DETROIT – For weeks, Detroit fans could only wonder how tough the Lions might be if they had a chance to play the fourth quarter with a comfortable lead.
In a Thanksgiving victory over Chicago, the Lions finally enjoyed that feeling.
With Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the rest of the offense showing some long-overdue signs of life, Detroit beat the Bears 34-17 on Thursday, and sure enough, once the Lions took the lead in the second quarter, their defense never looked all that likely to give it up. Detroit's top-ranked run defense held Chicago to 13 yards on the ground, and the Lions sacked Jay Cutler three times.
"I think we, as the players and coaches, kind of got a feel for what they were doing, we just reacted a little bit quicker," Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "We kind of got a feel for what they were doing and adjusted accordingly."
The Bears have one of the league's top running backs in Matt Forte, and they barely even tried to establish any sort of ground game. Forte finished with 6 yards on five carries.
With no real running threat to worry about, the Lions could focus on Cutler, and although the Bears had mild success with screens and short passes early on to counteract Detroit's pass rush, it was hard for Chicago to accomplish much throwing deep.
"When you have a player like Forte, I think he only had like five or six carries," Levy said. "I think something has to be said for our defense."
Detroit's previous three victories all came in the final minutes, with the offense needing to come from behind. The defense was crucial in those games too, preventing deficits from becoming insurmountable.
Thursday was different. The Lions led by double digits for almost the entire final quarter, putting the pressure squarely on Chicago.
Detroit's ability to stop the run does not guarantee anything. With passing numbers becoming more prolific seemingly every year in the NFL, opponents don't necessarily need to run the ball to win.
The New England Patriots hardly ran at all in the first half against Detroit last weekend, and Tom Brady's passing ability was enough to put them on the path to a 34-9 victory. The Lions still have another game remaining against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. That matchup — in the final week of the regular season — will be quite a test for Detroit's defense.
But until then, the schedule is favorable. The Lions host Tampa Bay and Minnesota before a trip to Chicago for a rematch against the Bears.
"Next week's a new week. We know that trap, we've fallen into it," center Dominic Raiola said. "It's a work in progress. We're gonna keep the pressure on ourselves and keep the pedal down. Enjoy this one but come back Monday, it's a brand new week and a brand new challenge."
It was Stafford — and to some degree, Johnson — who dealt with criticism as Detroit's offense struggled to meet expectations, but both players were very good Thursday against Chicago. In a way, it was exactly what the rest of the league should fear: Detroit's offense finally gave its defense a sizeable lead to protect.
"It's something to build off of," Stafford said. "Just being consistent with it, not having a bad quarter — maybe a bad series here, one or two, but making sure that we were playing well in every quarter."
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