ANDREW SELIGMAN,AP Sports Writer
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Hard feelings? Bad blood?
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions for the most part did their best to downplay the idea leading into their game on Monday night.
It wasn’t exactly an easy sell.
The way emotions boiled over the last time they met at Soldier Field, it’s safe to wonder if sparks might fly this time, too.
If they do, players and coaches insisted it’ll be because two division rivals are meeting in a game with quite a bit riding on the outcome and not because of the shenanigans last year.
The Bears (4-1) are trying to solidify their spot at the top of the NFC North, while the last-place Lions (2-3) are trying to jump back into the race.
“With anybody in our division, we’re not going to like them and they’re not going to like us,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “It’s a game we want to win and they want to win. It means a lot to each side. We’ve got to do our best to go out and get the W.”
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t taking the bait, either.
“I think both of these teams have a lot of respect for each other and what we can do on the field,” he said. “It’s a division game. We’re rivals. They know what we’re going to do; they know what we’re going to do. It’s just going out there and executing and that’s what makes it physical and intense.”
It was certainly that way last year, when the Bears beat the Lions 37-13 at Soldier Field.
Things were already heated when Chicago’s Tim Jennings picked off Stafford in the fourth quarter and got shoved hard out of bounds by Nate Burleson. As that unfolded, Stafford grabbed Moore by the helmet and threw him to the ground near the Lions sideline, setting off a confrontation that led to Moore’s ejection.
That happened a few plays after the Bears’ Lance Briggs delivered a hard hit on Calvin Johnson, but the tension started earlier in the game.
Cutler had his helmet ripped off by Ndamukong Suh after a run, and he got slammed to the ground by Nick Fairley on a late hit in the third quarter.
It all added up to this: Moore getting fined $15,000 Friday by the NFL for charging into Stafford and Stafford getting hit for $7,500.
“I don’t think it’s bad blood,” Moore said. “I think it’s just a guy was frustrated. He did something, I did something, and then that was pretty much it. I don’t really see it as something that just keeps going. If it happens again, I wouldn’t react any different than I did.”
But for now, he’s feeling nothing but love for the Lions. Right?
“Yeah, hugs and kisses. Birthday wishes,” Moore said, grinning.
Not that they’re expecting this one to be gift-wrapped.
With Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams up front on defense and Stafford and Calvin Johnson leading the offense, the Lions came in with high expectations.
A three-game losing streak nearly derailed them just as the season was starting.
That skid ended last week when they rallied to beat Philadelphia 26-23 in overtime. Now, they have a chance to get back to .500, a small but important step for a team that won 10 games a year ago and made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
They want to show that they’re more than just a one-year wonder, that they’re built to last. Beating Chicago would be a good start.
“We can sit there for a long time and talk about the talent that’s on the field and the respect that we have for them,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “But that means that we’re certainly going to go and give our very best, and we’re going to try to play as tough and as physical as we can. And I think the team that executes the best, the team that plays with the most passion, makes the fewest mistakes, that’s the team that’s going to win — not the team that’s chippiest or anything else. That’s just a side story, I guess.”
It would help if Detroit cut back on the penalties after committing 16 against Philadelphia and if Stafford and Johnson connected in the end zone. That hasn’t happened yet.
Johnson has just one TD catch, and it was on a pass from Shaun Hill. Even so, they just might be the league’s most dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem. If they are, Cutler and Brandon Marshall aren’t far behind.
So there’s another side story.
“They’re awesome,” Stafford said. “They do a heck of a job. They’ve had some really big games this year and they’re really sparking their offense. They are definitely a dangerous combo.”
And Johnson has a big fan in Marshall. Chicago’s prized offseason acquisition, he has 10 receivers that he analyzes on his iPad, hoping to pick up some tips.
Marshall wouldn’t name them all, but he did say Johnson is one.
“I really like what he’s doing,” he said. “I really like where his career is heading. He had an amazing year last year, and a lot of us guys are trying to keep up with the pace he set.”
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