By Chris Emma–

DETROIT, Mich. (CBS) — Whether it’s fair or not, resilience in this league is only revealed in your record. Moral victories don’t count for much.

Given his story, Bears quarterback Matt Barkley deserves to be proud for admirable play in his first three NFL starts. He’s given the Bears a chance, which is something. But the resilience he speaks of hasn’t brought victories.

The Lions have been resilient all season. They were once again Sunday at Ford Field, earning their eighth comeback victory and ninth overall in a 20-17 victory over the Bears. MVP candidate Matthew Stafford scrambled for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Barkley’s bunch blew its chance with two costly penalties and more drops.

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“When everybody is playing at an elite level in this league, you have to be elite to win,” Barkley said. “We beat ourselves with penalties or missed balls or dropped balls or missed reads.”

Believe it or not, these two rivals shared the same record 10 weeks ago when the Bears’ win brought them and the Lions both to 1-3. Since then, Detroit has won eight games and surged into the NFC North lead. Chicago was officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, now 3-10 on the season.

Oh, what might have for the Bears, who were built to potentially contend in a division that has proved to be weak. Instead, they dropped winnable games early in the season, and a grand total of 15 players going to injured reserve crushed any chance of contending.

The Bears could’ve done what the Lions have, taking advantage of the Packers’ inconsistencies and Vikings’ disasters by being an opportune football team. For all their issues, the Bears have lost mostly because of self-inflicted wounds. In this loss, 11 penalties for 139 yards proved to be the difference.

Sunday offered a microcosm of these two teams’ seasons. The Lions keep finding ways to wins, the Bears keep finding ways to lose.

Cam Meredith ran the Bears into range for a game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter. He then turned around and saw the yellow flag in the backfield. Holding, No. 72, offense. Then came a Barkley strike to Daniel Braverman, bailing out Charles Leno’s penalty. It was wiped away. Holding, No. 62, offense.

“That kind of stuff, you just got to learn to play through it,” Meredith said.

Frankly, this season has been a major learning experience for the Bears. Coach John Fox offered his pride for the players’ fight, as did Barkley. The execution has been lacking.

As Stafford eyed the end zone for the winning score, the Bears froze. He ran right through would-be tacklers, with linebacker John Timu missing on a chance to keep him from the goal line. The suspended Jerrell Freeman or injured Danny Trevathan would’ve made that play.

Barkley’s fourth-and-forever pass hit Josh Bellamy in the hands. You better believe the suspended Alshon Jeffery makes that catch.

“Our margin for error is very minimal,” Fox said.

Watching down from the press box, general manager Ryan Pace and his front office team can consider the ways in which the Bears can upgrade this offseason. Evaluating the quarterback position is the first and most important priority, and Barkley may factor into the decision. Defensively, the front seven has been strong, but the secondary is a primary concern.

Fox was left juggling young players at safety and cornerback, looking for something — anything — to give his defense a chance against Stafford. Eventually, Cre’Von LeBlanc rewarded his coach’s confidence by jumping a route and returning an interception to the end zone. He high-stepped like Deion Sanders. Not bad for an undrafted rookie signed over in September.

Back came Stafford and the Lions, ready to respond for another fourth-quarter comeback.

“That was a bad play,” Stafford said to reporters of his pick. “Doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad you’ve got to flush them and move on. They teach you that in Quarterback 101, and it’s something that really pays off. You’ve just got to move on to the next play. I think those guys believe in me. I believe in those guys in the huddle. I think everybody knew it was my fault, and just go from there and try to make up for it. We were able to.”

Ultimately, Stafford and the Lions were the resilient bunch once again. They’re a step closer to clinching their first division title since 1993.

The Bears are only good enough for moral victories. Resilient, they are not.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.