DETROIT — Matthew Stafford had a notion that the Detroit Lions’ offense would make a dramatic turnaround.
The Lions had not scored a touchdown in their previous two games, but Stafford, the team’s quarterback, liked their body language prior to their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
“I knew in warmups, the way we were going about the game, I knew we were going to have a good game on offense,” he said. “I could feel it.”
Getting the ball to his best receiver consistently made that premonition come true. Calvin Johnson caught two touchdown passes during a record-setting afternoon, leading the Lions to a 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.
Johnson, the team’s perennial All-Pro wide receiver, caught a season-high 11 passes for 146 yards. Stafford passed for a season-high 390 yards.
The Lions (8-4) didn’t use a no-huddle offense, but they tried to play at a faster pace after managing just five field goals in losses to the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. They finally scored a touchdown early in the second quarter and tacked on two more before halftime.
“Hopefully, this game gives us some confidence and a little bit of momentum,” Stafford said. “We played fast. Guys ran out of the huddle, that tempo was great. We were good on first down, giving us manageable third downs for the most part, so all that’s a positive for us.”
Running back Joique Bell rushed for 91 yards and scored twice for the Lions, who moved within a half-game of the Green Bay Packers (8-3) for the NFC North lead.
Bothered by an ankle sprain much of the season, Johnson scored just one touchdown since opening night prior to Thursday. He surpassed the 10,000-yard career receiving mark in his 115th career game, setting the NFL record for fewest games played to hit that milestone. Torry Holt held the previous record at 116 games.
“Whoever makes the big plays on offense, it just breeds confidence for the rest of the team,” Johnson said. “It just gets us going, especially if we do it early.”
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery caught two first-quarter touchdown passes from quarterback Jay Cutler for Chicago (5-7), which had a two-game winning streak snapped. Cutler completed 31 of 48 passes for 280 yards with two interceptions.
“We just didn’t do enough, and it starts with me,” Bears coach Mark Trestman said after seeing his team’s playoff hopes dwindle. “I’m looking inside and accepting accountability for this loss. We just couldn’t get it done today. We didn’t have enough ammunition to stop them or continue drives.”
Chicago’s reliance on short passes became increasingly ineffective as the game wore on. Cutler was sacked three times and the Bears only rushed for 13 yards on eight carries.
“We went into the game thinking some of these shorter passes would be an extension of our run game, some longer handoffs,” Cutler said. “It worked early on, and then we had to try to push the ball down the field a little bit.”
Led by the Stafford-Johnson connection, the Lions scored 21 consecutive points in the second quarter to take a 24-14 halftime lead.
The Bears grabbed an 11-point lead late in the first quarter after a Stafford turnover. The Detroit quarterback fumbled inside his own 10-yard line on a strip sack by defensive end Jared Allen, who recovered the ball. Jeffery then scored his second touchdown with a leaping catch of a throw from a backpedaling Cutler.
Johnson’s first touchdown was the team’s first in three games. He soared through the air between two defenders to haul in Stafford’s 25-yard strike.
Bell extended the ball just over the goal line on fourth down with 3:18 left in the half to put Detroit on top 17-14. The Lions boosted their lead with 24 seconds remaining in the half on Johnson’s 6-yard catch near the left corner of the zone.
Robbie Gould’s 35-yard field goal capped Chicago’s opening drive of the second half, cutting the Lions’ lead to 24-17.
Bell’s second 1-yard touchdown, on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Matt Prater’s 40-yard field goal completed the scoring.
NOTES: Lions RB Reggie Bush was sidelined for the fifth time in seven games due to an ankle injury. Starting LT Riley Reiff and RG Larry Warford and DT Nick Fairley were inactive because of knee injuries. … LB Lance Briggs (groin), DT Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) and WR/KR Chris Williams (hamstring) were among the Bears’ inactives. Chicago DE Cornelius Washington (chest) and S Chris Conte (eye) departed during the first half. … C Dominic Raiola became the first Lions player to start 200 career games. … The Lions had not played the Bears on Thanksgiving since Detroit’s 21-7 victory in 1999. … Detroit played on the holiday for the 75th time, and it improved its record in those games to 35-38-2. … Chicago leads the all-time series 96-68-5.