It was a tossup for what the Detroit Lions needed more – relief or belief – when they resumed their season Sunday with new direction under interim head coach Darrell Bevell.
They got both with a 34-30 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
They got relief from a two-game losing streak that was as ugly and discouraging as the scores indicated – 20-0 to a Carolina Panthers team that had lost five straight games, and 41-25 to the Houston Texans at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day.
And they got belief that Bevell's upbeat approach is the way to go if the Lions are going to make something of the rest of this season.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at what Bevell brought to the Lions in his first week as interim head coach. There's also a key series in the comeback, what the immediate future holds for the Lions with five games left, takeaways on Bevell's first game as head coach and the offense, defense and special teams, and what's trending with the Lions.
We start with Bevell's first week:
1. Change: Winning is a magic elixir in all pro sports, and probably to a higher degree in pro football because of the importance of each game in a 16-game season.
For instance, lose three straight in baseball in midseason, and you're off to the next stop on a road trip for another three-game series.
Lose three straight in the NFL, and changes are coming.
The Lions needed immediate relief because they'd had several losing streaks.
Bevell's personality, which players were familiar with in his role as offensive coordinator, eased the transition from Matt Patricia even for players who liked playing under Patricia.
Bevell made changes in the practice schedule. He lightened the load and the mood.
For whatever reason, the team seemed energized against the Bears. They were the stronger, better team in the fourth quarter, which was a change from recent games.
"I'm excited how they played," Bevell said after the game. "I'm excited for them to get a win."
He was excited, too, for the experience of his first game as head coach and what it meant to win.
"It's amazing," he said. "I'm still on cloud nine. I'm still not over it."
Bevell let his true emotions shine through. He didn't try to hide them. Anything less would have been disingenuous, and the players would have seen through it.
"His enthusiasm is infectious," said quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"Guys feed off it. Guys went out there and played fast and free. We never quit. We never looked at the scoreboard.
"Let it all figure itself out – and it did."
2. Turning point: Strangely, it came in a couple of low points for the Lions in the fourth quarter.
An interception off a screen pass thrown by Stafford, followed by a three and out on the Lions' next possession, followed by a punt by the Bears left the Lions starting a possession at their own four-yard line.
With 4:33 left, the end zone was 96 yards away and the Lions were trailing 30-20. It was not exactly a hopeful situation, and it was less so when Stafford's first pass was incomplete.
Six plays later – and six completed passes – the Lions had a touchdown on a 25-yard laser to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. in the end zone that cut the deficit to 30-27.
"I knew we needed a score – the quicker the better," Stafford said. "It was just two-minute' ball. I was able to dial up some plays.
"It was a huge drive."
In all of that, letting Stafford sling it stood out most.
3. What's next: Bevell talked about a five-game audition for himself and the players, and the chance to make the playoffs if they win out.
All things are possible, if not probable, in the 2020 NFL. The Bears have dropped from 5-1 to 5-7, same record as the Lions. The Cardinals have lost three straight and four of their last five to drop to 6-6. The Giants have won four straight to get to 5-7.
The Lions have not been on any kind of winning streak in the last three seasons. They've never won more than two in a row.
Their remaining games, in order, are home against the Packers (9-3), on the road against the Titans (8-4), home against the Bucs (7-5) and home against the Vikings (6-6).
4. Bevell, my take: Whatever his emotions were, from opening kickoff to the final play he looked and acted like a head coach.
The Lions had penalties, but none that aren't common to any game – offsides, false starts and a horse collar tackle.
There was nothing that gave any indication Bevell was in over his head, or that the game was too much for him.
He looked like a head coach – which he was.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Stafford's 402 yards passing were impressive, but even more impressive was his reaction after an interception on a screen pass in the fourth quarter. Two possessions later he engineered a 96-yard possession that ended in a 25-yard TD pass to Jones that cut the Bears' lead to 30-27 and put the Lions within striking range.
- Peterson is relentless, especially near the end zone. Two TD runs – with a five-yarder for the winning score – gave him six for the season. And 57 rushing yards gives him 501 for the season.
- Stafford was protected well enough by the offensive line to complete 27 of 42 passes for 402 yards and three TDs. He was sacked once. Matt Nelson played a big role in that protection unit. He took over at right tackle when Tyrell Crosby went out with an injury in the first quarter and helped keep Khalil Mack off the stats sheet. No tackles. No hits. No sacks. No nothing.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- Where was the defense in the first three quarters? The Bears had 17 first downs, 253 yards and a 23-13 lead. It surfaced in the second half, holding the Bears to nine first downs, 136 yards and seven points.
- The Bears' running game was shut down in the second half. After gaining 106 yards on 19 carries, with two TDs in the first half, it was held to 34 yards on 12 carries in the second half.
- Both of the Lions' sacks were in the second quarter, when they rallied to win.
7. Takeaways, special teams:
- In addition to a strip sack in the fourth quarter, Okwara blocked an extra point kick in the first quarter. That proved to be important later in the game. If the Lions' final margin of victory had been three points instead of four, the Bears likely would have attempted a game-tying field goal from 38 yards instead of going for it – and failing – on fourth and one on their last offensive play of the game.
- The game time temperature of 35 degrees had an effect on punter Jack Fox. On three punts he had a gross average of 44.0 yards and a net of 42.3. Both were well below his season averages of 49.9 and 45.6 yards respectively.
- There's a reason teams kick away from All-Pro Cordarrelle Patterson. He returned the opening kickoff 45 yards, and never got a chance to return any of the last five kickoffs. Three were returned by teammates for an average of 7.3 yards. The other two were touchbacks.
- Up: Bevell. He got a win in his first game as interim head coach. He also got a game ball.
- Down: Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky's four-game winning streak over the Lions was ended.
- Even: Tight end T.J. Hockenson had seven catches for 84 yards Sunday, giving him 52 catches for 614 yards and five TDs in the first 12 games. Limited to 12 games because of injuries last year, he had 32 catches for 367 yards and two TDs.