Lions-Steelers Final Thoughts:The Lions under the bright lights; the Golden standard; how the Steelers' ride their Big 2 on offense; Le'Veon Bell doing what the Lions are searching for 17 times over and Random Thoughts with Big Ben, incidentally:
Spotlight: The Detroit Lions will make what they hope is a playoff run this year in center stage, with a string of nationally televised games that could get even longer.
It starts tonight on NBC's Sunday-night game that has become the NFL's marquee game of the week. Three more national TV games are on the Lions' schedule – at Green Bay next week on ESPN's Monday Night Football, the annual Thanksgiving Day game against the Vikings on the Fox network and a Saturday afternoon home game on Dec. 12 on the NFL Network.
Good and bad, the 2017 Lions have a national stage to leave their mark.
"To tell you that the guys don't enjoy playing in front of a large audience, I'd certainly be a little deceptive if that's the case," said head coach Jim Caldwell. "These guys like attention. There's no question about that.
"They like the cameras and lights, and that's why they play the game, a lot of them, because they enjoy the challenge that's presented to them – and particularly when you get a chance to play in prime time.
"Does it affect how we practice? What we do leading up to the game? No, it doesn't affect any of that, but it certainly does add something to the game."
There could be one more national TV game for the Lions.
The final regular-season game against the Packers is set for 1 p.m. But if it turns out to be a showdown for the NFC North title, it could be flexed to Sunday night on NBC.
The Golden standard: Golden Tate's unexpected return to practice this week – even on a limited basis – and the possibility that he'll play tonight had to be a comfort for Matthew Stafford and the entire offense. That seemed unlikely when Tate went out with a shoulder injury in the last game before the bye.
Since Calvin Johnson's retirement before last season, Tate has proven that he is more than a complementary receiver. He has had seasons of 99, 90, and 91 catches in his first three seasons as a Lion. With 36 catches through the first six games, Tate is on course for a fourth straight season of at least 90 catches.
Even in this pass-oriented era, that is a remarkable level of consistency – and an example of his value. Tate ranks among the leaders in yards gained after the catch, which adds to his value.
"I think I help this team," Tate said. "I think it's the whole point of me being here. I think I'm valuable. I think we have a lot of guys who are."
Steelers percentage players: It's hard to imagine that any successful team has two players who carry the offense as much Bell and Brown do for the Steelers.
They have combined to gain 1,663 of the Steelers' 2,513 yards from scrimmage, or 66.2 percent. Counting running plays and passes targeted to them, they've been involved in 295 of the Steelers' 463 plays from scrimmage, or 63.7 percent.
Basically, they're saying "these are our stars; stop them if you can."
C-note: The Lions' streak of games without an individual 100-yard runner has reached 58 games. The last to do it was Reggie Bush, who rushed for 117 yards against the Packers in Game 12 of 2013.
Since that landmark game, Bell has surpassed the 100-yard mark 17 times and the 200-yard mark twice.
Random thoughts, on:
Ben Roethlisberger: Strange how with everything going on there's hardly been a mention this week of one of the most accomplished quarterbacks of the era with two Super Bowl championships of his era. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin disciplining Martavis Bryant for the game, the return of Bell and Brown to the state where they played college football and the Lions' own issues have put Big Ben in the background. Until tonight, anyway.
Press coverage: Not the media, but the Steelers' pass coverage, is something to look for tonight. The Steelers play a high percentage of zone coverage, but the way teams have had success against the Lions with press coverage could change that equation. It's part of the chess match.
North race: Being on a bye with two straight losses makes the Lions' losing "streak" seem even longer. The reality is that the Lions are still in the race with a 3-3 won-loss record. A win tonight, with the Packers on a bye, would put the Lions and Packers in a tie for second place behind the Vikings going into their next game at Lambeau.