Anquan Boldin was signed by the Detroit Lions just before the start of training camp because they knew he could step in immediately as the No. 3 receiver and line up wherever they needed him.
Boldin has given the Lions everything they could have asked for and more. A lot more, especially if you add the knowledge and instincts he acquired and honed in the 13 NFL seasons he had on his career log before coming to Detroit.
What he did in Sunday's 20-17 victory over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field was further evidence of why he was brought in. He had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, his seventh of the season. He had a 23-yard catch on a second and 12 on the Lions' game-winning drive.
And what he said after the game – about the focus on winning, not stats – said even more of what he means to this team.
The Lions are making a run the likes of which have not been seen from them in more than two decades. Sunday's 20-17 win over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field was their fifth in a row and eighth in the last nine games.
It was ugly on the field at times, but a raving beauty in the won-loss column, where the Lions are 9-4 and two games in front of the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Both won Sunday to remain two games back at 7-6.
This week's Monday Countdown is made up of nine takeaways from Sunday's game – one for each game the Lions have won. There's a look at how Matthew Stafford won a game with his head and legs after almost helping lose it with his arm, and a wounded finger. There's also a look at the Lions' defense, which has been mostly ignored this year because of the comebacks that have won games, and how DeAndre Levy played in his first game back since the opener.
Item 9 is an update of the Playoff Watch in the NFC North.
We start with Boldin – what he's looking at for his team:
1. Lions, climbing the standings: Lions fans are starved for their team to win a division championship and host a playoff game. The last time they did both was 1993, when they won the old NFC Central. Sunday's win was a big step in that direction.
Head coach Jim Caldwell and his players have never made it known about any specific goals they've set.
Reading into what Boldin said Sunday about the makeup of this team, it could be something special.
"Our goals are bigger than just winning this game," he said. "Although we do take it one game at a time, we have our sights set on something far greater."
2. What's far greater?: The results of Sunday's games made the Lions the No. 2 seed in the NFC with three games left. Dallas is No. 1. The Seahawks' wipeout loss at Green Bay dropped their record to 8-4-1 and out of the No. 2 seed.
If the Lions win out, they'll be one of the top two seeds in the NFC and begin the playoffs at home – after a first-round bye.
That qualifies as "far greater" than sliding into the playoffs as a wild card, or even starting the playoffs at home in the divisional round without a first round bye.
3. Stafford, wounded finger, confidence intact: He injured his right hand in the first quarter on his pass that drew a penalty for intentional grounding. On his follow through, he banged hands with a Bears defender, probably rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Stafford played the rest of the game with a glove on his right hand. He had a wrap on his middle finger after the game. When asked about a variety of adjustments he made, Stafford replied "is there 'C,' all of the above?"
He didn't make any excuses for the fourth-quarter interception that was returned for the Bears' go-ahead TD, but his response was typical for him when asked how it affected his play the rest of the game.
"I've played this position for a long time, and I have really good plays and I've have bad plays in tough situations," he said. "That was a bad play. It doesn't matter if they're good or bad. You have to flush them and move on.
"They teach you that in quarterback 101."
4. Boldin, "winners" vs. the others: He has been on playoff teams throughout his career, and he was on the 2012 Ravens team that won the Super Bowl.
He was asked what separates winners from the rest, and where the Lions stand in the pecking order.
"In football there are going to come times when things aren't going to go your way," he said. "You have to fight through things. Those are the times that show the true character of your team.
"A lot of times in this league, guys will lay down, especially the situation we were in. Instead of hanging our heads, everybody on the sidelines was, 'Hey, let's go ahead and get seven.' It shows the character we have on this team."
5. Packers watch: There was a great debate among fans over which way to root in Sunday's Seahawks-Packers game. Root for the Seahawks to beat the Packers, and thus move the Lions a big step closer to clinching the North? Or root for the Packers to win and move the Lions into the No. 2 seed, where they can stay if they take care of their business and win out – but run the risk of losing the division title with a loss to the Packers at home in the final game.
Beating Seattle kept the Packers in the race.
I'll take far greater.
6. Boldin, chart climbing: What he is doing this year is pretty impressive for any receiver, not just for a 36-year-old in his 14th season. Boldin is second on the team with 55 catches and first in touchdowns with seven.
Boldin has taken over 10th place on the all-time list with 1,064 catches. He needs only seven to move past Reggie Wayne, who retired with 1,070.
The Hall of Fame could be beckoning for Boldin, but when asked Sunday what his stats climb means to him he repeated that it's not where his focus is.
"At this point, nothing," Boldin said. "It's probably for something later on down the road. At this point, I'm trying to win a championship."
7. Lions' defense -- doesn't rest: Was it helped by penalties against the Bears? Absolutely. Especially the back-to-back holding penalties on the Bears' last two possessions. Pass completions of 27 and 23 yards were nullified. Instead, the Bears were in a first-and-30 hole that doomed the last possession.
But the defense deserves some credit, too. It gave up one touchdown – a 31-yard TD pass that finished off a 75-yard, four-play strafing after Matt Prater's 54-yard field goal had extended the lead to 13-3.
But in the five-game winning streak, the Lions have given up 78 points – 15.6 per game. Take away the seven that were scored on the offense, and it's 71 points and 14.2 per game in the last five.
8. Levy: He played a limited snap count, but there was nothing about his play that indicated he can't take a larger role and help in the stretch run – and the playoffs.
"I haven't put on shoulder pads since Week 1," he said. "I haven't hit anybody, so I kind of had to get my feet back under me."
What the Lions need even more is somebody to get to the quarterback.
9. NFC North Playoff Watch:
1. Lions (9-4)
Remaining games: At Giants, at Cowboys, home vs. Packers.
Stock watch/trend: Buy until there's a correction. Five straight wins and eight in the last nine can't be because of luck. It's a good football team, but Stafford's injured hand is a bummer.
2. Vikings (7-6)
Remaining games: Home vs. Colts, at Packers, home vs. Bears.
Stock watch/trend: No change from last week's recommendation to everything. One loss boots them out of contention for first in the NFC North because of two losses to the Lions.
3. Packers (7-6)
Remaining games: At Bears, home vs. Vikings, at Lions 9-4.
Stock watch/trend: Beating Seattle got them halfway through the six-game win streak they needed to close out the season and make the playoffs. Make the investment – if you think the Packers can run the table.
Reading between the lines – no recommendation on this one.