FOUR DOWNS: Lions' faith in Prater pays off

FIRST DOWN: CLUTCH PRATER

Before every game, kicker Matt Prater and the Lions coaching staff set a distance they feel comfortable trying a field goal from.

With the cold temperatures and windy conditions in Chicago Sunday, Matt Prater’s 52-yard field-goal attempt in the final two minutes was actually beyond the limit they had set before the game. The line was quite a few yards up the field. 

But tied 24-24 inside two minutes left in the game, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell had a decision to make.

“I looked down at the end and he (Prater) kind of gave me that nod like, ‘I got it,’” Caldwell said after the game. “I said, ‘OK,’ and he did a nice job.”

Prater was good from 52 yards, and it ended up being the game-winning kick after Chicago missed a 46-yard attempt with just eight seconds left that would have tied the game.

“He’s pretty special,” Caldwell said of Prater. “He’s done it for us time and time again. We have a lot of faith in the guy. He’s been consistently good.”

Prater is a weapon, and has been ever since he arrived in Detroit. He’s now made 42 of his 54 career attempts from beyond 50 yards, 21 since joining the Lions in 2014. He’s made seven kicks this season beyond 50 yards.

“It was pretty difficult just with the wind gusting,” Prater said of his game winner.

“Couldn’t really tell what it was doing and good thing I had Sam kind of caddy me, he said, ‘Play it at the left upright,’ and then I think he was almost jumping on me and I kind of lost it, I don’t know. I started yelling at the coach box maybe, and I don’t know, but it was fun.”

SECOND DOWN: RETURN TOUCHDOWNS

Cornerback DJ Hayden’s 27-yard fumble recovery and return touchdown was the seventh return touchdown by the Lions this season, tying the franchise record with six games still remaining.

The Lions have returned three interceptions for touchdowns, two fumbles and two punts.

The five return touchdowns on defense now leads the NFL.

So, who’s gotten in on the action for Detroit? 

— Cornerback Jamal Agnew (two punts)

— Cornerback DJ Hayden (fumble)

— Cornerback Nevin Lawson (fumble)

— Safety Glover Quin (interception)

— Safety Miles Killebrew (interception)

— Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (interception)

“I mean, it’s great for the team,” Hayden said of all the return touchdowns.

“It’s great for the team, especially when we just need like a real spark. And then when the defense gets a touchdown, that’s going to spark the whole team, it’s going to spark the fans and will give us a lot of momentum. And the more we get the better, I hope we get a lot more.”

THIRD DOWN: MISSING ZIGGY

The Lions missed defensive end Ziggy Ansah for a second straight game Sunday, but not for the reasons you might think.

When most people think of Ansah, they think about sacks. But his athleticism and speed sets a terrific edge in the run game, and the Lions have missed that more than anything over these last two weeks.

Too many times Sunday, Lions defensive ends crashed down on play action and left the edge vulnerable to the run. Sometimes they just weren’t athletic enough to make plays in space or chase down a runner. Ansah can do that.  

For a second consecutive week, the Lions were gashed on the ground for more than 200 yards.

After surrendering 201 yards to Cleveland last week, the Lions gave up another 222 yards to Jordan Howard and Co. from the Bears.Bad run fits and missed tackles have been culprits the last two weeks.

“We didn’t stop the run very well,” Caldwell said. “220 yards, I mean obviously we've got to get that straightened out.”

It’s amazing to think the Lions have given up 200-plus rushing yards in each of the last two weeks and have still won both games. Against better teams, the Lions won’t be so lucky to escape with victories.

“I don’t know, but we better get it solved pretty quickly,” Caldwell said. “We got a couple of really good backs coming in here this next week. So, it was a number of things, not just one thing. We’re not tackling as well as we’re capable. We’re not fitting up things as well as we’re capable.

“There was one time we had eight men front, eight guys up front and they popped one through on us. So, we’ll look at that and we’ll get those things straightened away, but we've still got work to do.”

FOURTH DOWN: DIVISION SWEEP ON THE ROAD

The Lions accomplished something Sunday they’ve never done in the Super Bowl era.

The Lions have started the season 3-0 in the division, with all three wins coming on the road. It’s the first time in the Super Bowl era the Lions have won all three road games within the division.

“I know it’s not common because I don’t think it’s ever been done around here,” Caldwell said. “So, it’s not something that happens often because it’s so difficult. I mean, it’s just hard. It’s hard to win on the road. It’s hard to win at home in this league.

“So, I’m just proud of the way our guys fought and gave us a chance. We get a chance with a big game coming to our place on Thursday against a really good football team. It’s going to be fun.”

Sunday’s win in Chicago sets up a huge game in just four days on Thanksgiving against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings, who improved to 8-2 Sunday with a win over the Los Angeles Rams.

The Lions (6-4) are two games back, but have already defeated the Vikings in Minneapolis earlier this season. A win Thursday would mean the Lions hold the head-to-head series for the season, which is the first deciding factor in a tiebreaker scenario for the division. Needless to say, it’s a big game Thursday. 

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