There was a lot on the line for the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
For the first time in a decade, this franchise that has spent the entirety of the new millennium as a punch line was in the national spotlight. After posting an NFL-worst 39-121 record since the turn of the century, the Lions had started this season with four straight victories on the heels of ending last season with four straight victories.
But even with eight consecutive wins, there were still a lot of non-believers out there. So, yes, there was definitely a lot on the line for the Lions as the Chicago Bears came to frenzied Ford Field.
A loss could have set the progress of this young, emerging team back, as it would have had many of those non-believers claiming that these are, in fact, the same old Lions.
Instead, three explosive plays on offense and the crowd’s influence propelled Detroit to a 24-13 win. The nine straight wins are the most for this franchise since winning nine in a row across the 1953 and 1954 seasons. The 5-0 start is the team’s first since 1956, a year in which the Lions won their first six games before finishing 3-3 in the second half of the season to miss the playoffs.
And, yes, the crowd definitely played a role. No phrase is more overused in football than is the declaration as the home crowd as a 12th man, with apologies to the so-called original 12th men in College Station, Texas, and Seattle.
But there’s no questioning the Ford Field faithful’s impact on the proceedings Monday night. The Bears were flagged for nine false-start penalties alone, part of a sloppy, choppy game which saw the officials risk their rotator-cuff health by throwing their yellow hankies 26 times.
The Lions were penalized 12 times for 94 yards, achieving the distinction of being the “disciplined” squad Monday night as the Bears had 104 yards marked off against them on 14 infractions.
Between the quick-strike capability of Detroit’s offense and a pass rush that had beleaguered Bears quarterback Jay Cutler running for his life on the plays where the Chicago offensive line didn’t flinch too quickly, the Lions took control of the game in the second half after trailing at the break for the third straight week.
Calvin Johnson scored Detroit’s only first-half touchdown on a 73-yard catch-and-run from Matthew Stafford, beating safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather with a terrific double move, but the Bears took a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The funny thing about that, though, is that it never felt like the Bears were in control of the game, not with the way Cutler was making miracles happen just to get rid of the football from a pocket that collapsed more quickly and completely than the Boston Red Sox in September.
The most surprising development for Detroit was the appearance of running back Jahvid Best, who ripped off two runs in the second half for 131 yards en route to his first career 100-yard game. Best finished with 163 yards on just 12 carries, including an 88-yard dash that was longer than any single play ever authored by the Lions’ reigning kind of explosive plays, Hall of Famer Barry Sanders — who just happened to be the team’s honorary captain Monday night. Best’s burst was the second-longest run from scrimmage in franchise history, topped only by Bob Hoernschemeyer’s 96-yard run against the New York Yankees (yes, the New York Yankees) on Nov. 23, 1950.
Johnson’s touchdown and Best’s pair of runs accounted for more than half of Detroit’s 395 yards total offense and were enough to help the Lions announce to the world that they have indeed arrived as a real force in the NFL for the first time in longer than most of the team’s fan base cares to remember.