Game by game, play by play, the improbable is becoming more probable for the Detroit Lions.
The Lions showed why that is more than a wish and a dream in Sunday's 20-17 win over the New York Jets.
The Lions play to win from start to finish.
They never trailed in the game until the Jets took a 17-13 lead with 4:41 left. The Lions rallied back with a seven-play, 78-yard drive to the winning touchdown – a 51-yard catch and run by tight end Brock Wright on a short pass from quarterback Jared Goff with 1:49 left.
The defense held up, as it did most of the game, sacking Jets quarterback Zach Wilson twice in a failed bid to get the Jets in comfortable range to attempt a game-tying field goal.
Greg Zuerlein's 58-yard attempt was wide left.
It made the Lions' won-loss record 7-7 with three games left.
"We've got to control our own destiny how," said defensive lineman Romeo Okwara, who had two sacks -- including one on the Jets' final possession. "Game by game.
"We're playing good complementary football."
The race is on – game by game, as Okwara said – and the Lions are in it.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at the Lions' three remaining opponents – Panthers, Bears and Packers – and how they match up. Of the three, only the Packers with a 5-8 record going into tonight's game with the Rams have a realistic chance to make the playoffs.
There are also takeaways of offense, defense and special teams, what's trending and the bottom line.
We start with the Final 3 – the Lions' remaining opponents.
1. at Panthers, Saturday:
They've suffered through turmoil most of the season, with the firing of head coach Matt Rhule, the trade of star running back Christian McCaffrey, a rotating cast of quarterbacks that included Baker Mayfield, who was released after six starts and a 1-5 record.
After a 1-5 start, they got to 5-8. That gave them some playoff hopes, but they were quashed by Sunday's loss to the Steelers.
Lions' win formula: Play hard and smart from the beginning, and avoid the rash of penalties they had in the last two games.
Final 3 ranking: Second. They'll play hard, so be ready.
2. vs. Bears, Sunday, Jan. 1.
Quarterback Justin Fields is one of the most dynamic young players in the NFL. He showed that again by nearly pulling an upset in Sunday's 25-20 loss to the Eagles.
The Lions saw what Fields can do to a defense in their 31-30 win over the Bears when he rushed for 167 yards.
Lions' win formula: Keep Fields in the pocket as much as possible. When he gets in the open field he is as dangerous as any player in the league.
Final 3 ranking: Third. But that doesn't mean it's an easy game.
3. at Packers, Jan. 8.
The Packers won three straight after an opening-game loss, and all seemed well. It was not. The Packers followed that with a five-game losing streak. The frequent NFC North champs have not been elite this year.
One of those losses was to the Lions at Ford Field, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers had three interceptions.
Lions' win formula: Assuming he plays, keep the heat on Rodgers. Make him beat you with his arm and legs.
Final 3 ranking: First.
4. Takeaways offense:
- Passing: Goff missed some throws, but he was on target with the biggest play of the game – the 51-yard pass to Wright for the game-winning TD. Great play call by coordinator Ben Johnson. Jets head coach Robert Saleh's defense doesn't get beaten like that very often.
- On the run: The Lions worked hard to get every inch of the 107 yards they got on 28 carries.
- Overall: With the passing game struggling, they didn't make matters worse by getting turnovers. The Lions have done a good job of late protecting the ball.
5. Takeaways. defense:
- Run defense: A-plus for these stats – 50 yards, 22 carries, long run of six yards.
- Pass defense: Two many big plays allowed. Cornerback Jerry Jacobs set up a field goal with an interception. That helped a struggling offense.
- Pass rush: Two sacks by Okwara gave notice that he's back in form. As a unit, two sacks on the Jets' final possession kept them from getting a close-range field goal attempt.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- Happy return: Kalif Raymond's punt-return TD proved vital. He's been close to breaking one all season.
- Return stoppers: The Jets were held to a 19-yard average on three kick returns, and six yards on their only punt return.
- Up: The Lions' defense. They shut down the Jets' run game and sacked Wilson four times. Two sacks on the final possession were crucial. They're showing that the Lions don't have to win just on offense.
- Down: Five penalties in the first half were too many.
- Even: Rookie linebacker James Houston. He's played in four games and has at least one sack in every game – four in all.
8. Bottom line: What the Lions did Sunday epitomized complementary football. A punt return TD on special teams. A game-winning play by the offense. And two late sacks by the defense to help protect the lead. Well done.