Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and running back Joique Bell (35) run off the field after Stafford scored on a touchdown run against the New York Jets during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in East Rutherfor
Kathy Willens
September 29, 2014
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates after scoring on a touchdown run against the New York Jets during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) For the second straight season, Detroit Lions are off to a 3-1 start.

The Lions are also in sole possession of first place in the NFC North after a 24-17 win at the New York Jets on Sunday.

''If anybody should know better than to get caught looking ahead, it's us,'' running back Reggie Bush said. ''Last year is a perfect example of that.''

Detroit was alone in first place entering Week 10 last season, and squandered the division lead and failed to make the playoffs.

It's still too early to know if Detroit has turned the corner under first-year coach Jim Caldwell in 2014.

However, the poise and savvy the Lions displayed in the fourth quarter against the Jets was a promising sign entering Sunday's home game against Buffalo (2-2).

''I think you have a number of guys that understand what the situation is and understand the problems they've had maybe previously in some situations,'' Caldwell said Monday.

''You have a group of guys with enough leaders that have sort of taken that cause on themselves to make certain that they don't do it on a consistent basis.''

Caldwell was talking about seemingly minor plays or issues that have hurt Detroit in the past.

One example is Bush's 16-yard carry on second-and-5 during the Lions' victory-clinching drive.

Bush made sure to stay inbounds after picking up a first down, forcing the Jets to take their second timeout with 2:38 remaining.

''(That) was as big of a play as there was in the ballgame,'' Caldwell said. ''If he runs out of bounds in that situation, it saves them a timeout and it changes the whole dynamic of what we're trying to get done.''

It wasn't the first indication that things are changing under Caldwell, who places a heavy emphasis on situational awareness.

One week earlier, Detroit's offense held the ball for the final 6:54 of a 19-7 home win over Green Bay.

''To see the offense seal the deal, it's the best drive in football,'' cornerback Rashean Mathis said. ''It's the best feeling in the world for a defensive guy, especially after you've played a hard defensive game.''

Considering the Lions' reputation as a team that starts fast and falters down the stretch, the latest 3-1 start is less about what they've done and more about how they've done it.

Detroit's defense has given up 267.2 yards per game, best in the NFL, and the offense had 272 yards passing against the Jets with an injured Calvin Johnson getting just two catches for 12 yards.

''Our team does have some grit,'' Caldwell said. ''We were able to close it out and I think that's extremely important.''

Detroit was also without tight end Joseph Fauria, who suffered an unusual ankle injury.

''(My dog) did something bad and ran away from me,'' Fauria said Monday. ''I wasn't running down the stairs, but I was going a little faster than usual and I missed the last two steps.''

Rookie tight end Eric Ebron, a first-round draft pick, had four catches and a 16-yard touchdown reception against the Jets in Fauria's absence.

Now the focus shifts to a Bills team that announced Monday it will bench starting quarterback EJ Manuel in favor of veteran backup Kyle Orton, who is 4-0 against Detroit.

With Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota all at 2-2, the Lions understand better than most that a one-game division lead doesn't mean much in September.

''We know it's a long season,'' Mathis said. ''We know we have a long ways to go. We also know if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, we'll be smiling at the end of the day.''

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

You May Like