O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: Big 21-19 win for Lions puts them in first place alone in the NFC North

Posted Nov 10, 2013

Mike O'Hara on the scores, penalties and strategy in the Lions' 21-19 win at Chicago

CHICAGO – Burning questions – big scores, big penalties, big drops, coaching strategy and a big win for the Lions – all of that in a 21-19 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday that put the Lions in first place alone in the NFC North.

Q. Wrap it all up – the good plays, the bad ones, everything in between. What was the bottom line outcome for the Lions.

A. Sum it up in two words: first place.

Nothing else matters. Coach Jim Schwartz and his staff will look at the game tapes and make corrections, but they’ll do it from a position that they haven’t experienced in a long time this late in the season. That’s first place in the division.

Q. What made the difference?

A. It boiled down to two exchanges after the score was 14-13. After David Akers missed a field-goal attempt that would have made it 17-13, the defense held on downs and forced a punt.

That gave the ball to the Lions at their 26, and the stars delivered – Matthew Stafford’s arm, Calvin Johnson’s hands and Reggie Bush’s legs. They were the stars – with the offensive line giving Stafford protection to throw.

The 14-yard TD pass to Johnson on third down was as big a pressure throw and Stafford’s leap was a pressure play in the victory over Dallas in the last game.

The stars are supposed to shine, and they did. But so did some guys on defense.

Q. Defensive penalties: How upset will Schwartz be about two defensive penalties on the Bears’ TD drive that almost tied the game and put it in overtime?

A. I’d like to have a voice recorder of his thoughts on those two penalties. First, Nick Fairley gave the Bears an extra 15 yards for throwing down Bears QB Josh McCown after a completion. And when a two-point conversion failed, the Bears got another chance because of a penalty against Willie Young for a blow to McCown’s head.

Schwartz can address those in meetings this week – and do it strongly. But Sunday was a day to celebrate. The Lions deserve it.

Q. TD review: Officials signaled touchdown on Alshon Jeffery’s catch in the right corner of the end zone with 9:22 left. However, after viewing the replay, referee Bill Leavy overturned the call, saying Jeffery had bobbled the catch.

Two plays earlier, a TD run by Matt Forte was called back on a holding penalty. How lucky were the Lions in that situation to escape with the Bears getting a field goal to make it 14-13 instead of a go-ahead TD and a 17-14 lead?

A. First things first, I don’t think any coach tells his defense to give up a couple TD plays and let the officials decide to take them away. So yes, there was some luck involved.

It was a huge exchange, and the Bears had only themselves to blame.

Q. Rule 1 – punter fair game: Late in the first quarter, Lions punter Sam Martin was hit after making contact with the ball. The punt travelled 34 yards. Why was there no penalty for running into the punter or roughing the punter?

A. Martin fielded the snap from Don Muhlbach on a short hop. By rule, when the ball hits the ground – even in situations like that one – there is no roughing penalty when the defensive player gets a legal hit. That doesn’t mean the punt-rush team can hit the punter in the head or pull his face mask.

It was legal contact by the rusher and no penalty.

It also was a good play by Martin. He kept his cool, stood in and got the ball off. He didn’t panic.

Q. Rule 1 – sack on penalty: Also in the first quarter, Ndamukong Suh dropped Jay Cutler for a sack, but, but Willie Young was penalized for grabbing Cutler’s face mask. Instead of forcing a punt on fourth down, the Bears got a first down and kept the ball.

Why was Suh given a sack?

A. Again, it’s another rules interpretation, and it makes sense. The sack is credited because it resulted in a loss of yardage. The penalty – 15 yards in this case – is assessed from the spot of the foul.

The sack was a nine-yard loss, back to the Bears’ eight-yard line. The Bears got a first down at the 23. They wound up punting, so the penalty did not cost them.

Q. Bears strategy: They had fourth and one at the Lions’ 27 early in the second quarter with the score 7-7. Coach Marc Trestman went for it, bypassing the field goal. The Lions stopped Michael Bush for no gain and got the ball.

Right call by Trestman?

A. He’s an aggressive coach, and he likes to go for it. I understand it. But it’s not what I would have done. With the Lions getting the second-half kickoff, I would have taken the points. Kick the field goal, for a 10-7 lead.

Q. Lions strategy: After holding on fourth down, the Lions got to the Bears’ 31 with a fourth and one. They went for it, and Matthew Stafford’s pass meant for Calvin Johnson was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Bears’ safety Chris Conte. He leaped to get a hand on the ball.

Right call to go for it by Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz?

A. Yes. It’s what I would have done. The circumstances were different, including the wind, and the fact that the road team had a chance to take the lead. I would have gone for it, without hesitation.

Q. Weren’t the situations the same?

A. Similar, but not identical. On the road, I’m more willing to take chances. You want your team to attack, not feel like it’s absorbing punches all day.

Q. What was described as a severe groin injury kept Cutler from starting the last game – a win at Green Bay on Monday night. It looked like the injury was bothering him, particularly in the second half. How much was Cutler limited?

A. It seemed obvious from the beginning that Cutler was healthy enough to play, but not healthy enough to play at his usual level. When he’s 100 percent, Cutler dances in the pocket. He can slide away from pressure, and he can run away from it – whatever it takes to escape the rush.

He wasn’t nearly as dynamic physically Sunday. He made some big plays with his arm, but he wasn’t nearly as dangerous. Even though the Lions had trouble getting him down, pressure affected Cutler in a way it would have had he been at full strength.

Q. Levy levies hit: On a third-quarter drive that ended in a Bears field goal, DeAndre Levy blitzed from Cutler’s left and hit him below the belt just as Cutler was delivering the ball. Cutler went down on his knees and got up slowly.

Were the Lions’ targeting Cutler’s injured area?

A. No doubt, they were hitting him anywhere they could legally. Players can’t hit quarterbacks late, in the head or in the knees. That means the target is somewhere in the middle. He finally left the game before the last drive with a sprained ankle.

Teams play man-to-man defense. On Levy’s hit on Cutler, it was man to manhood.