The 2023 season race is on at full throttle, and the Detroit Lions are playing like they intend to be in it to the end.
They took another big step forward to keep their grip on first place in the NFC North Sunday with a 42-24 win over the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field.
It was the Lions' third straight win and made their won-loss record 4-1.
Nobody clinches a playoff berth in early October, but the Lions are showing week by week that they are a team to be reckoned with.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at how the Lions continue to succeed despite injuries, and how head coach Dan Campbell regards them as a team made for the long haul.
There is also a look at how one of the team's veterans views what the Lions are achieving, along with takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what's trending, and the bottom line.
We start with Dan Campbell's view of his team.
1. Tenacity: The Lions have it. They did not build their winning streak on luck. It was done with commitment and hard work.
"Like I told the team, I'm not worried about the opponents that you can see eye to eye," he said in his postgame press conference. "I believe we can compete with anybody and beat anybody in this league.
"And they proved that today."
The Lions did what they needed to do to beat a team that was overmatched. The Lions showed no mercy on a Carolina team that lost its fifth straight game.
"They came out and set the tone for the game and really never let off the gas," Campbell said.
2. Looking ahead: A reality check comes with Sunday's game. The Panthers were overmatched. There are tougher challenges ahead.
"Look, we're going to play some really, really good teams, and we're going to have to be on it," Campbell said. "Every week these games get more and more important as you close in on December and January.
"We've got to be playing our best ball by the time we get there."
3. View from the top: Guard Jonah Jackson is in his fourth year with the Lions, and he's seeing something he did not see for an extended period at any time in the first three seasons.
The view from first place is new and exciting – and rewarding for all the work players put in to play this game.
"It's pretty cool," Jackson said – sounding like he meant every word of it. "It's still early. We're excited about the challenges we face.
"It's exciting, and we're going to keep on rolling. We're going to be on everybody's hit list now.
"We like that challenge. We like to see everybody's best foot forward, just to show we put our best foot forward, too."
4. Takeaways, offense:
- On target: Quarterback Jared Goff could not have been much more efficient. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 236 yards and three TDs. His passer rating was a blazing 132.4.
- On the run: Craig Reynolds made good use of his chance to carry the ball for more than a play or two. On seven carries late in the game he gained 52 yards and scored a TD.
- Going deep: The Lions had 6 plays that gained at least 20 yards, topped by David Montgomery's 42-yard TD run on the Lions' first possession.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Short stuff: The Panthers had only two plays that gained at least 20 yards.
- Short changed: Carolina rushed for 320 yards in a win over the Lions last December. They gained 99 on 23 carries Sunday.
- Familiar face: Adam Thielen had some big games against the Lions in the nine seasons he played for the Vikings. He had 11 catches for 107 yards and a TD in Sunday's game. He leads Carolina with 38 receptions.
View photos from the Carolina Panthers vs. Detroit Lions Week 5 game at Ford Field on Sunday, Oct. 8 in Detroit, MI.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- Punting: Jack Fox punted twice for a 44-yard average. Both punts were inside the 20. Carolina returned one punt for three yards.
- Up: Cornerback Jerry Jacobs. He got his third interception in two games. He had two in the win over the Packers.
- Down: Thielen. He had big games vs. the Lions in his nine seasons with the Vikings, and he had another for the Panthers – 11 catches for 107 yards and one of the three Panthers TDs.
- Even: Montgomery was a workhorse for the second straight game. He rushed for 121 yards and three TDs in the win over Green Bay, then backed it up with 109 yards and a TD vs. Carolina.
8. Bottom line: The Lions played like a first-place team – one that intends to remain in that position for a while.