Monday, November 11, 2013

Detroit Lions 21 at Chicago Bears 19 - November 10, 2013


I had been to Solider Field once before, way back in 1991 when the Bears hosted the Lions on what was the coldest (relative to average) day of the year. The temperature was -15F, which isn't horrible, but I had flown out from Vancouver and was not prepared. It was the coldest I had ever been, and it ruined the entire experience.



So when I planned this trip, I was a bit worried that the same weather situation would play out, but in the end all my concerns were unfounded, as Sunday was a perfect fall day without a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the upper 40s at kickoff. My friend Sharpy had rejoined the trip for the weekend and was hoping to complete the day with the Blackhawks game in the evening, so we parked the car near the United Center and took the "L" over to Roosevelt station, from where we followed many Bears fans over to Soldier Field.



The stadium was first opened in 1924 and was known as Municipal Grant Park Stadium for a year before becoming Soldier Field on November 11, 1925. It serves as a memorial to American soldiers who have died in war, and has a small waterfall with dedications to each branch of service along the north entrance walkway. It was fitting that it would host a game on this Veterans Day Weekend.



The original architecture is Greco-Roman with doric columns everywhere, certainly unique among sports venues in the USA. As the NFL gained in popularity, it became clear that the stadium needed renovations which were carried out during the 2002 season, forcing the Bears to Memorial Stadium in Champaign. When the renovations were unveiled in time for the 2003 campaign, they were universally condemned. As you can see in the photo above, the new elements contrast with the existing structure, although it works well as a stadium once you are inside, with a capacity of just 61,500.



Each of the seating areas has distinct features. The north end zone seats (above) are in the sun through much of the day, so you will need sunglasses for those noon starts, ago The west sideline seats (below) are quite steep so you feel like you are on top of the field, while those in the south end zone (second picture below) are shaded and chilly throughout the game, at least in November.





Finally the east sideline seats begin the game in the shade but as the sun moves west they slowly warm up. I would rather sit in the sideline seats in general here because they are much closer to the field than those in the upper end zones.



You are allowed into the lower seats before the game so you can see the players up close. Below is Bears' kicker Robbie Gould.



A picture of the stadium as a whole from the west.



The panorama shot.



The original structure is manifest in many different areas in the stadium and you should definitely get there early and walk around.



There is an outdoor atrium with some historic moments on the facade above.



Don't miss the large area on the west side of the stadium where the Bears display items from their storied history, although the Super Bowl Trophy was not there.



Finally, there are views of Lake Michigan from the top level that are quite nice. Again, an early arrival is important if you want to see everything.



Tickets for this game were the toughest on the trip as it was a key divisional battle with the winner taking first place. I resorted to using a ticket broker as I did not want to stand outside looking for extras when I could be inside touring, but it wasn't cheap. We were in the north end zone though, so at least we had warmth throughout the game. The view from our seats is below.



Same angle with a bit of zoom.



The game was interesting although not particularly memorable. The Bears scored on their first possession as Jay Cutler hit Brandon Marshall with 3 consecutive passes including a beautiful 32-yard touchdown strike. Detroit replied immediately with an 85-yard drive to tie the game as Matthew Stafford (below) found Kris Durham for a 5-yard score. Both teams then punted on their next drive and turned the ball over on downs following that before Cutler led Chicago to the Detroit 4 with just 31 seconds left. A pass intended for Martellus Bennett was tipped and fell to Lions' linebacker  DeAndre Levy who held on for his league-leading 5th pick of the season, which essentially ended the half.



Detroit took the ball to start the second half and Reggie Bush rumbled for 39 yards on just the third play. It was the same play that Bush scored on against the Bears back in Detroit, but this time he was tackled by Charles Tillman at the 8. The tackle was of the illegal horse collar variety, so Detroit moved to the four-yard line, where Stafford immediately hit Calvin Johnson for a touchdown. The play was reviewed and from what I saw on the replay, it looked like it would be overturned, but the call was upheld (correctly I realized after watching a better replay later) and Detroit had the 14-7 lead.



What became clear on the next few drives for Chicago was that they could not run the ball. Matt Forte (above being tackled) could only muster 33 yards on 17 carries and was often tackled for a loss. This forced the Bears into a passing game, but by this time Cutler (below pitching the ball) was also hurt, having suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter, and the team was unable to move consistently, although they did manage a Gould field goal to get within 14-10 as the 3rd quarter ended.



In the fourth, Stafford overthrew Johnson and Chris Conte intercepted, running the ball back to the Detroit 9. On the next play, Forte ran the ball in for a touchdown, but a holding penalty brought that back. Two plays later, Alshon Jeffery caught a pass in the end zone, but a review showed that he lost control as he went out of bounds, nullifying the touchdown. Another Gould field goal made it 14-13 but you could sense that the Bears would pay for those mistakes.



On Detroit's next possession, they drove the ball to Chicago's 27, but David Akers missed the field goal, giving the Bears another chance. However, a Forte rush for -1 yard followed by two Cutler incompletions forced the Bears to punt.  This time the Lions made no mistake, pushing the ball 74 yards in just over 3 minutes, culminating in another TD for Johnson, a franchise-record 64th. After the kickoff, a murmur raced through the crowd as Josh McCown came on to quarterback the Bears. Cutler's injury had become  so it was up McCown to save the day. He had played against Green Bay on the previous Monday, so he was certainly game ready and it showed as he went 6 for 9 and hit Marshall for an 11-yard touchdown with just 47 seconds left. The Bears still trailed 21-19, so a two-point conversion was necessary to force overtime.



On the first attempt, McCown overthrew his receiver, but a roughing the passer penalty gave the Bears another chance, this time from the 1-yard line. They tried to run the ball, but Nick Fairley read the play perfectly and dropped Forte for a loss, ending the game. That's Fairley at the top of the photo above, wrapping his arms around Forte. The Bears finished with just 38 yards on the ground, while the Lions managed 145, including 105 from Bush (the picture below was taken before Stafford knelt on the final play).




This game could have gone either way as both teams made plenty of mistakes, but in the end, it was Chicago's inability to move the ball on the ground that forced a gimpy Cutler to throw more often and he simply wasn't consistent enough. Kudos to the Lions for sweeping Chicago and taking control in the NFC North.


Notes

A couple of years ago, Cutler was savaged in the media and by fellow players for taking himself out of the NFC Championship game after a knee sprain. Seeing the punishment Cutler took today while staying in the game (too long admitted coach Mark Trestman), I think Cutler is tough enough. He may be injury-prone but I would never question the fortitude of a man who gets hit by 350-pound behemoths for a living.

Finally, after the game we had some time to walk along the waterfront. Chicago's skyline is quite beautiful and can be captured in a single panorama shot.



Best,

Sean

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