Lions find their stride on offense, take down Bears on Thanksgiving Day
On paper, the Detroit Lions have one of the best offenses in the NFL. But as we all know, the NFL rarely sticks to the script. Through 12 weeks, Detroit ranked No. 28 in the NFL in scoring, and it entered its Thanksgiving game with the Chicago Bears having scored just 15 points total in the two previous weeks.
Well, some homecooking may have given the Lions the jumpstart they needed. Detroit exploded for 34 points in a dominating 34-17 win over Chicago, a win the Lions needed to stay relevant in a tight NFC playoff race. With the win, the Lions move to 8-4, second in the NFC North, while the Bears drop to 5-7, squashing any hope they had of getting back into the wild-card race.
Leading the way for the Lions was QB Matthew Stafford -- who went 22-of-26 for 275 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and finished with 390 yards and those two touchdowns -- and WR Calvin Johnson, who finally looked 100 percent healthy after being hobbled by a high-ankle sprain early in the season.
It was a much-needed bounceback for the offense after those two straight duds against the Cardinals and Patriots, respectively. "We have no comfort zone," head coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this week. "We have no area in which we're comfortable with at this point in time with our offense."
Well, it looks like the Lions found their comfort zone on Thanksgiving. Detroit posted a season-high 474 yards of offense in the win, and with Johnson a full strength, this could just be the start of things for this Detroit offense.
Three more thoughts on the Lions’ much-needed victory:
1. Appreciating Calvin Johnson
I don’t need to tell you Calvin Johnson is good. But that high-ankle sprain cost Johnson three games and parts of two others, putting him on pace to finish with the lowest numbers since his rookie season. Some even started to wonder if Johnson, at 29, was a player in decline.
We can now put that debate to rest. Johnson dominated the Bears, finishing with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and looked much like the Megatron of old. Johnson surpassed 10,000 career receiving yards in just 115 games with the performance, making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach that mark.
"Calvin Johnson is still the best receiver in the league in my eyes and a lot of people's eyes, not just on this team," Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew said earlier this week.
He certainly looked like it Thursday, and if the ankle issues truly are behind him, this Lions offense could be dangerous down the stretch.
2. The Bears are a mess
What happened in Chicago? Considered a playoff contender before the season, the Bears have seemingly regressed in every facet in 2014. Coming off two straight 21-13 wins, Chicago's defense collapsed against the Lions, giving up 474 yards and failing to muster any push up front.
"It is bad … there’s no getting around it," coach Marc Trestman said after the Bears were embarrassed 55-14 by the Packers in Week 10. "You can’t sugar coat this."
You could say the same about the Thanksgiving Day game. Minus those two 21-13 victories, the Bears have given up an average of 30.8 points a game.
The offense wasn’t much better in this one, especially given the playmakers on the field. Chicago finished 5-of-12 on third downs, and QB Jay Cutler padded his league-high interception total, tallying turnovers No. 19 and 20. RB Matt Forte, one of Chicago’s most dangerous weapons, received just five carries, though he did finish with six receptions for 52 yards.
It’s clear wholesale changes are on the horizon in Chicago. Trestman is likely gone, and you can say the same about his coordinators. Cutler? He could be gone, too, if some team is willing to gamble on his huge arm and equally massive contract.
Needless to say, this was not the season expected in the Windy City.
3. Lions could roll down the stretch
In 2013, the Lions jumped out to a 6-3 start under then-head coach Jim Schwartz. They then proceeded to lose six of their last seven games, missing the playoffs and costing Schwartz his job. After the Lions dropped two straight games, many (including us) started to wonder if this was destined to be another lost season in Motown.
Well, we may have spoken too soon. The win over the Bears puts the Lions back in the race for the lead in the NFC North. And with the Packers playing a tough game against New England on Sunday -- and Detroit owning the tiebreaker over Green Bay -- the Lions could emerge from Week 13 with the division lead.
The schedule works in the Lions favor, too. Of the teams in contention for an NFC playoff spot, only the Saints and Panthers have an easier remaining schedule than the Lions. Upcoming for Detroit: Tampa Bay (2-9), Minnesota (4-7), at Chicago (5-7), at Green Bay (8-3). Needless to say, the Week 17 game in Green Bay will have huge implications for the NFC North.