Steady, division-leading Lions look toward Chicago

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Detroit Lions players are not ready to talk about a possible playoff berth, though they can clinch a spot this weekend with a win in Chicago.

In fact, their responses to any and all questions about a possible postseason appearance had a familiar ring.

''Take care of business,'' linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. ''One game at a time.''

Whitehead's response is proof that Detroit coach Jim Caldwell's belief that focusing on anything more than winning the next game on the schedule can be dangerous is resonating with his players. Detroit leads the NFC North over Green Bay (10-4) because of its 19-7 win over the Packers in Week 3 and can also clinch a playoff spot if Philadelphia loses to Washington.

Caldwell has steadfastly refused to discuss anything but Detroit's trip to Chicago. Whitehead says it is easy to follow Caldwell's lead.

''Actions speak louder than words,'' Whitehead said. ''When you have a coach that is preaching things to you, but he lives by it as well as coaching, you can respect it a lot more. There's no ulterior motive with him.''

Gone is the tense atmosphere sometimes present under former coach Jim Schwartz. In its place is an easygoing, relaxed locker room where interviews are conducted with the rhythmic thwap of a beanbag toss or the metronomic cadence of a table tennis game between teammates in the background. Safety Glover Quin says the atmosphere is a large part of Detroit's 10-4 record.

''When you go through what we went through last year (finishing 7-9), it makes you more aware of (good team chemistry) and you learn from it,'' he said.

While most of Detroit's players would have you believe that their improved record is an indication of the franchise's improvement, it's worth noting that nine of Detroit's 10 wins this season have come against teams whose records currently sit at or below the .500 mark. Detroit's lone loss to a sub-.500 team this season was a 24-7 defeat at Carolina (5-8) in Week 2. The team is 1-3 against opponents with winning records.

There's no doubting that Detroit has benefited from a schedule that saw them play the woeful NFC South and a Giants team that wasn't close to competitive at Ford Field in Week 1. Receiver Golden Tate, however, said the Lions success is built on its ability to play consistent football rather than the product of weak opposition.

''We play championship football,'' Tate said. ''We practice like every game is the most important game. When you do that, it makes it tougher to get emotionally inconsistent.We don't need to get up for any opponent. We're consistent.''

Chicago (5-9) is in the midst of a season beset by injuries and off-field problems. Still, Coach Marc Trestman's team has proven it can present problems for the Lions. The Bears held an early 14-3 lead over Detroit on Thanksgiving before surrendering 21 unanswered points in a 34-17 loss. Tate said the Lions must respect their division rivals in a tough road environment regardless of Chicago's internal issues.

''It doesn't matter if they're having a great season or a bad season,'' he said. ''If they're ready to play it could be a good game. If not, it could get out of hand. We need to worry about us.''

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