Detroit Lions again finish strong to beat Bears and complete division road sweep
CHICAGO — The Lions surrendered 200-plus rushing yards and a 10-0 first-quarter lead for the second time in as many weeks on Sunday to opponents with a combined record of 3-17.
Detroit also improved to 2-0 over that stretch and 6-4 on the season with another game-winning drive by Matthew Stafford and clutch kick by Matt Prater to defeat the Bears — 27-24 at Soldier Field — and complete a road division sweep.
Indeed, the Lions have a nasty habit of digging some precarious holes before turning to their best weapons in crunch time.
“I liked the fight we had in us,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think we all recognize the fact that we put ourselves in that early position but I liked the way we came out of it. Oftentimes, particularly on the road, some teams take a nosedive when they get behind and don’t come back.”
But for all the tenuous positions Detroit has put itself in games this season, it’s in an excellent spot entering the stretch run: returning home following a third consecutive victory to entertain the Vikings in four days on Thanksgiving for a game that could very well decide the division.
Detroit already owns a head-to-head victory over Minnesota, 14-7 in Week 4, when 10 of the Lions’ 14 points came off turnovers. It also has an easier path the rest of the way than the Vikings, who face back-to-back NFC South road games with Atlanta and Carolina in Weeks 13 and 14, respectively.
However, Minnesota improved to 8-2 on Sunday by dispatching the first-place Rams, 24-7 at home, in a game without the weekly drama in which Detroit thrives.
The latest example started with a franchise record-tying fifth defensive touchdown — a 27-yard scoop-and-score of a Mitch Trubisky fumble by D.J. Hayden — helping Stafford shake off his own early turnover and aiding the Lions’ recovery from another lifeless start. Following Stafford’s early fumble, he engineered touchdown drives spanning 86 and 72 yards to give the Lions a 21-17 lead at intermission.
After a scoreless third quarter, Detroit tacked onto its lead with a 27-yard field goal by Prater to make it 24-17 early in the fourth. But the Lions run ‘D’ let Cohen punctuate a major response by the Bears — their second 78-yard touchdown drive of the afternoon, capped by a 15-yard Cohen scoring scamper on which Detroit lost contain to the left.
Stafford, then, overcame a holding penalty by T.J. Lang and drop by Kenny Golladay to pick up a pair of first downs and position Prater for a booming 52-yarder with 1:35 left to retake the lead, 27-24.
“I was honestly just trying to feel the wind and it was gusting pretty good,” Stafford said of Prater’s game-winner. “I think right around the time we snapped it, it quieted down a little bit but man it was still blowing. That’s a hell of a kick! I got a lot of confidence in that guy. He has a lot of confidence in himself, which is awesome. As a team you send that guy out there and more often than not he’s helping you out.”
A wild 19-yard scramble by Trubisky on fourth-and-19 on Chicago’s final series positioned Connor Barth for a would-be game-tying kick from 46 yards away. Except Barth couldn’t have been more un-Prater-like, missing wide right and sealing the Lions’ fourth victory in five tries away from Ford Field.
So are the Lions, at 6-4, with the division’s most clutch and experienced quarterback and record, the favorite to overtake Minnesota for their first division crown since 1993? If so, they’re obviously not saying as much. But there’s a clear confidence with this team, hammered home in the visitor’s locker room by the always confident Darius Slay.
“We lit. We know what time it is come next week,” said Slay. “We got a great opponent coming in. They’ve got a solid defense coming in... not even solid, they’re pretty damn good defense. So we know we got to come out here and straight dominate their offense the best way we can to make sure we give 9 (Stafford) a chance to put points on the board.”
The Lions, try as they might, won’t let getting in their own way sink them. The next challenge is refusing to let Minnesota remain in their path. After the Thanksgiving battle, the Lions visit Baltimore and Tampa Bay prior to Week 15 and Week 17 home games with the Bears and Packers, respectively, flanking the Bengals on the road.
But Slay, after being asked whether a veteran team had to resist the urge to look past Chicago, promised the Lions will take things one game at a time.
“We know how to take a lot of stuff. Our coach put us in great position to prepare us for this kind of stuff. And we know, wherever we go, we’re hungry. We’re coming to eat. They got the food, and we got to come and take it off their plate.”