Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 06:39 PM
CHICAGO (Ticker) -- The Detroit Lions could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory and various other combinations of losses this weekend, but you never would have known it based on their performance against the Chicago Bears.
In their worst effort of the season, the Lions were kept out of the end zone until a meaningless late score and suffered a disappointing 28-10 loss that further scrambled the already muddled NFC playoff picture.
Detroit (8-6) had no answer for Chicago receiver Marcus Robinson, who had a career-high 11 receptions for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
"We did not play well as a team and obviously that has to bother you when you get into a situation like this," Detroit coach Bobby Ross said. "It was really a disheartening loss, a real tough loss on all of us. What we'll have to do now is regroup."
Robinson, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season, caught a seven-yard TD pass from rookie Cade McNown with seven seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Bears (6-8) a 14-3 halftime lead.
The second-year wideout hauled in a 36-yard TD reception eight minutes into the third period and completed the nightmare for the Lions with a 42-yard score eight minutes into the final quarter.
"The coaches gave me an opportunity and I've been making plays all year," Robinson said. "The coaches gave me confidence. I came in and they gave me time to learn the offense. I came in and started playing well. I gained confidence and that's all you need."
On his final touchdown, Robinson came down with the ball after deflecting it in the air and straddled the left sideline as he tightroped the final 10 yards into the end zone.
"I don't know what more we can say about Marcus, 11 catches for 179 yards," Chicago coach Dick Jauron said. "I don't know if I have have seen a better catch than the last one, not only catching the ball but staying in bounds. " McNown, returning as the Bears' starter, completed 26-of-37 passes for 301 yards and the first four-touchdown game of his career. He also fired a four-yard TD strike to Bobby Engram in the second quarter that started the Bears' string of 28 consecutive points.
McNown raised his passing total to 1,144 yards, helping the Bears became just the second team in NFL history to have three quarterbacks pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
The Chicago trio of McNown, Jim Miller and Shane Matthews joined the Miami Dolphins' threesome of Dan Marino, Scott Mitchell and Steve DeBerg, who accomplished the feat in 1993.
"I felt like I played OK, but I don't feel like I did anything sensational out there," said McNown, who also became the first Bears rookie to throw for 300 yards in a game. "I just did what I was asked to do -- get the ball to some exceptional athletes, namely Marcus Robinson, who made some big plays for the team."
Curtis Enis rushed for 69 yards on 22 carries for the Bears, who took control with two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the second period.
The defeat dropped Detroit 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in the NFC Central Division and kept it just a half-game ahead of Minnesota and Green Bay. Tampa Bay is playing at Oakland and the Vikings host the Packers on Monday night.
The Lions came out flat following last week's 23-16 loss in Tampa Bay that knocked them out of first place and were held to Jason Hanson's 24-yard field goal in the first quarter until Charlie Batch scored on a 12-yard run with three minutes left.
Detroit's Gus Frerotte dropped to 0-7 in his last seven road starts and was replaced in the fouth quarter by Batch, who missed the Lions' last six contests while recovering from a broken thumb.
"I could have started the game," Batch said. "I knew that I had a solid week of practice. The thumb is not getting any worse and it's not getting any better, but it's a standstill and I'm able to deal with the pain."
Frerotte completed 17-of-30 for 158 yards with three interceptions before getting benched. Greg Hill rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries for Detroit.
"I was disappointed (not starting), but he (Ross) made that decision early in the week," Batch said. "Going into today's game, I was ready to play."
The Lions had a chance to extend their 3-0 lead early in the second quarter, but cornerback Terry Cousin picked off Frerotte at the Bears 19 with 13:07 to play in the half.
After an exchange of punts, the Bears marched 47 yards in 13 plays to take the lead for good on Engram's TD reception with 2:48 to play in the half.
The Lions again missed an opportunity to put points on the board as Hanson's 50-yard field goal attempt came up short with 78 seconds left.
McNown executed the two-minute offense to near perfection, driving the Bears 59 yards in seven plays. His 30-yard pass to Engram on the first play of the possession gave Chicago a first down at the Lions 30 before he connected with Robinson for nine yards and a 1st-and-goal at the 4.
A pass interference penalty in the end zone against recently-signed cornerback Dwayne Harper set up McNown's TD pass to a wide-open Robinson in the middle of the end zone.
"I was looking at Cade, like, 'Hurry up, come on and snap the ball," Robinson said. "He was calm and collected and he threw it out there."
The Lions thwarted a potential scoring drive on the opening possession of the second half as safety Ron Rice picked off McNown at the Detroit 9 and returned the interception 33 yards.
But the Lions squandered another golden opportunity as Hill fumbled at the Chicago 30 and the Bears put the contest away on Robinson's second TD catch. Detroit committed four turnovers in the contest.
"We hadn't been turning the ball over," Ross said. "That's something we've done prety well. We haven't been a team that's beaten ourselves. We did that a little bit today. They beat us.
They gave us a licking, too, but those four turnovers certainly affected the outcome of the game."
Detroit reached the Chicago 32 on the ensuing possession, the third straight time it crossed midfield. But the Lions' last chance to climb back in the game ended when Frerotte's pass to Germane Crowell fell incomplete on 4th-and-6 with 2:32 to go in the third quarter.
The Bears snapped a two-game losing streak and avenged a 21-17 loss to the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
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