Calvin Johnson saw the defensive coverage. Same for Matthew Stafford, and they knew exactly what to do.
The result was a franchise record for one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, and a big win for the Detroit Lions.
Johnson caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Stafford with 2:22 to go, helping the Lions edge Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears 21-19 on Sunday in a key matchup of NFC North rivals.
“I knew immediately that one of us on the outside was going to get it,” Johnson said. “So I just wanted to work, be patient and he threw a great ball.”
Johnson also had a tiebreaking TD reception in the third quarter and Reggie Bush rushed for 105 yards as Detroit (6-3) swept the season series against Chicago (5-4) for the first time since the 2007 season.
When Green Bay lost 27-13 to Philadelphia, the Lions were all alone in first in the division for the first time since the end of Week 5 of the 2005 season, according to STATS.
“We came out with a victory on the road against a really tough team,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “It was a hard-fought win. Proud of the players, but that’s the only thing that means (anything) today.
“I mean first place, you don’t get any prizes for first place there nine games into the season.”
Johnson’s ninth touchdown grab of the season was the 63rd of his career, breaking a tie with Herman Moore for the Detroit record. Moore still leads with 670 career receptions for the Lions, but Johnson might take that record down at some point, too.
“To be a part of history for the Lions, that’s a big deal,” Johnson said.
Cutler threw for 250 yards and a touchdown in his first action since he injured his groin last month. He injured his left ankle in the second quarter and looked progressively worse as the game wore on.
Coach Marc Trestman finally decided to put in Josh McCown before the Bears’ final drive.
“I didn’t want to take him out unless he felt he couldn’t do the job,” Trestman said. “It was, I thought, a very courageous performance throughout. Then at the end I took him out because I knew he would have to run around in the two-minute drill and that’s when we decided to put Josh in the game.”
McCown drove the Bears down the field, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall with 40 seconds left.
After a roughing penalty on Willie Young gave the Bears another chance at the tying 2-point conversion, Nick Fairley threw Matt Forte down in the backfield to preserve the win for Detroit.
“I just figured it would be a run or a play-action pass,” Fairley said. “I just scouted out the ball real good and it was just happy I made the play.”
Stafford threw for 219 yards for Detroit, which has won two in a row for the first time since the end of September. Johnson had six catches for 83 yards.
The Lions were clinging to a 14-10 lead when Chris Conte intercepted an overthrown ball by Stafford and returned it 35 yards to the Detroit 9.
Forte then had a touchdown run negated by a holding penalty on left guard Matt Slauson and an apparent scoring pass to Alshon Jeffery was overturned when a replay showed he lost control of the ball when he hit the ground.
Robbie Gould’s 32-yard field goal trimmed the Lions’ lead to one with 9:17 remaining, setting the stage for the frantic finish.
It was Cutler’s first game since he was sacked by Redskins nose tackle Chris Baker in the first half of Chicago’s 45-41 loss at Washington on Oct. 20. He had to be helped off the field, and an MRI revealed a torn groin muscle that was expected to sideline the quarterback for at least four weeks.
Cutler had other ideas.
The Bears had a bye week after the Washington loss, and Cutler watched while McCown led Chicago to a big 27-20 victory at Green Bay last Monday. Cutler then was cleared to play on Thursday and made the start against Detroit with the Lions, Bears and Packers all tied for the NFC North lead entering the day.
He insisted he was 100 percent, but it was clear his groin was bothering him more and more as the game wore on. He grabbed his groin area and dropped to the ground after one third-quarter throw. He then popped right back up and remained in the game.
“It held up OK. It’s all on the same leg so I think that was a problem,” said Cutler, referring the groin and ankle injuries. “But the groin, you take the ankle out of the equation and I would have been fine, I think.”
Cutler threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Marshall on the first drive of the game. But he also had a pass tipped by Ndamukong Suh and grabbed by DeAndre Levy in the end zone for the linebacker’s fifth interception.
BEARS-LIONS NOTES: Levy began the day tied with seven other players for the NFL lead in interceptions. … Each team played without a key defensive end. Detroit rookie Ziggy Ansah was out with a left ankle injury, and Chicago’s Shea McClellin tweaked a hamstring during practice after he had three sacks in the victory at Green Bay. … Lions RB Montell Owens left in the first quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
PACKERS FALL WITH ANOTHER QB HURT
Aaron Rodgers carried a clipboard. Seneca Wallace wore a knit cap and a downtrodden look relegated to the sideline with a sore groin.
Ravaged again by injuries, the Packers still got a good performance out of third-string quarterback and former practice squad player Scott Tolzien considering the circumstances.
As it turns out, quarterback may not have been the biggest concern for coach Mike McCarthy following a 27-13 loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles .
“We had a lot of tough situations today, no excuses,” McCarthy said. “I thought Scott Tolzien played as well as could be expected.”
Tolzien, who played in college at Wisconsin, entered after Wallace left following the first series with the groin injury. Rodgers was already out with a fractured left collarbone suffered in a Monday night loss to the Bears.
Tolzien was 24 for 39 with 280 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. He zipped a 22-yard pass to Brandon Bostick with 3:29 left in the third quarter to cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-10.
Nick Foles was better.
A week after tying the NFL record by passing for seven TDs, Foles threw for three long touchdowns.
Foles found DeSean Jackson for a 55-yard score in the first half. Touchdown passes to Riley Cooper from 45 and 32 yards highlighted a 17-point second half for the up-tempo Eagles.
“He has great poise,” Cooper said about Foles. “He’s going to sit in the pocket and kind of dissect the defense.”
Philadelphia handed Green Bay its first back-to-back home losses since 2008, Aaron Rodgers’ first season as the starting quarterback. It was the worst home loss for the Packers since falling 38-10 to the New York Jets on Dec. 3, 2006.
The Eagles, the NFL’s road warriors, improved to 5-5, with all their victories coming away from Philly.
They won a battle of attrition at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“You’ve got to win your home games,” McCarthy said. “We’ve lost two in six days and this stings.”
Foles exposed Green Bay’s secondary in the second half. Cooper was wide open on both of his long scores, rolling over the goal line on his 45-yard TD catch after being untouched on the ground, then working his way free toward the left sideline after Morgan Burnet slipped for a 32-yard score to make it 27-10 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
Linebacker Clay Matthews returned after a four-game absence, wearing a large, black wrap to protect his injured right thumb. The Packers did manage three sacks, but pass-rushing specialist Matthews was neutralized mostly by the tricky, quick-strike Eagles.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this, where we can’t stop a team in the last two weeks,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “Need the ball back for your offense, and whatever they ran worked.”
The Packers won’t use injuries as an excuse. Still, health issues have exacted a heavy toll.
Start at quarterback, where until last week, Green Bay had just three starters over the last 22 years — Brett Favre (253 games), Rodgers (86) and Matt Flynn (two).
Wallace was 5 for 5 for 25 yards before leaving with his injury. McCarthy was so impressed with Tolzien’s day that he anointed him the starter for next week’s game at the Giants.
“I thought he played really well, for a guy that was on the practice squad and that they just signed and got him in there,” Kelly said.
Already without Rodgers and Wallace, Green Bay lost two starting offensive linemen in center Evan Dietrich-Smith and right tackle Don Barclay to knee injuries.
That left guard T.J. Lang, who was returning from a concussion, to slide over to center — meaning the Packers went most of the game with a third-string quarterback and backup center.
Cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and linebacker Nick Perry (foot) also left after re-aggravating injuries.
LeSean McCoy finished with 155 yards on 25 carries, the second straight week that Green Bay’s typically staunch run defense had allowed a 100-yard rusher. McCoy softened the Packers with runs of 9 and 25 yards on the Eagles’ first series of the second half before Foles found Cooper for the 45-yard score and a 17-3 lead.
Foles finished 12 of 18 for 228 yards. He still hasn’t thrown an interception this season. It could be tough for Michael Vick to get his starting job back any time soon. He was inactive a second straight week with a hamstring injury.
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