DETROIT — When Jay Cutler guided Chicago’s offense down the field for a touchdown on its first drive of the game, the Bears never once tried to run the ball.
It turned out that was a bad sign.
Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards with two first-half touchdowns, and the Detroit Lions boosted their postseason hopes with a 34-17 victory over Chicago on Thursday. The Bears were held to 13 yards on eight carries by the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.
Instead of trying to establish any sort of running game, Chicago used sort passes early on, but that only took the Bears so far.
“That front four is so good that we felt we needed to get them running sideline to sideline, and that was the best way to do it,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We got off to a quick start, but we weren’t able to maintain it.”
After losing at Arizona and New England and falling out of first place in the NFC North, the Lions (8-4) spotted Chicago a 14-3 first-quarter lead before rallying with relative ease in the second. Johnson had perhaps his best game of the season, and Detroit finally showed a bit of life offensively.
Joique Bell ran for two touchdowns for the Lions, and Cutler threw two TD passes for Chicago (5-7). Detroit’s Matthew Stafford went 34 of 45 for 390 yards with the two touchdown passes to Johnson.
Detroit had not scored this many points since a 35-14 win over the New York Giants in the season opener.
Chicago’s Matt Forte was a non-factor on the ground, finishing with 6 yards on five carries. Cutler went 31 of 48 for 280 yards with two fourth-quarter interceptions.
“They’ve got a really good front four, so we went to a lot of three-step drops and tried to use short passes as handoffs to try to break up their rush. It worked early, but we had short fields,” Cutler said. “After that, we started having to throw the ball down the field a little more and they were able to take advantage of that.”
Johnson had been held under 60 yards in two of three games since returning from an ankle injury, and there were rumblings that the 29-year-old receiver was slowing down. His first half Thursday was an emphatic response: nine catches for 109 yards.
“Guys still believe in what we got going here,” Johnson said. “We had a good week of practice — it was a very short week, but we were very detailed in what we did on the field, coaches taking care of us. It’s our part to come out here and do our job on the field.”
The Bears opened the scoring on Cutler’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, and they scored again after Jared Allen sacked Stafford, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Detroit 5. Cutler’s 6-yard scoring pass to Jeffery made it 14-3 with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
Stafford, however, was brilliant in the second. Johnson made a leaping catch for a 25-yard touchdown, holding on despite a hit from defensive back Kyle Fuller. That was the first time Detroit had reached the end zone since Nov. 9 against Miami — and a sign that the Lions were shaking off some of the problems with their passing game.
“I don’t know that they really did anything that we didn’t expect, although they didn’t have the drops that we’ve seen on film, or make the other mistakes that shut down offenses,” Trestman said. “We were the ones that had those, especially penalties that took us out of good positions.”
Bell put the Lions ahead with a 1-yard scoring run on fourth down — leaping toward the goal line and extending the ball just far enough for a touchdown. Stafford’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Johnson made it 24-14 with 24 seconds left in the half.
Stafford went 22 of 26 for 275 yards in the first half, and Johnson set a record as the fastest to 10,000 yards receiving, surpassing that milestone in the second quarter of his 115th game.
Bell’s 1-yard run in the fourth was the only touchdown of the second half.
NOTES: Chicago lost S Chris Conte early on because of an eye injury. … Detroit C Dominic Raiola became the first Lions player to start 200 games. … Lions WR Corey Fuller caught a 21-yard pass in the first half, and his brother Kyle — the Chicago CB — came over and playfully knocked the ball out of his hands after the play.
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