Detroit — For the second consecutive year, the Detroit Lions jumped out to a three-score lead in the season-opener. And for the second consecutive year, they suffered a meltdown in the fourth quarter.
Following a Matthew Stafford interception on a forced throw into a nonexistent window, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky connected with wide receiver Anthony Miller from 27 yards out to seal the improbable comeback.
A Stafford pass into the end zone was deflected away as time expired, sealing the 27-23 loss on Sunday at Ford Field.
And to think, the Lions had everything going their way entering the final quarter. Riding a wave of momentum from a quick-strike touchdown late in the first half, and a defense that repeatedly bent but didn’t break until late, the Lions found themselves up 23-6.
In front of 65,000 empty seats — a reminder of the ongoing pandemic — both offenses struggled to find their footing in the early going of the contest, trading three-and-outs and field goals through much of the first half. But the Lions found a spark at the end of the second quarter when Jamal Agnew returned a punt 19 yards with under a minute remaining.
Stafford took advantage of the starting field position just across midfield, connecting on three quick passes, including a 24-yarder to tight end T.J. Hockenson down to the the 1-yard line. Rookie running back D’Andre Swift took it from there, punching it across the goal line to put the Lions up 13-6.
Getting the ball to start the third quarter, Detroit built on the lead, driving 72 yards on eight plays. Again, Stafford was sharp, connecting on all four of his throws and capping the series by squeezing one into Hockenson from 4 yards out.
Making his first start since Nov. 3, 2019, Stafford was enjoying an efficient afternoon before the critical mistake late in the contest. He finished completing 24 of his 42 passes for 297 yards yards, one touchdown and the interception.
Following a Bears punt, recently acquired running back Adrian Peterson went to work for the Lions, touching the ball four straight plays for 41 yards. A pair of penalties against the Bears pushed the Lions across midfield, where they eventually settled for a 44-yard Matt Prater field goal and the 23-6 edge with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
Peterson was excellent in his Detroit debut, rushing for 93 yards on 14 carries.
But the three-score lead was short-lived as the Bears whittled away at the advantage through a tense fourth quarter.
Taking advantage of a depleted Lions defense, which lost cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant to injury and linebacker Jamie Collins to a first-half ejection for contacting an official, Chicago finally found pay dirt early in the final frame. And much like Detroit’s first touchdown, the scoring drive was jump-started by a good return as Cordarrelle Patterson brought a kickoff out of his own end zone to the 41-yard line.
Trubisky completed back-to-back throws for 40 yards and a pitch to Patterson converted a fourth-and-2, setting Trubisky up to find tight end Jimmy Graham from 2 yards out on a fade route, cutting the Lions’ lead to 10.
Again riding Peterson, the Lions looked to respond by driving into Chicago territory, but were left to settle for a 55-yard Prater field-goal attempt after Stafford was sacked. The veteran kicker ended up sending his effort wide right, giving the Bears a short field, which they turned into another touchdown in five plays when Trubisky found receiver Javon Wims in the back corner of the end zone from a yard out.
Detroit finished the collapse when Stafford tried to force a ball to Marvin Jones across the middle into double coverage. The pass deflected off the arm of rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson and was corralled by Kyle Fuller.
Three plays later, Trubisky found Miller down the right sideline for the go-ahead touchdown, beating the coverage of Amani Oruwariye.
The Lions had two shots to reclaim the lead in the closing seconds, but Swift couldn’t hang on to a pass while spinning around to make a grab in the end zone and Stafford’s final throw, to Jones as time expired, was easily deflected away by Johnson.