Back home for their traditional Thanksgiving contest, the reeling Detroit Lions are bruised but not necessarily battered.
Though the underachieving Chicago Bears have won two straight over weak competition, they’ve been embarrassed in their last two road games against teams with winning records.
Hoping to ignite a sagging offense and avoid a third consecutive defeat, the Lions try to extend the Bears’ struggles against the NFL’s better teams Thursday.
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Since scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 29 seconds left of a 20-16 home win over Miami on Nov. 9, Detroit (7-4) has been held to five field goals while dropping back-to-back road games to division leaders Arizona and New England.
"If I knew what was wrong, I would have already fixed it," receiver Calvin Johnson said after Sunday’s 34-9 loss to the Patriots. "We still have time to get things going in the right direction."
While that’s true, the Lions now trail first-place Green Bay by one game in the NFC North and are tied with Seattle and San Francisco for the final wild-card spot, which the Seahawks own via the tiebreaker.
"I’m not worried about (the) big picture to be honest with you," coach Jim Caldwell told the Lions’ official website. "I’m worried about our next game and we’ll deal with the big picture later on."
Plagued by nagging injuries to the likes of Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, the Lions rank 28th with 17.9 points per game – 6.8 fewer than last season.
Matthew Stafford completed a career-low 39.1 percent (18 of 46) of his passes against the Patriots and has only two 300-yard games after recording six in 2014. Now the league’s 26th-rated passer, Stafford has thrown six of his 10 interceptions in the last five games.
"Their offense is up and down at times but I’m sure they’ll play well on Thursday," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "They’re reeling a bit, so we’re going to get their very best shot.
"They’re going to be ready for this one."
As Stafford looks to avoid going three straight games without a TD pass for the first time in his career, Johnson is stuck on one touchdown in his last seven contests. He’s been targeted 37 times in three games since missing three with an ankle injury but has just 16 receptions in that span.
Golden Tate, though, has already set career highs with 72 receptions and 1,047 yards to become the first Lion other than Johnson to post a 1,000-yard receiving season since 2006.
Detroit also has struggled to stay healthy on the offensive line, a big reason the teams ranks 30th in rushing yards per game (80.8) and per carry (3.3). Knee injuries could keep guard Larry Warford out a third straight game and tackle Riley Reiff from playing Thursday. Center Dominic Raiola will play while the NFL takes a closer look at his attempted cut block in Sunday’s loss.
"That’s the great part about coaching: we get to see the team during the good times and also during tough stretches, and how we respond," said Caldwell, whose team is 4-1 at home. "That’s what makes a team. That’s when you find out the kind of grit you have, the kind of toughness, the kind of leadership – when things aren’t going quite as nice as you’d like them, see if they can battle through."
Detroit, which snapped a nine-game Thanksgiving Day skid with a 40-10 rout of the Packers last season, faces a Chicago team that allowed 106 points in its last two road games against Green Bay and New England.
The Bears bounced back from those horrid performances to post consecutive 21-13 wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay – teams with a combined six victories and rank 30th and 26th, respectively, in total offense. Chicago could be without linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) for this contest.
Cutler and the Bears are average 6.3 points fewer than last season when they scored an NFC-high 27.8 per game. Things likely won’t get easier against the Lions, who even after Sunday lead the NFL allowing 17.3 points per contest and are third giving up an average of 303.8 yards.
"It’s a tough test, (the Lions) are a heck of a team," said Cutler, who has committed 10 turnovers over the last five games.
Chicago’s immediate goal is to get on the board early after being outscored 41-0 in the first quarter of the last six games.
"We’re just trying to focus on what we can do better and that is to be more consistent on offense and to use opportunities to make plays," coach Marc Trestman said. "We need to do that from start to finish."
Tied for fourth in the league with 72 catches and third with 1,420 scrimmage yards, Matt Forte remains Chicago’s most consistent offensive threat. He totaled 112 yards and rushed for two TDs against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Forte has averaged 95.8 rushing yards and 5.4 per carry in his last five games at Detroit.
Cutler didn’t have an interception in his first five starts at Ford Field before throwing three in last season’s 40-32 loss there. The Bears won seven of their first eight games against the Lions that Cutler started before losing both meetings last season.
Johnson caught three of Stafford’s four TD passes in that sweep, and Bush rushed for a combined 244 yards but could miss a third straight game with an ankle injury.
Chicago is 8-7 at Detroit on Thanksgiving but hasn’t been part of the Lions’ annual tradition since a 21-17 loss in 1999.