Stretching the Field: No cowardly Lions here
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Both the leaves and seasons are changing, but the goal remains the same.
If the Detroit Lions had lost Sunday in Philadelphia, they still proved they're determined to turn the 2012 campaign around. That they overcame a 10- point deficit with five minutes and change remaining in the fourth quarter and squeezed out a 26-23 overtime triumph was authentication.
The Eagles should have known better than to give a gunslinger like Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford plenty of time in the pocket, and ultimately paid the price. Stafford had more time on his hands than an overnight employee at a toll plaza and wasn't sacked for the first time this season. After the hosts grabbed a seemingly comfortable 23-13 lead on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin, the Lions dug deep and held their ground.
Stafford marched the dauntless Lions right back down the field and found a wide-open Tony Scheffler from 57 yards out, setting up Nate Burleson's 17-yard touchdown reception to make it a three-point margin. Following another defensive stand from a front line that gave Vick and Lincoln Financial Field attendees headaches all day, Stafford led the Lions to a game-tying field goal by Jason Hanson to force overtime.
Detroit did its job again in the extra period, sacking Vick on consecutive plays and forcing Philadelphia to punt from the back of its end zone. It was all over from there, as the Lions roared back against a weary Eagles' defense and Hanson became hero for the day with a game-winning 45-yard field goal. But Stafford was the true cynosure on the afternoon.
"It takes a lot of heart. It's probably a lot easier to just fold it in," Stafford said afterward. "This team has a heck of a lot of fight. That's something we pride ourselves on. Obviously, we did not play a great game. We did on defense; we didn't on offense."
The Eagles shut down All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson for three quarters, but he hauled in passes of 37 and 20 yards in the fourth to give Detroit a much-needed boost. He still managed to finish with 135 yards on six receptions (13 targets) and made a fantastic toe-dragging catch in crunch time. Johnson, though, was played tough by Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Asomugha was still in full uniform in the locker room afterward and held his head down before getting on with his post-game formality.
Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch combined for 2 1/2 sacks on the afternoon and helped limit Philadelphia's handful of weapons from making big plays.
Vanden Bosch touched on how big the defensive effort following the win.
"We had a good game plan. We did a good job preparing during the off week, coaches put us in a good position to stop the offense," Vanden Bosch said after he removed a mouthful of dip. "We needed this. We just needed to play well and get a win."
Vanden Bosch added some accolades to Stafford's performance in saying, "He's clutch. He comes up big when it matters. He's tough, he's resilient, and he made enough plays for us to win."
Stafford threw for 311 yards and was picked off for the first time in three games as the Lions ended a three-game losing streak and avoided a second 1-4 start in three years. Detroit opened last season with five wins in a row.
Stafford probably could have eclipsed his season-high of 355 passing yards from Week 1 had he completed more of his 45 attempts, and said during his press conference he missed a few receivers by inches.
"Every guy in that locker room never stopped fighting. Offense, defense, special teams; it didn't matter and that's what got us the win today," Stafford remarked. "We can't make it this hard on ourselves every week. We understand that. But at the same time a win's a win in the National Football League and they don't always come easy.
"This group's got no quit. I don't care what the record is, what the score is, how much time's left. These guys in that locker room, they fight. They fight till the end whether it's a game or a season, it doesn't matter."
Stafford praised his offensive line and the game plan for Sunday's achievement, adding how the Eagles go "nine deep" across the front. The Lions entered the game near the bottom of the league in rushing and ripped off 138 yards on the ground, including 70 on 15 carries from Mikel Leshoure.
He also reiterated how the offensive line kept "him clean" for a long time. Inactive running back Kevin Smith was quick to agree.
"I think those guys did a good job up front. We played an aggressive defense and did what we had to do running the ball," Smith said. "I think he (Leshoure) did well. He's getting better every time he runs the ball, so that's exciting."
When asked about building some confidence going into next Monday's road game against the Chicago Bears, Smith felt good about his team's chances of possibly recording consecutive wins for the first time this season.
"Every win is important. You win and lose games in this league, and as fast as you lose them, you try to bounce back with a win," Smith said. "So it's important for the team and it gives us more motivation and some things to work on during the week to get ready for this Monday-nighter."
The Lions will face a well-rested Chicago bunch that is 4-1, riding a three- game winning streak and has outscored the opposition by a lopsided 98-27 margin over the past three games. The Bears, who just had their bye week, are No. 1 against the rush, first in interceptions and third in yards allowed.
They can't expect the Lions to run the football down their throats and will have to prepare for an aerial attack. Stranger things have happened, however.
It doesn't get any easier for the Lions from here and they'll be faced with a true test on prime time. Stafford will have to be more than "clutch" on the hallowed grounds of Soldier Field if he wants to even Detroit's record at 3-3.
10/15 10:37:57 ET