The Bears didn't return an interception for a touchdown for the first time in four games, but that didn't detract from another dominant defensive performance Monday night at Soldier Field.
The unit suffocated the Lions in a bruising 13-7 victory, generating three takeaways and holding Detroit scoreless until allowing a touchdown pass with :30 remaining in the game. The Bears had a fourth takeaway on special teams, recovering a muffed punt.
"You can go in and talk to any of our defensive players," said coach Lovie Smith. "They'll tell you it's not a good defensive effort unless we're taking the ball away. That's what leads to wins, and you see it time after time."
Charles Tillman had another stellar game, containing Lions Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson, who was targeted 11 times but caught only three passes for 34 yards.
"That's tough duty playing against one of the best players in the league, matching up with him all night," Smith said. "He did an outstanding job of really holding him to very little."
Offensively, Jay Cutler produced the Bears' only touchdown of the game on their first possession when he hit Brandon Marshall with a seven-yard pass, resulting in a 7-0 lead.
Cutler suffered bruised ribs when he was sacked by Ndamukong Suh late in the second quarter. The Bears quarterback sat out one play, returned for one snap and then missed the final series of the first half while being evaluated in the locker room. Cutler then played the entire second half.
"Whenever you don't finish a half, there is concern," Smith said. "But he was able to come back out for the second half and at least perform well enough for us to get the win."
In registering their fourth straight victory, the Bears (5-1) regained a half-game lead over the Vikings (5-2) atop the NFC North. The Packers (4-3) are third, followed by the Lions (2-4).
Cutler threw for only 150 yards, completing 16 of 31 passes while being sacked five times. But the Bears offense generated 171 yards on the ground and didn't commit any turnovers.
"Offensively, we did what we had to do," Smith said. "We were able to get our running game going and then rely on our defense. When you're playing defense like that and get a lead, you've got to be able to run the football and we were able to tonight."
Matt Forte rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries, including a season-long 39-yard run to the Detroit 7 that set up Cutler's TD pass to Marshall on the next play.
"When you have a back like Matt Forte and he gets going, it just opens everything up for the offense," said Marshall, who had six receptions for 81 yards.
Cutler's season-long 24-yard scramble led to Robbie Gould's 39-yard field goal, which gave the Bears a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.
"We thought coming into the game it would be this type of football game," Smith said. "When you get into your division and it's a rival of yours and a lot is at stake, you assume that it would be this tight. That's why it's so important for us to start fast."
The Bears defense was stifling early, allowing just 37 yards and one first down while forcing five three-and-outs on the Lions' first six possessions.
When the Lions finally moved the ball deep into Chicago territory for the first time late in the first half, Lance Briggs stripped the ball from running back Mikel Leshoure and Julius Peppers recovered at the Bears' 22.
The Bears generated two more takeaways in the third quarter. The first came when Zack Bowman recovered Stefan Logan's muffed punt at the Lions' 27. That set up Gould's 21-yard field goal, widening the margin to 13-0 with 11:20 left in the period.
The second came inside the Chicago 1. On second-and-goal at the 1, Lions running back Joique Bell dove toward the end zone and lost the ball about an inch from the goal line as he reached it out in front of him. Brian Urlacher scooped up the fumble and returned it to the five.
The Bears stopped the Lions again, this time on three straight plays from the Chicago 3. On fourth-and-goal, Peppers and Henry Melton pressured Matthew Stafford, whose pass along the sideline was intercepted by nickel back D.J. Moore.
Stafford later rifled a 12-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ryan Broyles with :30 to play. But Earl Bennett recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve the win.