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Bears gear up to face red-hot Stafford

The Bears defense dominated the Lions Oct. 2 at Soldier Field, not allowing a touchdown and intercepting two Matthew Stafford passes in a 17-14 win.

Since Detroit dropped to 1-3 with that loss, however, Stafford has sparked a major resurgence, passing for 14 touchdowns and one interception in leading his team to a 7-1 mark.

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Lions quarterback Matt Stafford has thrown 21 TD passes and just five interceptions in 12 games this year.

The hot streak has put the Lions (8-4) atop the NFC North—two games ahead of the Packers (6-6) and Vikings (6-6)—heading into Sunday's rematch against the Bears at Ford Field.

"He's playing well," Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Stafford. "He's playing very efficient. He's using his legs a lot more. He's scrambling to create plays—both create and to throw after a scramble, pulling it down and running for critical first downs."

The 28-year-old quarterback has already rushed for a career-high 178 yards on 30 carries and his 1.2 interception percentage is his lowest in six seasons as Detroit's full-time starter. Stafford has thrown 21 TD passes and just five interceptions in 12 games this year.

"He's pretty much the catalyst of that offense," said Bears coach John Fox. "He's got a good supporting cast. I'm not dissing those guys at all. But he's done it with his feet. He extends plays. He's been accurate. He's been big in the moment."

Not missing Megatron: Interestingly, Stafford's success this year has come without star receiver Calvin Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler who retired this past offseason.

Veteran receiver Golden Tate has helped pick up the slack, leading the Lions with 65 receptions for 762 yards and three touchdowns. The former Notre Dame star had eight catches for 145 yards and one TD last Sunday against the Saints.

"Once he catches the ball, he's an excellent runner with the ball in his hands," Fangio said. "He's a guy that's been a punt returner in his career. He's built like a running back. He's stronger than most receivers. He's very quick, very elusive. He's a hard guy to tackle once he's got it in his hands. That's the reason they give him some wide receiver screens and fly sweeps."

Detroit's passing attack also features receivers Marvin Jones (42 receptions for 730 yards and 4 TDs) and Anquan Boldin (52-432-6) and running back Theo Riddick (53-371-5).

"They throw it quick, but they also throw it down the field, too," Fangio said. "They'll max protect a fair amount and try to get you down the field. They're trying to be very balanced on offense and they're still handing it off and they want to have the play-action game off of that."

Irresponsible reporting: Fox and Fangio both dismissed a newspaper report that Fangio won't return to the Bears next season because there's friction between the two veteran coaches.

Fox said he feels that he and Fangio "get along great" and that "our staff is tremendous ... I couldn't be more proud of our staff. I'll just leave it at I am very, very pleased with our staff."

Asked if he wants Fangio to return in 2017, Fox said: "I want our whole staff back. Now whether that proves to be a reality or not, things happen. Guys get jobs, get head jobs, get chances to advance their careers. Like any of the projection stuff, I just stay away from it."

Fangio told reporters that he expects to be back and criticized the author of the article, saying: "It gives you guys a bad name. He's one of your colleagues and irresponsible reporting doesn't shine well for all of you and that's too bad because I enjoy talking to you guys."

Injury update: Bears who did not practice Wednesday included receivers Eddie Royal (toe) and Marquess Wilson (groin), tackle Mike Adams (back), outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee) and cornerback Tracy Porter (knee).

Players who were limited were receiver Joshua Bellamy (shoulder), outside linebacker Willie Young (knee), inside linebacker Jonathan Anderson (hamstring), safety Adrian Amos (foot) and cornerback Deiondre' Hall (ankle).

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