NFC North: Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Willie Young heard Matthew Stafford called him “one of my favorite teammates” Tuesday and the former Detroit Lions defensive end -- now with the Chicago Bears -- started to laugh.

Young, who left the Lions in free agency during the offseason, was actually one of the more well-liked players in the Detroit locker room during his four years with the Lions, but, yeah, Young thought Stafford might be trying to fete him just a little bit.

“Absolutely, yeah,” Young said, laughing. “Yeah. He’s buttering me up on that one. Matt Stafford, man, he was a cool guy. He came to work every day, put the work in. Obviously he’s a very talented quarterback. He doesn’t make too many bad decisions, I would say. I know this year he hasn’t been because they’ve been on the winning side of things.

[+] EnlargeWillie Young
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFormer Lions defensive end Willie Young has been a force as a Bear, compiling eight sacks.
“He’s obviously a respected quarterback, get rid of the ball fast, make pretty good decisions, has some good guys in the backfield running the ball for him. But I could see why he might be trying to be kinda nice to me right now because he’s a little low on protection right now. I don’t blame him for being nice right now.”

Stafford is smart to try to get on Young's good side, as Young has flourished since leaving Detroit in the offseason. Finally getting a chance to be an every-down defensive end in his fifth NFL season, he is 13th in the NFL in sacks with eight -- two more than he had in his four seasons with the Lions. Considering the Lions could end up starting two rookies on the offensive line Thursday if Cornelius Lucas replaces the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle, and Young could have a big return to his old stadium.

Young was a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State, but ended up as mostly a rotational player until last season, when he played every game after a season-ending injury to Jason Jones. Having had to learn behind Kyle VandenBosch, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Andre Fluellen in various forms helped him as he watched from the sidelines.

“Don’t get it wrong now, is it tough sitting on the sidelines, not playing, knowing that you have what it takes to be a player, yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Young said. “But I was able to figure out a way to deal with that and take everything that I could from the game, from the sideline standpoint. It just bettered me as a person and obviously as a player.”

It’s a progression Lions players expected when Young received more snaps, especially after he made the leap from 11 tackles in 2012 to 47 in 2013, which helped set up his free agency move.

Young said Tuesday he didn’t know if the Lions made him an offer during free agency or if they even called his agent to inquire about his services. He just knows his agent told him he was headed to Chicago on a new deal.

When asked about Young and free agency, Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t say whether or not he had wanted to bring Young back this season or not, but complimented his pass rushing ability.

His old teammates, though, saw exactly what Young could do from the beginning and figured this type of leap might come from him.

“Everybody saw what he could do from the jump,” Fluellen said. “I’m actually not surprised at all. He has a special talent and he has a really good attitude for the game.

“I’m not surprised at all.”
Kyle and Corey FullerCourtesy of Fuller familyWith their sons playing on opposite sides Thursday, the Fuller's parents got creative with jerseys.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Vincent Fuller went to the tailor Friday night to pick up a special order -- one 20-plus years in the making.

Fuller has four children. They all play football. All played at Virginia Tech. Three of them in the NFL. Yet this week could be a first for the family and a rarity in the NFL.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the Fullers hope they'll see two of their four boys on the field at the same time when Corey Fuller's Detroit Lions face Kyle Fuller's Chicago Bears. The extra hope is they would match up against each other since Corey is a receiver and Kyle is a cornerback. So Vincent Fuller and his wife, Nina, had two jerseys custom-made.

"We just wanted to represent both our kids," Vincent said from Maryland on Saturday. "Me and my wife are the only ones who have it. We're going to have a Chicago and a Detroit jersey mixed with No. 23 and No. 10 on the same jersey."

Whether or not Kyle and Corey actually line up against one another is in doubt. Kyle hurt his knee Sunday, leaving his status in doubt, although Chicago coach Marc Trestman said he was "hopeful" Kyle would play Thursday.

If it happens, it'll be the culmination of two brothers starting their sibling competitions in the basement of their home playing carpet football and baseball. Of the four Fuller brothers, Corey and Kyle are the closest in age, less than two years apart. The two competed in everything along with their younger brother, Kendall, who plays for Virginia Tech.

In that basement, the two groomed their future competitiveness with rug burns on their knees and tears in their eyes whenever one of them would lose an argument, usually with Kendall serving as de facto referee.

It also honed the start of their trash talk, which Vincent said started about this game in September when Kyle intercepted two passes against San Francisco. He said Corey texted Kyle and typed he wouldn't do that against the Lions.

[+] EnlargeCorey Fuller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions' Corey Fuller will play against his brother Kyle on Thanksgiving.
"I'm like, ‘Man, it's September and you're already going to talk trash already,' " Vincent said. "But that's' how they are. It's all in fun. They love each other. They help each other out. They got each other's back.

"But it's all in fun."

The fun would increase Thursday if Corey and Kyle line up opposite one another.

Thinking about the possibility last week, Corey broke out into a big grin and started laughing. He said they never discussed the possibility as kids or in college, either, especially when Corey first went to Kansas to run track before transferring to Virginia Tech to start playing football again.

"If I run out there and see Kyle, my first play, I might laugh," Corey said. "Not laugh at him, just laugh at the fact that this is real. I'm playing my brother in an NFL game.

"But then, from there, it's I got to do what I got to do to help the team and he's got to do what he has got to do. It'll be like any other game competing. So we'll see."

Not quite like any other game. Corey said he and his brother would absolutely talk trash to each other on the field and might even throw in some extra nudges and shoves for brotherly measure. Just like in their basement.

"It's going to be pretty cool," Kyle said last week. "I'm definitely looking forward to it. It makes it even more fun with it being Thanksgiving because the whole family will be there."

Almost. Kendall will be at the site of the Fuller family's last four Thanksgiving dinners and Nina and Vincent's destination Friday morning -- Blacksburg, Virginia. Otherwise, everyone is expected in suburban Detroit on Wednesday night and Thursday for pregame and postgame Thanksgiving meals.

Vincent said Kyle received permission from the Bears to stay in Detroit on Thursday night to have dinner with the family. Depending on the outcome of the game, that dinner consisting of turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, turnips and Nina's famous sauerkraut dish might be even more interesting.

"I don't know what's going to happen Thursday, but I can imagine what dinner is going to be like," Vincent said. "Especially if they do go up against one another and Corey gets a pass on Kyle or let's say Corey's thrown the ball and Kyle deflects the ball or intercepts the ball.

"I can imagine what's going to go on."

Without a doubt, there will be trash talked. Laughs had among the 15 family members and friends expected to show. Because right now, the Fullers will potentially see two of their own play on Thanksgiving Day and for a family forever focused on football, not much can be better than that.

NFL Nation Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright contributed to this report.
videoWhen: 12:30 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: Ford Field, Detroit TV: CBS

The Detroit Lions broke their Thanksgiving Day hex last season when they annihilated NFC North foe Green Bay. At the time, the Lions looked like a team potentially heading for the playoffs after stopping a two-game skid.

The Lions didn't win a game the rest of the season.

This season, the Lions face a Chicago Bears team that has won two straight and, much like Detroit, has a bunch of offensive talent currently failing to meet expectations. Does one of these teams break out Thursday?

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down what could happen in this divisional Thanksgiving clash.

Rothstein: Chicago has a ton of offensive talent on paper, but this team has not put up the offense that one would think. What has been the main culprit here?

Wright: A few things, but the main issues throughout this team's struggles have been quarterback Jay Cutler, who has a penchant for committing turnovers, and the play calling. Cutler leads the league in giveaways, and in all but one of this team's losses this season, the quarterback turned over the ball multiple times. Yet in all but one of the team's victories, Cutler didn't throw an interception. So there's definitely a correlation there, as the Bears are 3-10 during Marc Trestman's tenure when they finish on the negative side of the turnover margin and 1-4 when the turnover margin is equal. Obviously, the Bears could minimize Cutler's exposure to potential turnovers by leaning more on the ground game with Matt Forte averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. But what happens is the Bears too often abandon the running game for the pass, which is understandable given all the weapons on the outside. Once the Bears start throwing it all over the yard, Cutler starts turning it over and opposing defenses capitalize (opponents have scored 82 points off Chicago's turnovers), which in turn makes it impossible to rededicate to the ground game because by then the offense is usually trying to overcome a deficit.

What's your take on the perception that Jim Caldwell has been too conservative, and do you see him loosening up some with this team trying to snap a two-game skid?

Rothstein: It's interesting because he wasn't at all against Miami, when the Lions attempted two fake punts in a half. Since then, the offense has looked completely out of rhythm, passes are getting dropped again, Stafford is under duress and Calvin Johnson is going through only the second three-game stretch of his career where he has caught less than 50 percent of his targets. But being at home cures a lot of things for Detroit typically, and that alone should help. Theoretically.

Switching to defense, what has gone into Willie Young's success with Chicago? He was emerging with Detroit, but how has his game grown?

Wright: You've been around him, Mike. You know the type of guy he is. Young's ascension is a product of the work he's put in, and the Bears just happened to bring him aboard at the perfect time in his career. Obviously it helps Young to have a veteran such as Jared Allen around to teach him some of the nuances of the game. But Young has also benefited from working with martial arts expert Joe Kim. The Bears brought in Kim as a consultant to work with the defensive linemen on hand-fighting techniques, and that's helped the group as a whole. Throw in Allen's tutelage and Young's own work ethic and you see why he's been able to put together a breakout season.

Can you provide a rundown on what's taken place with the guys Young will face, the offensive line? I know the group has struggled pretty much all season, but Riley Reiff's situation probably complicates things with the Lions looking possibly to start a couple of undrafted free agents at the tackle spots.

Rothstein: Between injuries, a small change in how the team blocks this season and just struggles with personnel, it's gotten really rough for the line. Let's start with the injuries. Right guard Larry Warford -- probably Detroit's best lineman -- is still out with a knee injury. LaAdrian Waddle, the right tackle, is healthy now but has been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries. Reiff, the left tackle, hurt his knee Sunday against the Patriots and his status is in doubt for Thursday. So the cohesion has barely been there. Also, some of the concepts have changed with how they block and how long it takes both the routes and runs to develop due to play calls, so it has put some other pressures on the line.

For so long, the Bears have used Peanut Tillman on Calvin Johnson. Tillman's out. How do the Bears deal with Johnson and Golden Tate now?

Wright: To me, that's one of the most significant concerns for the Bears entering this game. As you already know, rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller's availability for this game is uncertain with him suffering a knee injury in the win over Tampa Bay. Fuller had been playing with a broken hand and a hip pointer prior to his latest setback. Fuller's injury didn't appear to be significant initially. But if Fuller can't go, the Bears would likely go with undrafted rookie Al Louis-Jean, who possesses similar size to Tillman (6-foot-1, 187 pounds). But would you want to put an undrafted rookie on Johnson? Tim Jennings (5-8) would likely struggle matching up with Johnson. So Chicago would be in a tough spot if Fuller isn't able to play. If the Bears are forced to go with Louis-Jean, the corners would probably stay on their respective sides with the defense giving the corner to Johnson's side safety help over the top, along with extra help underneath, whether that's from a linebacker or the nickel.

The Lions have lost two in a row for the first time all season, and surely there's some level of concern starting to creep in internally. This is uncharted territory for 2014 at least, but do you believe the Lions are better equipped to deal with this type of adversity now with Jim Caldwell calling the shots?

Rothstein: Theoretically, yes, although the personal foul penalty by C.J. Mosley and then the antics from Dominic Raiola at the end of Sunday's loss to New England did have me questioning whether Caldwell's message is truly getting through. The players still seem to believe in him and in the way he goes about things, which is always trying to stay calm and not showing signs of panic. This helped earlier this season when Detroit had three straight come-from-behind wins in October and November to help put them in this position. It's why Thursday is so big. Lose three straight and thoughts of another free fall might be more than just percolating around the edges.

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QB snapshot: Matthew Stafford

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss in Week 12:

Stafford
Stafford
Matthew Stafford is coming off a career-worst 39.1 completion percentage Sunday against the New England Patriots, and if his history is a guide, the Lions could be in trouble the rest of the way starting Thursday against Chicago.

In his career, Stafford is 4-12 in Weeks 13-17, including a 1-9 mark down the stretch in the past two seasons. His statistics also have showed significant drop-off as the season enters its final five weeks. Over the past three seasons, his QBR from Weeks 13-17 has dropped from 83.0 in 2011 to 49.6 in 2012 to 29.6 in 2013. His completion percentage has also been lower each season from 2011 to 2013, including a 57.4 percent mark last year.

After a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2011, he dipped to .86 touchdowns per interception in 2012 and .71 touchdowns per interception in 2013. Considering the way Detroit’s offense is struggling right now -- no offensive touchdowns in eight quarters -- how Stafford adjusts during the season’s final five weeks will be critical not only for the Lions’ playoff chances but also for his effort in turning around a disturbing trend.
Each week from here to the end of the season, we’ll assess Detroit’s standing in the NFC North and NFC wild card races.

And as of now, the Lions are right in the middle of the hunt in both situations.

Detroit

Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 24-31

Seed as of now: Out of playoffs due to tiebreaker with Seattle (common opponents)

Games left: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, at Chicago, at Green Bay.

NFC North:

Green Bay

Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 27-27

Games left: New England, Atlanta, at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, Detroit

Seed as of now: No. 2

Lions interests: Detroit still has a shot here, but it is tough to see the Packers losing to Atlanta or at Tampa Bay. New England is a possibility this weekend, but Green Bay has not lost at Lambeau Field this season. At Buffalo could be tricky as well and then there’s the season finale against the Lions. For that game to matter for divisional purposes, Detroit needs to either gain a game back on the Packers or at least keep pace at one game behind. Another Detroit loss combined with a Green Bay win would make any sort of NFC North crown very dicey.

NFC:

Top seed/NFC bye:

Arizona

Record: 9-2

Seed as of now: No. 1

Who they have left: at Atlanta, vs. Kansas City, at St. Louis, vs. Seattle, at San Francisco

What needs to happen for the Lions to get the No. 1 seed: Highly unlikely at this point. They are two games back of Arizona, and the Cardinals hold the tie-breaker as of now, too. Arizona’s schedule is tough down the stretch, but even so, the Lions do not look like a team capable of making up that ground right now.

 

Wild-card race:

Philadelphia

Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 29-26

Games left: at Dallas, Seattle, Dallas, at Washington, at New York Giants

Seed as of now: No. 3

Lions interests: There will be a lot more known about what the Lions need from Philadelphia and Dallas after the teams play each other Thursday. But right now, the Lions likely could still use a split from these games. Both the Eagles and Cowboys have similar schedules down the stretch -- each other twice, one difficult non-division opponent at home and a game against Washington. The only difference is Dallas plays at Chicago while the Eagles play the Giants. If one team sweeps the other in those Dallas-Philadelphia games, though, the Lions would actually be better off with Dallas winning the division and Philadelphia in a wild-card spot because Detroit holds the No. 2 tiebreaker over the Eagles (conference record, where the Lions are 5-2 and the Eagles are 4-3).

Dallas

Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 29-26

Games left: Philadelphia, at Chicago, at Philadelphia, Indianapolis, at Washington

Seed as of now: No. 5

Lions interests: As mentioned above, the Lions would be in a better position as of today if the Cowboys won the division and sent the Eagles into any potential wild card tie. That could easily change, though, considering the No. 2 tiebreaker is conference record and wins/losses between the teams would play a role. From a competitive standpoint, though, Detroit might want Dallas to win the division over Philadelphia because if they ended up in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup, the Cowboys might be the more beatable team.

San Francisco

Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 31-24

Games left: Seattle, at Oakland, at Seattle, San Diego, Arizona

Seed as of now: Out of playoffs

Lions interests: Right now, the 49ers are tied with the Lions and Seahawks for the final playoff spot. Those San Francisco-Seattle games will be extremely important to Detroit. If one of the two sweeps the other, the chances of a two-way wild card tie instead of a three-way one increase dramatically. If there’s a split, it could come to a three-way tie. Right now, Detroit is out of the playoffs, and if they were in a two-way tie with the 49ers, they would lose out due to conference record.

Seattle

Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 35-20

Games left: at San Francisco, at Philadelphia, San Francisco, at Arizona, St. Louis

Seed as of now: No. 6 seed

Lions interests: Right now the Lions are in a two-way tiebreaker with Seattle -- the Seahawks eliminate the 49ers in a first tiebreak scenario -- and would be in the playoffs due to the third tiebreaker: common opponents if there are four or more. Right now, the Seahawks are 4-0 against common opponents (Arizona, Green Bay, Carolina and the New York Giants) while the Lions are 2-2. The Seahawks can be no worse than 4-1 there while the Lions can be no better than 3-2 so if the overall and conference records are the same, Detroit will lose out on a seed or playoff berth if it reaches the third tiebreaker. For that reason, the Lions need San Francisco to beat Seattle.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – They had miscommunications that led to open receivers. Against a Hall of Fame quarterback, that was a crippling blow to the Detroit Lions' chances of beating the New England Patriots.

The Lions had the top-ranked scoring and overall defense entering Sunday’s game. New England and Tom Brady dissected what the Lions have been able to do and exploited Detroit like no team has this season.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Typically, no matter how much Detroit has struggled on offense or in special teams, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been able to point to his defense as a bright spot. Not Sunday, after 34 points allowed and a second straight game without a sack.

“They were able to move the ball, score touchdowns on us and we got a little settled down there for a while right after the half,” Caldwell said. “But they still were able to handle us pretty well.”

New England essentially abandoned the run until late in the game, rushing only six times in the first half and 20 times overall. They instead trusted their Hall of Fame quarterback, who completed 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

On those touchdowns, the Lions lost tight end New England tight end Tim Wright, who was incredibly wide open on both plays. Communication breakdowns, safety James Ihedigbo said, led to some of the issues.

“They run a fast-paced offense. They schemed us up pretty good,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We didn’t execute our defense.”

It has been an all-around stingy defense all season, ranked in the top 10 in essentially every major defensive category entering Sunday. And even after they were beaten handily for the first time this season, the Lions’ defense remained among the best in the league in all of those categories – including points allowed (17.3 per game) and run defense (70.73 yards a game and 3.15 yards per play).

“They just executed at a high level,” Ihedigbo said. “You have to give hats off to New England. They came out. They went up-tempo. They did what they did well and just, they executed.”
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted to make one more play, extend one more drive to try for another improbable comeback.

Stafford was pressured on fourth-and-10 from the New England Patriots' 25-yard line with 11:36 left. He kept looking downfield. With nothing available, Stafford scrambled. He headed toward the sideline and had enough room to get the first down.

Instead he slid, starting a yard short. Instead of extending the drive, his decision to slide ended it, giving the ball back to the Patriots again in a 34-9 loss Sunday.

It was another poorly performed play in a litany of them Sunday against New England, a day so bad that Detroit's perpetually level-headed coach Jim Caldwell couldn't even find a bright spot when he addressed the media after the game.

"This is one of the few times that we've kind of stood here in front of you and didn't have at least some bright spots to talk about," Caldwell said. "We didn't have many in this game."

On offense, that has been the problem for a series of games now -- almost every one this season. This -- against Miami, Arizona and New England -- was a stretch of games where Detroit could have established itself as a contender in the NFC.

What this game -- along with the lackluster offensive showing against Arizona -- showed is the Lions are still far from being one of the league's elite teams. Instead, they went 1-2 and have scored only field goals the past two games. They were picked apart on defense for the first time this season by a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady.

Touchdowns have also disappeared from Detroit. The Lions haven't scored a touchdown in eight quarters and counting. They haven't had a rushing touchdown in four games.

"It's one of those games, we just ... it's embarrassing," receiver Golden Tate said. "We've got to chalk it up and have a short-term memory. That's the most important thing, not to lose our swagger, not to lose our confidence.

"Just come out with a mission, come out on a mission to really take it out on our next opponent, which happens to be Chicago, who is also another good team regardless of what their schedule says."

Detroit could easily be a playoff team, even though Sunday's loss combined with Green Bay's win over Minnesota pushes the Lions a game behind the Packers in the NFC North. And for now, it throws Detroit into a murky wild-card mix with Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco -- essentially four teams fighting for two spots.

Reaching that goal starts with rehabilitating an offense that has not looked consistently sharp since the opening week of the season. While Detroit may have put up more yards and points than a week ago in Arizona, larger issues once again showed up.

Dropped passes, which had not been an issue this season, hurt the Lions. At least six of Stafford's passes were dropped -- three of which would have been touchdowns.

"Everybody has one of them games," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We just weren't executing, weren't playing Detroit Lion football, the football that we know we are capable of playing. Whenever there's dropped passes, there's just lack of focus on our part."

That lack of focus crushed drives Sunday -- or at least kept the Lions from finishing them with touchdowns. The lack of offensive cohesion sums up where the Lions are right now as their true identity slowly comes into focus: a good defense with an offense still struggling to find itself with five games left.

"We were scoring three," center Dominic Raiola said. "They were scoring seven. Can't do it. We got to score six, you know."

Whether Detroit starts to score with more consistency the remainder of the season will be the difference between the Lions being a playoff team or watching at home again in January.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots.
  • During the week, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not consider taking play-calling duties away from first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. After another game without a touchdown -- the first time the team has gone two straight games without an offensive touchdown since 2000 -- Caldwell said they would be looking at things to change in the offense, although nothing drastic. When asked if he would consider taking play-calling duties away from Lombardi, Caldwell offered a one-word answer: "No."
  • Reiff
    Reiff
    The Lions lost another offensive lineman for the majority of the game Sunday after left tackle Riley Reiff injured his left knee on the game's first play. Reiff, who was walking in the locker room after the game, said to ask the coaches about his knee, and Caldwell had no update on the severity of his injury. Caldwell said he felt rookie Cornelius Lucas "held his own" replacing Reiff, but Lucas gave up at least one sack.
  • Lions safety Glover Quin lined up in the slot more often than normal as Detroit used its three-safety nickel package with Quin, James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Detroit did that to try to keep New England from finding mismatches all day. "That was the thinking behind that," Quin said. "To try to hold up [passes] and the run game."

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:20
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

What it means: This was always going to be a struggle and perhaps the Lions' toughest game of the season. However, there should be legitimate concern with Detroit's offense right now. The Lions have gone two straight games without a touchdown and despite shrinking the play-calling sheet in order to help find offensive rhythm and consistency, the Lions gained 335 yards -- right around their 332.3 yard per game average -- but once again appeared largely inconsistent.

More on this below, but perhaps a bigger concern was the return of the drops for the Lions -- an issue in 2013 but so far not a problem this season. Detroit had at least six drops against the Patriots, including three potential touchdowns.

Defensively, the Lions weren't much better. While the Patriots abandoned the run early, Tom Brady was able to carve through Detroit's defense, completing 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also not sacked -- the second straight game the Lions have been unable to sack an opposing quarterback.

Stock watch: Rising – Golden Tate. He went over 1,000 yards for the season and once again had a strong game with four catches for 97 yards a week after the Lions only threw two passes to him. He also was one of the few Detroit receivers to not drop a pass -- an accomplishment on a day where the Lions dropped three potential touchdown receptions. Falling – Pass-catchers. Eric Ebron dropped Matthew Stafford's best throw of the day -- a touch pass in stride that hit Ebron in the hands before he dropped it. There were also drops in the end zone by Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross. Calvin Johnson had a couple of drops as well. But those three dropped touchdowns made a massive difference in the game.

Back to second: With Green Bay knocking off Minnesota, 24-21, the Lions are officially out of first place in the NFC North. The Packers are 8-3 and the Lions are 7-4. This puts Detroit in a crowded wild-card race with Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. This is realistically three teams for two spots -- one of the Eagles or Cowboys will win the NFC East -- and something that is going to be watched the rest of the season.

Game ball: Once again, Tate was one of the few bright spots on the Lions and the only one offensively for the team. He gave the Lions more than a third of their total offense Sunday -- 97 yards receiving, 13 yards rushing -- and is the only player on Detroit able to show any offensive creativity right now. He's been the only consistent thing on the Lions' inconsistent offense this season.

What's next: The Lions head home for a short week before facing division rival Chicago on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving game.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Reggie Bush said Monday he felt he would return to the Detroit Lions' lineup against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

That won’t be happening.

Bush is inactive for the Lions against the Patriots, the fourth time he will have missed a game this season due to his lingering ankle injury. He had practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on a limited basis.

With Bush out, expect Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to both see increased work similar to last week when Bush sat against Arizona. Bell had 85 yards rushing against the Cardinals, the most of any back for the Lions in a game this season.

Bush initially hurt the ankle in Week 5 against Buffalo and missed the next week against Minnesota. He aggravated the injury against New Orleans in Week 7 and sat out the next week against Atlanta. Then he played against Miami in Week 10 and injured it again, forcing him to sit against Arizona and now New England.

By missing his fourth game, Bush is assured of playing only 12 games this season at maximum. It will be his fewest games played since 2010, when he appeared in eight games for New Orleans. This season, Bush has 53 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown, along with 26 catches for 169 yards.

Lions inactives: RB Reggie Bush, RG Larry Warford, DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, TE Kellen Davis.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running backs haven't hit holes efficiently. Sometimes, the blocking just isn't there for them. And yet other times, their decisions have been rough.

There are many, many reasons to explain why the Detroit Lions' running game has been extremely inefficient this season. Here's another -- and one that might change Sunday when they face New England: The Lions haven't had their three top backs -- Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick -- all healthy for an entire game at the same time since the third week of the season against Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's performance against the Cardinals -- 14 carries for 85 yards -- gives hope that Detroit's running game may be about to turn a corner.
Yes, Detroit's run game was in bad shape even before that, but the Lions posted their second-highest yards per carry number of the season in Week 2 against Carolina (3.9 yards), had their highest rushing total in Week 3 against Green Bay (115 yards) and put together their only multi-touchdown rushing game of the season in Week 1 against the New York Giants (2).

Since then, Bell, Bush and Riddick have each missed all or parts of games due to injury. The Lions haven't rushed for a touchdown since Week 7 against New Orleans. They rushed for 98 yards Sunday against Arizona -- the first time the Lions have come close to 100 yards since Week 6 against Minnesota.

Against the Cardinals, Bell looked like the decisive runner the Lions have needed this season and his 85 yards were the most by any one Detroit running back in a game this season.

“The overall numbers weren't huge, but I think our running game looked a lot better this last week and that's obviously encouraging,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “And so, if we can keep getting those big plays and getting a little bit more consistency, that's going to help us.”

The big plays and the consistency have been the biggest issues for Detroit this season with the offense as a whole and the running game. Bell has 14 runs of 10-plus yards this season with four of them coming Sunday against Arizona. Bush has two of those plays -- but none since Week 4, the last week he was fully healthy for an entire game.

George Winn, who is the team's fourth back and only used in case of injury has two 10-plus yard runs, both against the Bills when Bell was out. Riddick, who is more of a receiver out of the backfield, has yet to have a run of 10 or more yards this season.

Of the four, Bell has been the back that has been the most consistent and the closest to being able to have a big running game -- especially since Bush and Riddick are used in a receiving role as well. The way Bell ran Sunday, though, gives Detroit some confidence it might have found something with its rushing.

With Bell handling the majority of the work, the Lions posted a season-high 5.2 yards per rush, the first time this year they have eclipsed Jim Caldwell's desire of four yards per rush in a game.

“You have a guy that's capable, who can break tackles and sometimes, that has to be done,” Caldwell said. “We attribute it to the fact that he practiced extremely well for a number of weeks and you could see it coming that he's going to have a big game.

“I think his big games are yet to come. When I think you look at the running game, our average is up where we want them, they're above it and we want to continue that. We want to run it even better.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One major college football head coaching job is open at Florida. Another, at Michigan, could be open in a few weeks depending what happens with Brady Hoke.

And in Allen Park, Michigan, there is a guy who would fit in as a potential candidate for both.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDetroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent one season as defensive coordinator at Florida, in Urban Meyer's final season as head coach in 2010.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – who was a secondary coach with the Wolverines from 1999-2002 and was defensive coordinator with the Gators in 2010 – runs the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

So it made sense Thursday that he was asked about the job that's open at Florida.

“I’m thinking about this game right here. I haven’t even thought about it,” Austin said. “I hate it for all the guys who are down there; there’s a whole bunch of families that people who lost their jobs.”

The 49-year-old Austin would not say whether or not he wants to be a head coach down the road as he tries to focus on Detroit’s game Sunday against New England.

With the way the Lions are playing, though, there’s a possibility both Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be brought up as potential NFL or college head coach candidates as soon as this offseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, once himself in a position to move from a coordinator to a head coach, said he would support his coaches in pursuit for other jobs as long as it doesn’t affect the jobs they currently have.

“It depends on the situation,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been in a similar situation myself early on in my career. I’m supportive of whatever we have to do in order to get a guy into position to do well if that’s his heart’s desire. But we don’t let it interfere with what we’re doing.

“Our job is to win games and that’s what we’re doing. They understand that and the guys we have, have great focus in that regard. If you’re good and you plan well, you’re going to have teams and people that have interest in people on your staff. That’s the way it should be.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh was asked about his future again Wednesday -- this time by members of the Detroit media.

He said, though, that he doesn't look very far in the future.

"I just kind of look at things and enjoy the moments that I have right now and kind of go from there," Suh said.

Suh
Suh is in the final season of his rookie contract and is eligible for free agency in March, should he not re-sign with the Lions before then.

So as for that immediate future -- that would be facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday. Suh is looking forward to facing Brady, who is one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league to sack. He's only been brought down more than 30 times in a season twice -- 32 times in 2011 and 40 times last season.

So far this season, he's only been sacked 14 times for 75 yards.

"I think, in my opinion, times in the past there's ways to get after him," Suh said. "He's an exceptional quarterback. It's not necessarily easy, but no quarterback likes to be hit.

"That's one of our goals, to get after it, put a lot of pressure on him, try to speed things up, try to get back there and get in his face and do different things of that nature."

The Lions are coming off their first game of the season of not recording at least one sack.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING

Ebron
TE Eric Ebron: The rookie caught all four passes thrown his way and appeared more comfortable in the offense during his return from a hamstring injury. He’s still a growth project for the Lions – as most rookie tight ends are – but Sunday was a good step forward for him. The way Detroit broke down snaps, too, showed Ebron might have usurped Joseph Fauria as the primary pass-catching tight end. That should mean more snaps and looks in the stretch run of the season.

RB Joique Bell: This will be discussed below as well, but Bell finally appears to have rediscovered the power running game he had last season. Sunday against Arizona was his best effort of the year – 85 yards rushing – but it was the way he ran that was as important as his yardage. He was decisive, difficult to bring down and looked fast. The Lions are better when he is getting the carries.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: He didn’t have any sacks Sunday against Arizona – nobody on Detroit’s defense did – but he hit Drew Stanton twice, made three tackles and was a general nuisance for the Cardinals. It is sometimes difficult to tell the impact of a defensive lineman in a game, but he has continued to play well and is a good complement to Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line even with Nick Fairley’s injury at tackle.

FALLING

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi: His game plan against Arizona was ineffective and predictable – from the long-developing short yardage runs on third down to what Detroit would do with two tight ends on the line of scrimmage in the game. His inability to have Golden Tate involved in the offense after the first quarter was also difficult to explain, as he entered the game in the top five in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards.

Bush
Bush
RB Reggie Bush: When he comes back from his long-lingering ankle injury, it’s possible he’s going to see a shift in roles. Bell has run extremely hard the past two weeks and has given Detroit a semblance of a running game that had been nonexistent for the majority of the season. Bell should be the option right now, with Bush and Theo Riddick acting as receivers, change-of-pace backs and backs used in two-back formations. This should turn into Bell’s job.

Lions’ NFC North chances: Detroit is tied with Green Bay atop the division this week and still has to go to Lambeau Field in Week 17. There are players on the Lions who were not alive when Detroit last won in the state of Wisconsin, so this is an issue. History aside, Green Bay has been decimating opponents in the past month, including a destruction of another potential playoff team, Philadelphia, in Green Bay. While the playoffs still look good for Detroit, unseating the Packers in the NFC North does not.

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Thursday, 11/27
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