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Big-play guys lift Lions by Bears

The Detroit Lions, criticized for their inability to make big plays, made several Sunday.

Mel Gray, who early in the game became the NFL's all-time leader in kickoff-return yardage, took one 102 yards for a touchdown. Barry Sanders rushed for 167 yards. And Detroit's defense forced four turnovers as the Lions ended a three-game losing streak by beating Chicago 21-16. Detroit moved a game ahead of the Bucs, tying Green Bay for third in the NFC Central, while the Bears dropped a game behind division leader Minnesota.

"The good thing is we made a bunch of big plays by a lot of people," said linebacker Chris Spielman, who returned a fumble 25 yards for his first career touchdown.

"We talked about how we haven't been making any, and bam! I really felt it might happen this week. We were making a lot of interceptions in practice."

Despite the turnovers, Chicago had a chance to win in the final minute. Robert Massey broke up Erik Kramer's pass to Nate Lewis at the 10 on fourth and 5 from the Detroit 20 with 41 seconds left.

The Bears, last in the NFL against the rush, surrendered 183 yards rushing as their three-game winning streak ended. An 84-yard run by Sanders _ second-longest of his career, after the 85-yarder in the 24-14 loss to the Bucs Oct.

2 _ set up the Lions' first score.

Gray, whose 7,092 career yards on kickoff returns surpassed the 6,922 by journeyman Ron Smith, went the distance after Chicago closed to 14-10. No Bears defender got near him. The closest was kicker Chris Gardocki, who fell.

"We had sideline returns all day," Gray said, "and I went to (special-teams coach) Steve Kazor and I told him the middle return would be good, because they were flowing to the outside. And sure enough, it was there."

When the Bears got moving again, Milton Mack intercepted Kramer at the Detroit 8. The Lions, who hadn't forced a turnover in their previous three games, intercepted Kramer twice inside the 10 and three times overall.

Kramer, who emerged as the starter for Detroit during its NFC Central title runs of 1991 and 1993, returned for the Bears after missing three games with a separated shoulder. He completed 29 of 48 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns.

Scott Mitchell, whom the Lions signed as a free agent rather than keep Kramer, was 6-of-17 for 59 yards with one touchdown and an interception. "I didn't really feel like we were in the game offensively," Mitchell said.

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