornerback in the NFL.