DETROIT — Bears cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc celebrated his first NFL interception and first NFL touchdown before he even reached the end zone. But he didn’t celebrate for long.
“It cuts deep,” the Bears undrafted rookie cornerback said after his game-turning 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter went for naught in a 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field. “The play doesn’t even matter if we don’t come out with a win. I love all these guys to death, like brothers. It just hurts.”
LeBlanc’s glorious moment and ultimate disappointment told the tale of an encouraging and frustrating day for the Bears, their defense and particularly the secondary. Safety Harold Jones-Quartey, starting for Adrian Amos, was burned for a 48-yard pass on an underthrown deep ball and replaced by Amos in the second half. Cornerback Tracy Porter tried to gut out an illness but took himself out after a 38-yard pass-interference penalty and an illegal contact infraction late in the first half.
Bryce Callahan’s pass defense against Golden Tate in the end zone in the fourth quarter led to a deflection that Demontre Hurst caught for an interception. But on the Lions’ winning touchdown drive, Callahan was called for pass interference and came up empty when he and Marvin Jones shared possession of a Stafford pass and Jones ended up with an eight-yard reception instead of Calling nabbing another Bears interception.
Coach John Fox’s assessment of the secondary was as accurate as it was succinct. “Just short of winning — kind of like the rest of us,” Fox said.
In the big picture, the Bears will accentuate the positive. Even without Porter at full strength — or at all in the second half — the Bears were much better against Stafford in the second half. The Lions quarterback, who came in with 14 touchdown passes and only one interception in eight games since the Bears picked him twice in a victory at Soldier Field, was 16-of-23 for 176 yards and a touchdown for a 106.4 passer rating as the Lions took a 10-3 lead at halftime.
But in the second half, Stafford was 5-of-12 for 47 yards and the two interceptions for a 13.5 rating. It gave them four interceptions of Stafford in two games this season — by the unheralded foursome of LeBlanc, Hurst, Deiondre Hall and Jacoby Glenn. The rest of the league has three picks of Stafford in 11 games.
And while Hurst was in the right place at the right time — like Hall and Glenn were when they intercepted Stafford in Week 4 — LeBlanc simply beat veteran Anquan Boldin at his own game for a stunning defensive touchdown. On a third-and five play from the Lions 14-yard line, the 5-9, 191-pound rookie from Florida Atlantic stepped in front of the 6-1, 220-pound Boldin — who moved into 10th place on the NFL’s all-time list for receptions Sunday — for a no-doubt-about-it touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-13 lead with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter.
“I know what type of receiver he is,” LeBlanc said. “He’s a gig guy, a slower guy. Phenomenal player — push-off from time to time, and being that I’m smaller than he is, I knew he would try to get into me — create separation that way. so that’s what he tried to do. I was firm in my coverage.
“I knew he wasn’t going to out-run me. I knew he was running something short. And I was right. He ran a quick-out route. I got my head around for the ball and Matthew Stafford threw it right to me.
LeBlanc’s first interception at Florida Atlantic also was a pick 6.
“Once I picked it and I was in front of the receiver, I knew I wasn’t going to let anybody catch me,” LeBlanc said. “It was a great feeling.”
For awhile, anyway.