If you’re the Detroit Lions, never let them see you sweat.
Not when you’re down 10-0 one week to the winless Cleveland Browns, and then 10-0 the next week to the Chicago Bears, the worst team in your division.
Certainly not when it’s 33 degrees at Soldier Field and you’re trying to put the clamps on a victory that will keep you alive in the playoff race. Nobody sweats in that weather.
And above all, not when they’ve expanded the maximum comfort zone of platinum-toed kicker Matt Prater by a yard or two or four – or maybe even more – for his attempt at a 52-yard game-winning field goal in those chilly conditions. And, adding a point or two to the degree of difficulty, a steady wind that seems to be blowing in both directions.
The Lions did all of that and a little more in Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Only the final margin was a little more comfortable the previous week – 38-24 over the Browns.
This week’s Monday Countdown is about how the Lions don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff, or much in between, with Marvin Jones Jr. supplying most of the reasons.
There’s also look at the lack of ego among the receivers, what the defense is lacking and where its strength is, how Haloti Ngata is missed more than might have been expected, four things to like about the Lions from Sunday and four not to like.
We start with Marvin Jones Jr.:
1. Keeping cool: Jones was asked if the Lions ever sweat – down 10, down anything.
“All the times we’ve been in this situation, it’s all cool,” he said. “It’s, ‘Hey, let’s go do it.’”
Jones played a key role in the Lions’ comeback from the 10-0 and 17-7 deficits they faced in the first half.
His 28-yard TD catch in the second quarter cut Chicago’s lead to 17-14. It was his sixth TD of the year, and an example of the connection he and Stafford have developed. It almost looked routine the way he got past the cornerback, but it wasn’t. He was just coming out of his break when Stafford delivered the ball.
“He threw that one early,” Jones said. “I looked up ... just run under and get it.”
Jones said that almost matter-of-factly.
One thing about the Lions that is embedded in their character is that they play the full 60 minutes, and when it’s over, they get ready for the next 60. They just play football.
2. Ego check:No receiver had big numbers Sunday because of the way Stafford spread the ball around. Marvin Jones Jr., TJ Jones and Eric Ebron all had four catches. Marvin led the team in receiving yards with 85.
Golden Tate, who leads the team with 59 catches and is close to a pace that would give him his first 100-catch season, had only three catches. For 32 yards.
Marvin Jones was asked why there is so little drama among the receivers over not getting enough balls thrown their way. A week ago against Cleveland, Jones had one catch for two yards while Tate had six for 97.
A diva-less receiver group?
“We don’t have those type of players,” Jones said. “Our main focus is to win the game.”
3. Defense – run down:It’s cause for real concern the way the Lions’ defense has been strafed in the running game the last two weeks. The Browns ran for 201, and the Bears took that up a notch with 222.
The Vikings went into this week’s games averaging 123.3 yards rushing per game. The Bears were at 131.8 before their big game against the Lions, and the Browns were at 101.2 – 22nd in the league – even after putting 201 on the Lions.
“We better get it solved pretty quickly,” head coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “We’ve got a couple of really good backs coming in here this next week.”
4. No rest from Vikings: They ran for 171 yards Sunday in a dominating 24-7 victory over the Rams. The Lions better get their problems on run defense fixed quickly, or the Vikings will feast on them – no Thanksgiving pun intended.
5. Defense – evening the score: Defensive back DJ Hayden’s fumble return for a touchdown Sunday was the fifth touchdown scored by the defense. Four of the touchdowns have been scored by defensive backs – fumble returns by Hayden and Nevin Lawson, and interception returns by Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew.
Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, who was credited with one tackle Sunday, has the other defensive TD on an interception return vs. the Saints.
6. Haloti Ngata effect: His powerful presence is missed more than most could have imagined going out for the season with an injury in Game 5 against the Panthers. The defense had allowed rushing totals of 42, 45, 151, 87 and 28 yards in the five games he started.
Since his departure, those game totals have skyrocketed to 193, 75, 78, 201 and 222 yards.
Bottom line: In five games with Ngata at defensive tackle the Lions gave up 353 yards rushing for an average of 70.6 yards per game. In the five games without Ngata, they’ve allowed 769 and 153.8 per game – more than double the total and average for the first five.
7. Five things to like about the Lions Sunday:
Matt Prater: No reason to explain. He’s the kicker’s version or Mariano Rivera. He closes out wins.
*Big play Golladay: *Rookie receiver Kenny Golladay has paid big dividends on small opportunities in his two games back from a hamstring injury. Against Cleveland a week ago he had two catches for 64 yards. Against the Bears he had two catches for 52 yards. Two-game total: four catches, 116 yards – 29 yards per catch.
Leg work: Sam Martin’s 38-yard punt midway through the third quarter went out of bounds at the Bears’ three-yard line, putting them in a hole in trying to come back from a 21-17 halftime deficit.
Sack time: Rookie defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter had the only sack, putting the Bears in a fourth and 13 at their 31 on their last possession of the game. The possession ended on a missed field-goal attempt with three seconds left.
8. Four things not to like:
Run defense: Belaboring the obvious – from bad (201 yards vs. the Browns) to worse (222 vs. the Bears).
Escape time: The Lions needed one stop to clinch the game after Ledbetter’s sack made it fourth and 13 and couldn’t get it. Mitchell Trubisky scrambled 19 yards for the first down.
Holding call: Guard* *T.J. Lang was flagged when the Lions had first and 10 at the Bears’ 26. That set the offense back to the 36. The Lions stalled out at the 34, forcing Prater to make his game-winner from 52 yards.
*Lions run game: *24 carries, 65 yards. The Bears’ Jordan Howard gained 50 and 16 yards on his two longest carries – a total of 66, or a yard more than the Lions got on 24 attempts.