O’HARA: Forget the last time the Lions led the division and focus on today

Posted Nov 10, 2013

Mike O’Hara takes a look at the current Detroit Lions and their mentality after a 21-19 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

CHICAGO -- Ask me later about the last time the Lions did something – lead a division after nine games, win half their games on the road, sweep a division rival. Wait till Tuesday, or Friday, or maybe the middle of December.

"The last time" is not relevant with this year's Lions. It makes for reference points and good talking points, but the 2013 Detroit Lions play for now. Play by play, game by game, week by week, they've developed an ability to look no further ahead than right now.

The Lions are a team for today, and today they stand in first place alone in the NFC North after Sunday's 21-19 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. As the rest of the North crumbles around them, the Lions are getting stronger and more in control of their destiny by the play.

They have a 6-3 record and lead the Bears and Packers by a game in the North, and with some advantages over both teams.

A sweep of the series gives them the tiebreaker edge over the Bears should the teams finish the season in a tie. And the Packers, drubbed at home by the Eagles Sunday, are sinking because of the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

That being said, it doesn't matter what has happened to the Lions' competitors. They are in their position because they've put themselves there.

Ndamukong Suh summed up the situation best.

"The most important thing is, we control our own destiny," Suh said. "We don't have to rely on anybody."

Suh is right on about that. Win, and the Lions don't have to worry about anyone catching them.

They did it on Sunday with a running game the Bears couldn't stop when they had to, a passing game that clicked when the Lions needed it to, and a defense that rose to most moments. The defense survived some misdeeds of its own to clinch the game when tackle Nick Fairley buried running back Matt Forte when the Bears tried to run for a game-tying two-point conversion.

After Fairley's clinching play, you might think the Lions celebrated all the way home after beating the Bears. They didn't.

It was a happy team, but not one to celebrate that the job had been finished.

"I just talked to the guys and told them it was a great win, no question about it," quarterback Matthew Stafford said when he entered the interview room.

"You have to make this win count later on down the road, and starting with this next week (at Pittsburgh). We have to see this win in a positive light and make sure that we're ready to go next week."

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Stafford said the offense set some goals. One was to rush for 100 yards. They exceeded that, getting 145, with Reggie Bush leading the way with 105.

The passing game was spotty at times. Stafford completed 18 of 35 passes for 219 yards, but he had three touchdown passes – two to Calvin Johnson and one to Kris Durham. And when the Lions needed a long scoring drive to create some distance in the score between themselves and the Bears, Stafford led a drive that covered 74 yards on nine plays and ended in a 14-yard TD pass to Johnson.

The TD pass came on a third-down play, and at a point in the game that could have been make or break.

The Lions got single coverage, which allowed Johnson to make an out cut to the left corner of the end zone. Stafford lobbed the ball perfectly to Johnson, who caught it with room to spare for an eight-point lead with 2:22 left.

That gave the Lions a 21-13 lead and forced the Bears to score a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game and send the game into overtime.

The Bears got the TD, on a pass to Brandon Marshall with 40 seconds left. And they got two tries at the two-pointer and missed both. The first try was an incomplete pass, but the Bears got a second chance because of a roughing penalty on Willie Young for hitting quarterback Josh McCown in the head.

Fairley wasn't fooled on the next play when the Bears tried to run from the one-yard line. Fairley read the play perfectly, exploding through a gap to smother Forte as he made his cut to the left.

The Lions won't look ahead, but I will. They're in a good spot. No one would doubt that. The remaining schedule is favorable. After next week's game in Pittsburgh, they play four of the last six at Ford Field.

One issue is whether they can handle success. If they've learned anything from the last few years it's that they had a tendency to feel as though they arrived too son.

There is no sense that any shred of that exists on this team. They've learned the hard lesson that the NFL is a today league. Nothing matters except today.

Coach Jim Schwartz uttered his standard line about nine games into the season being too early to celebrate a division title.

"Honestly, it's too early in the season to be worrying about who's in first place," Schwartz said.

Too early for the Lions to worry about it for sure. But the way they're playing, the Bears and Packers should be plenty worried.