The Detroit Lions are a better team than they were a week ago, a month ago, and certainly 13 weeks ago when the San Francisco 49ers steamrollered them before two late touchdowns put some cosmetic gloss on a 41-33 loss.
The Lions are better because they played better overall in the last month, not just because of Sunday's rally to beat the Vikings on rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown's TD catch on the final play of the game.
Winning makes everything look better. It raises everyone's grade. But the Lions are legitimately better because they consistently put themselves in position to win in all of their last four games.
That's what we've learned about the Lions in the last four games that represent the third quarter of the season. They keep pounding on the door until they get through. They finally got through Sunday.
There's a lot more work to do, and a lot to accomplish and improve, before the Lions announce themselves as contenders in the NFC North. But at this moment in time, here are some things we've learned about the Lions in the last four games:
The drive: It didn't win a playoff game or clinch a division title, but it meant a lot for a team looking for its first win – and it revealed a lot about their perseverance for how they overcame some adversity in the game, some of which was self-inflicted.
The Lions went into the second half with a 20-6 lead but suddenly went flat as the Vikings took control. The Lions faced a 27-23 deficit when they got the ball back for their last possession at their 25-yard line with 1:50 left.
The Lions converted two third downs and a final fourth down in quarterback Jared Goff's 11-yard TD pass to St. Brown to win the game.
Goff was focused on the job at hand, not the interception and lost fumble he had earlier in the game.
"You should be able to make mistakes and win games," Goff said. "That's the sign of a good team – a team that's learning to win. A team that can make a mistake, a crucial mistake, throwing an interception, and still find a way to win."
There were no crucial mistakes in that winning drive.
"It was as good as you could do it offensively," Goff said. "It came down to one play, and we were able to make it."
Overall, as head coach Dan Campbell said in his Monday press conference, it was a cleaner game for the offense, without penalties that had handicapped them in other games. And working on the two-minute offense paid off with the way Goff led the winning possession.
"That's what this league's about a little bit," Campbell said. "You're striving for perfection, knowing you'll never get it.
"We won this game in two minutes, which was kind of a focal point for us."
Defense: The numbers tell part of the story of how the unit has improved. The defense gave up 119 points in the first four games, 125 in the second four and 72 in the last four.
Another way to compute how the Lions have been more competitive is points differential. They are minus three in the last four games, with a tie with the Steelers, losses to the Browns and Bears by five points combined and Sunday's two-point win over the Vikings.
Youth: When Campbell singled out players at his press conference Monday who had played well on defense against the Vikings, there were obvious veteran players such as outside linebacker Charles Harris, linebacker Alex Anzalone, cornerback Amani Oruwariye and others.
But his list also included rookies – cornerback Jerry Jacobs, and defensive linemen Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. And, of course, St. Brown.
It's a good sign that there is young talent for cornerstones in the rebuilding process.
Look ahead: Tight end T.J. Hockenson was asked what it meant to finally win a game, and if it was a relief.
"I wouldn't say it's a relief," he said. "We've got a lot more games left. But it's nice to get our first one and kind of get it out of the way and just roll."