CHICAGO – Burning questions: How the Detroit Lions stalled, staggered, rallied and – eventually – held on for a 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Sunday.
Question: It wasn't a work of art, but what does it mean for the Lions and their playoff hopes?
Answer: First things first. This is one they store away in the record book as a victory, and some day they might drag it out and look back at it like some other real works of art that increased in value over the years while they sat in somebody's attic or basement.
The bottom line on this game: The Lions needed to win, and although they were far from perfect on both sides of the ball – especially on defense – it was their third straight win and kept them solidly in the playoff race with a 6-4 record.
A loss, and dropping to 5-5, would have made it a longshot.
**Q. The difference: What was it?
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions' Week 11 game at the Chicago Bears.
A. A lot of things went into the game, but in the end it boiled down to Matt Prater coming through in the clutch again, with a 52-yard field goal in the last two minutes to put the Lions ahead. Bears kicker Connor Barth missed from 46 yards on the Bears' last play.
Prater is the Lions' edge in every game they play.
Q. Decision -- fourth and kick: Prater went out to attempt the go-ahead field goal from 52 yards in the last two minutes. Absolutely right call to go for the field goal in the last two minutes?
A. Yes, because the only other logical option was to punt the ball and go for overtime. With a clutch kicker like Prater, with a proven record of making long field goals in the clutch, going for it is the only option – even if a miss would have put the Bears in position to drive to the winning field goal.
The Lions have the Matt and Matt combo – Matthew Stafford to drive the offense into range, Matt Prater to make the kick.
Bottom line: You don't bet on Prater to miss.
Q. Reality check: What was the realistic feeling when it was 10-0 Bears, then 17-7 Bears?
A. Honestly, you had to wonder which team was playing for a playoff berth. And then it flipped – two TD drives by the Lions and it was 21-17 Lions at halftime. That didn't guarantee a win for the Lions, but they had turned the game around.
Q. Key play first half Lions' offense: What was it?
A. Good question. Easy choice: Third and 15 from the Lions' nine-yard line, a 17-yard completion down the right sideline to TJ Jones for a first down. That's the one that got the offense rolling.
Q. Why so important?
A. For a lot of reasons, and in any order you want to put them:
Lions struggling on offense. Bears driving almost at will to hold a 17-7 lead and feeling great about themselves. Stafford had gotten hit hard on an incomplete pass on the previous play. And the Lions needed a completion on that third down to keep the Bears from getting the ball with good field position and a chance to add to their lead.
The completion to Jones wiped out a lot of that potential drama and gave the Lions a fresh set of downs.
For the rest of the half, it was like the Lions were playing in training camp, and tackling was not allowed. Stafford picked the Bears apart the rest of the quarter.
It will probably get lost in the two touchdown passes and a couple other big throws, but that play opened the door for the rest of the half.
Q. The start: Did the rally at the end of the half make everyone forget how the Bears had gotten the lead?
A. No, and it shouldn't. The Lions didn't play well, and that has to be corrected.
Q. Bears opener: How much did it hurt the Lions that the Bears drove to a field goal on their first possession?
A. It didn't help. The worst play of the possession from the Lions' standpoint was the third play. After two incomplete passes, Mitchell Trubisky hit tight end Daniel Brown for 13 yards and a first down. That kept the drive going, obviously, and it let the Bears get some rhythm.
Q. Lions' stand: The Bears continued the drive and had first and goal at the eight but had to settle for a field goal. What did it mean for the Lions that the defense kept the Bears out of the end zone.
A. It didn't hurt, that's for sure. The bottom line: Three points vs. seven when the offense has first and goal is a good trade-in.
Q. Lions opener: The Lions came back and drove to the Bears' 41, where Stafford was hit on first down and fumbled. The Bears recovered. What did that mean to the Lions?
A. It hurt – and it hurt bad. It ended a potential scoring drive and gave the ball back to the Bears. Suddenly, everything was going in the Bears' favor, and they took advantage.
On the first play after the turnover, Jordan Howard broke a 50-yard run through a huge hole in the middle of the Lions' defense. A Mack truck could have gotten through that opening and stopped to fill the tank.
Two plays later, the Bears had a TD on a one-yard pass to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen for a 10-0 lead.
Q. Turnover TD: The Lions' finally broke through, but it was the defense that did it. Cornerback DJ Hayden returned a fumble 27 yards for a TD in the first minute of the second quarter to cut Chicago's lead to 10-7. Great play by the defense?
A. An alert play by Hayden, not a great play. Trubisky fumbled the snap, and when the ball bounced away from Trubisky as he tried to drag it back under his body Hayden was there to scoop it up and run to the end zone.
Hayden was in the right place at the right time.
That didn't happen all the time for the Lions Sunday, but just enough to win.