Raised expectations no problem for Lions
The Lions somehow packed 67,861 fans into 65,000-seat Ford Field on Monday night, the biggest crowd in that stadium's 10-year history. And that crowd came expecting a victory.
Detroit delivered, stuffing Chicago for a 24-13 win, perhaps the most definitive sign yet that this team is finally, mercifully for real. It's easy to sneak up on people and spring an upset or two, as the Lions did during a four-game win streak to end the 2010 season. It's another battle entirely to win when everyone thinks you're going to.
That might not sound like the biggest challenge in the world -- meeting expectations. But when those expectations rise as sharply as they have in the Motor City, the pressure can become too much.
Let's not forget that it's been only three season since the Lions finished 0-16. They were just 2-14 in 2009 and started 2-10 last year before running off four straight wins.
So, it is incredible to think that, five games into this season, Detroit suddenly has the look of a team that could contend for the entirety of this season.
But you need look no further than the standings to see why the Lions' fan base is juiced up. Two NFL teams remain undefeated: Detroit and Green Bay. The Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions and feature a roster loaded up and down with talent, so much so that talk has already begun of a possible 16-0 regular season.
As for the Lions?
We still may be too close to the initial stages of this turnaround to say for sure. Detroit's no doubt looked the part of a contender to this point.
On Monday night, the Lions committed 12 penalties in an often-ugly display of football. They scored just seven points in the first half and struggled to deal with the emotions of the franchise's first Monday night home game in a decade.
Yet, it never for a minute felt like Chicago was going to win this one. Detroit's defense allowed just three points in the second half, while Matthew Stafford, with a large assist from running back Jahvid Best, rallied the offense for 17 points in the final two quarters.
Jay Cutler will see the Lions' pass rush in his nightmares. All things considered, Chicago's QB probably turned in one of his better efforts in some time -- he finished 28 for 38, despite being sacked three times and hurried on what felt like every single passing play.
The Lions offense, meanwhile, used a pair of Stafford TD tosses -- including his ninth this season to superstar Calvin Johnson -- and an 88-yard Best scoring run to fuel the party atmosphere.
Anyone waiting for Detroit to flinch might be sitting around for a bit. The Lions host San Francisco and Atlanta over the next two weeks, then travel to Denver before a Week 9 bye. Even though there isn't a gimme in there, 8-0 isn't out of the question.
Nothing feels out of the question anymore in Detroit, for that matter.
Not with a defensive line so deep head coach Jim Schwartz should make the players on it take a number waiting to get in the game. Not with Stafford and Johnson dominating opposing defenses. Not with a team and a fan base that, after so many years of being a league laughingstock, has every reason to believe in what's happening on the field.
With each win, the buzz grows a little more. If there was ever a chance for the Lions to crash back to earth, it was Monday, in the national spotlight against a Bears team that had dominated them recently. Instead, Detroit overcame mental mistakes and a sluggish start to claim another victory.
The pressure of raised expectations can crack even the best of teams -- just ask Philadelphia or Dallas or the Jets.