NFC North: Detroit Lions

CHICAGO -- The Detroit Lions claimed Josh Thomas earlier this week from the New York Jets, and now he'll be active in his first game for his new team Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

With rookie cornerback Mohammed Seisay inactive Sunday due to injury, Thomas will be Detroit's fourth cornerback against the Bears.

Other than that, all of the Lions who have been inactive for the majority of the season continue to be inactive: Nick Fairley, Kellen Moore, Larry Webster, Caraun Reid, Rodney Austin and wide receiver Ryan Broyles.

The more interesting news comes from Chicago, where guard Kyle Long is inactive with a hip injury. In past Lions-Bears games, Long had been responsible for matching up with Ndamukong Suh. Considering the Bears are starting Jimmy Clausen at quarterback -- his first start since 2010 -- he needed all the healthy offensive linemen he could get.

Instead, perhaps his best lineman will be out Sunday.
CHICAGO -- Jim Caldwell doesn't need to worry about his family or the media asking about the playoffs anymore. The Detroit Lions are in the postseason and didn't even need to win either one of the last two games of the season to do it.

The Lions clinched their first playoff berth since 2011 on Saturday night after Washington upset Philadelphia, 27-24. Due to tiebreakers the Lions hold over the Eagles, there is no way Detroit can miss the playoffs.

The last time Detroit made the playoffs, it clinched in Week 16 as well by knocking off San Diego on a Saturday.

This marks the Lions' second playoff berth since the turn of the century and second in four seasons. Jim Caldwell becomes the first Detroit coach to make the playoffs in his first season with the club since 1997, when Bobby Ross went 9-7 and lost in the wild-card round.

Caldwell and Ross are the only Detroit coaches in franchise history to make the playoffs in the first season with the team.

The Lions still have a lot to play for, too. Detroit can still win the NFC North by winning at Green Bay next week or by winning Sunday in Chicago and having the Packers lose to Tampa Bay. If the Lions do not win the division, they are likely the No. 6 seed due to not holding tiebreakers against Arizona or Seattle. Detroit holds tiebreakers over Dallas and Philadelphia.

Detroit has not won a divisional title since 1993, when the NFC North was the NFC Central, but that is still in play for the Lions.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Last month, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin essentially said he would not be interested in the coaching job at the University of Michigan.

He didn’t, though, say he would be opposed to any head coaching job at all.

The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that Austin is one of nine potential head coaching candidates the Fritz Pollard Alliance would present to NFL teams searching for new head coaches once the offseason hits in a few weeks.

“It’s flattering,” Austin said. “But that’s all it is right now.

Austin is an attractive candidate. In his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, he has led the NFL’s No. 1 run defense and No. 2 overall defense. He’s also done a good job adjusting to injuries, as his defenses have remained high-caliber despite losing middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch for the whole season and defensive tackle Nick Fairley for the second half of it.

The 49-year-old Austin said he hasn’t thought about how he would handle interviews, but that he would go on them if a team expressed interest in talking to him. He wouldn’t be concerned with how seriously a team might be considering him from the get-go because of what happened with Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh when he was hired.

Austin said he hasn’t spoken with Tomlin or his current boss, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, about potential interviews or for any advice they might impart if he were asked to chat about a vacancy.

But Caldwell has offered advice to others before.

University of Nevada head coach Brian Polian is close with Caldwell. The two spoke often when Caldwell was in Indianapolis about what it would be like to interview for jobs. Polian picked Caldwell’s brain because his goal has been to be a college head coach.

One piece of advice stood out and to this day, he’ll speak of how much Caldwell influenced him. Polian and Caldwell had a similar influential person to look to in Tony Dungy. Caldwell had also worked with Joe Paterno at Penn State when Caldwell was a younger coach.

Polian’s group of influencers includes Jim Harbaugh, Kevin Sumlin, Charlie Weis, Tony Dungy, Marv Levy, Dom Capers and Caldwell.

“When I began to interview for head coaching positions, [Caldwell] said it’s good to take a lesson from everybody that you’ve worked for and with saying hey I would do it this way or I would do it this way,” Polian told ESPN.com. “But ultimately, you’ve got to be yourself. If you try to be somebody else, it’s not going to work. So be Brian, don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“Because this is a fickle business we’re in, and you don’t want to fail because you tried to be something that you’re not. Just be who you are. I had a couple people tell me that, but Jim was one of the first guys to tell me that, and I always appreciated it.”

If Austin asks, it’s likely similar advice he would give him as well.
video
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox

The Chicago Bears' brass spewed plenty of tough talk after Lovie Smith’s firing about plans to close the gap on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

But while Chicago was talking grand plans, the rest of the division was actually executing them, which is how we’ve come into Sunday’s matchup at Soldier Field with the last-place Bears hosting the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions.

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup:

Wright: Looking at all the playoff scenarios, it’s clear all the Lions need to worry about is winning Sunday against the Bears. That has to be a refreshing feeling considering all this franchise has been through. What is the mood in the locker room, how confident is this team headed into such a crucial stretch, and do you feel the Lions are catching fire at just the right time?

Rothstein: That's all the Lions have been talking about, Michael. You ask a playoff question, you’re pretty much getting an answer about focusing on Chicago or beating Chicago. Personally, I was hoping there would be a Lions player this week who would answer every question with just the word "Chicago." That could have been entertaining. It all starts with coach Jim Caldwell, though. He won’t talk about the playoffs with anybody, not even his family. Considering how much the Lions have really bought into all of his motivational messages this season, it isn’t surprising they have continued doing that. As far as catching fire, Detroit’s defense has been consistent all season. The offense seems to vary depending on the opponent. Facing the Bears could be a good thing for the Lions since Chicago’s defense is one of the worst in the league.

The last time Detroit faced Chicago, the Bears seemed to be in a bit of a downward spiral. How has it gotten worse over the past four weeks?

Wright: Oh, Mike, let me count the ways. Instead of this being a "downward spiral," it’s now just a cliff with essentially everyone -- from team president Ted Phillips to the equipment staff -- trying desperately to prevent the inevitable tumble off the edge. Two nationally televised embarrassments in a row at Soldier Field in losses to Dallas and New Orleans. Do you realize nearly 11,000 fans didn’t show up for the club’s dismal showing against the Saints? Mike, you know it’s bad when you have a nationally televised game on tap, yet all the coverage throughout the week focuses on offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s tearful admission that he was the anonymous source for a report by the NFL Network, and the ensuing fallout from that. Right now, do you think the media in Chicago is talking about Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson or Ndamukong Suh? Nope. All the questions and speculation going into this game concern the futures of general manager Phil Emery, the coaching staff and whether ownership can stomach enough of this futility to resist cleaning house before the conclusion of the regular season. Mike, it’s bad. Very bad. It’s worse than anything I’ve ever covered, and the feeling I get is this team has thrown in the towel and is simply anticipating what appears to be the inevitable. I don't think news this week of the team naming quarterback Jimmy Clausen the starter over Jay Cutler eases the drama.

When the Lions first hired Caldwell, there was skepticism about his abilities as a head coach. There is no doubting Caldwell now, in my opinion. How different is the players' belief in Caldwell as this team’s leader compared to how they felt with Jim Schwartz?

Rothstein: I will readily admit I was one of Caldwell's biggest doubters, even at his opening news conference when I asked him about having a losing record in college and being out in Indy after three seasons. But he has really been the perfect coach for this team. His calmness has been the biggest factor in why Detroit has been able to continually come from behind this season and why Detroit is 10-4 with two games to go. The players, as mentioned, really buy into everything he’s saying and also appreciate his coaching style and that of his defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin. Austin often implements in-game adjustments from his players based on what they are seeing on the field, and it’s worked. Last week is a good example, as Minnesota scored 14 points early and didn’t score again the rest of the game. That has been huge for the Lions.

The Bears essentially abandoned the run against Detroit on Thanksgiving, and there are other games this season where they have done that, too. Does Chicago try to run on Detroit a second time, or do you expect more of the same Sunday?

Wright: The last time these teams met, Chicago knew running the ball against the Lions would prove to be an exercise in futility. So the Bears tried to attack Detroit the same way the Patriots did with the short passing attack. They figured short passes to Matt Forte would be an extension of the rushing attack. The game plan seemed to work at first, before Detroit turned a 14-3 deficit into a 24-14 lead at intermission on the strength of a trio of touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Forte finished with five attempts -- which tied a career low -- for 6 yards. If the Bears attack similarly in this contest, you can count on the Detroit Lions engineering a blowout. As good as Detroit’s run defense is, the Bears would render play-action totally ineffective if they abandon the run. So Chicago likely will start off the game trying to run the ball. But as you predicted, the Bears will abandon the rushing attack at some point. It’s just a matter of time in this game.

Mike, you cover a team with so many interesting storylines. What is the latest with the right tackle situation? Can you give me the lowdown on undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas, since he might be the next man up at that position with LaAdrian Waddle suffering a knee injury against Minnesota?

Rothstein: I don’t quite have the storylines you have, Michael. Caldwell essentially ruled Waddle out of Sunday’s game against Chicago, and Lucas is going to be the guy. He has had some struggles this season, but Lucas considers his best game of the season the only other one he started -- against the Bears on Thanksgiving. He was responsible for no quarterback sacks and no quarterback hurries in that game. Lucas might have been an undrafted free agent, but his size and foot speed make him a player with a lot of potential in the future. There is a reason Detroit coveted him in the UDFA market. It will be interesting to see him go up against Willie Young on Sunday, because Young is having his own breakout season and could really take advantage of Lucas if he isn’t careful. It could be one of the most hidden matchups to watch if Chicago has a chance at an upset.

Typically, it’s been the Lions in the role of spoiler throughout the recent history of this rivalry. Yet that is what the Bears are playing for this week. Is that a big motivation for them, or are the other issues taking over?

Wright: Self-preservation takes precedence over playing the spoiler role in this outing, my man. By and large, a good portion of the coaching staff believes it is on the way out. In fact, multiple coaches on that staff have told me as much. But they have also said it’s important for them to go out and conduct themselves as professionals, because when it’s all said and done, most if not all will be seeking employment elsewhere once ownership finally makes the decision to clean house. The Bears started the season losing three in a row at Soldier Field, and it appears this team is destined to end the season the same way. So I’m sure the Bears want to finish out with a victory in their last game of the season at Soldier Field. But honestly, I think spoiling Detroit’s season is the furthest thing from this team’s thinking at this point.
video
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Golden Tate heard the news about one of his closest friends, he immediately sent him a message.

In it, he told new Chicago Bears starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen to be safe.

Clausen
Tate
Tate
"I sent him a text saying I’m happy for you, but I’m also nervous for you," Tate said. "Our defense ain’t nothing to mess around with, so for that to be your first start with your new team, it can be nerve-racking.

"But I hope he does well. I hope he stays safe out there. I hope he puts some good stuff on film, but I hope we still beat him pretty bad."

Tate knows Clausen better than anyone else on the Lions. The two have been close friends since their time at Notre Dame together, when Clausen threw passes to Tate during Tate's Biletnikoff Award-winning season in 2009.

Tate said he has wanted to see Clausen get another chance after he was thrown into the Panthers’ lineup as a rookie. Clausen went 1-9 in his rookie year in 2010, completing 157 of 299 passes for 1,558 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was sacked 33 times and posted a QBR of 11.0.

"I think it was unfair when he was in Carolina," Tate said. "He wasn’t on a great team, being a rookie. The next year they draft Cam Newton. He sits as a No. 3 [QB] because (Derek Anderson) was No. 2. They wouldn’t let him go, so he couldn’t even get an opportunity to go somewhere else to prove himself.

"Meanwhile, you’ve got tons of other, in my mind, terrible quarterbacks getting drafted in the first round. I’m sure you guys would agree with that, that have proven to be terrible, I’m not going to mention any names.

"That could have been his chance to shine, and then he tore his labrum last year and had to sit out the whole year and then he had to wait for someone to call. Wait for a chance. Gets to Chicago, gets a chance and beats out the No. 2 guy and is the backup quarterback. I believe in him and hope he makes the best of his opportunity for these last two games."

Well, he hopes he does well -- just not too well.

"In a perfect world he would play well and throw no touchdowns," Tate said. "And we would win."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Caldwell was asked Thursday morning to compare benched Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to the guy the Detroit Lions will face Sunday -- Jimmy Clausen.

Caldwell called Cutler incredible. He said Clausen was capable. Read into that what you will.

“You know, Cutler is a little different guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s a pretty incredible quarterback just in terms of athleticism, ability and those things. Clausen’s very capable, though.”

This could be a long, long Sunday for Clausen. Even if the Bears do what Caldwell anticipates, which is use Matt Forte way more than they did in his five-carry performance on Thanksgiving, it might not matter.

As long as Detroit’s run defense continues its consistency on early downs and forces Chicago into third-and-long situations, this could be a big day for the Lions defense and a rough day for Clausen.

Consider these things: There’s a reason why Clausen slipped to the second round of the NFL draft. And there’s a reason Carolina gave up on him after a season for Cam Newton. And there’s a reason he hasn’t started an NFL game since his rookie year.

In his only extended playing time, as a rookie with Carolina, he only completed 52.5 percent of his passes. He had six games where his QBR was in single digits. He was sacked an average of 2.5 times per game in his rookie year.

He’s not particularly good under pressure, either. In his rookie year, he was pressured 90 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He completed 18 of 57 passes for 215 yards. He was sacked 33 times, threw no touchdowns or interceptions and had a gaudy quarterback rating of 0.3 when pressured.

Then think about the Lions. They made the Chicago offensive line into a turnstile on Thanksgiving, pressuring Cutler, 16 times according to Pro Football Focus. Detroit’s defense sacks quarterbacks on 7.4 percent of their attempts -- 10th in the NFL. Meanwhile, Cutler was sacked 36 times this season, including seven times by New Orleans on Monday night.

Clausen had one good season -- his last one in college, where he completed 68 percent of his passes, threw 28 touchdowns and had only four interceptions. That was with an offense that had seven guys catch passes who would eventually play at least one NFL game (Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, Theo Riddick and Jonas Gray).

And here’s what Caldwell thought about Clausen then.

“Capable, you know. You got what you’re looking for,” Caldwell said. “Accurate guy coming out of college. Good leader and can certainly do exactly what he’s doing now.”

Up until Wednesday, that was sitting behind Cutler on the bench.
On the same day the Detroit Lions sent starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle to injured reserve, the team went a different direction to fill his roster spot.

The Lions claimed cornerback Josh Thomas off waivers after he was released by the New York Jets, filling Waddle's roster spot.

The 25-year-old Thomas was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft by Dallas. He never played a game for the Cowboys and spent three seasons in Carolina before splitting this season between Seattle and the Jets.

The 5-foot-11 Thomas has played in 42 NFL games with 54 tackles and one interception. He also has 12 career special-teams tackles.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It was halftime in London and the Detroit Lions had done little right in the first half against Atlanta. They practiced in England for a week and spent the first 30 minutes of Week 8 appearing jet-lagged.

Detroit’s first-year coach, Jim Caldwell, could have screamed or yelled in frustration or to motivate. Many coaches would. In years past, this would have happened. Not Caldwell. Not even close.

“You don’t understand, man,” offensive lineman Rodney Austin said. “I’ve never seen a coach down 21 at halftime that calm. He came in and was like, ‘Look, we didn’t play well and we know we didn’t play well. But what we have to do now is go out there and play well. So let’s go do it.’

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJim Caldwell's calm demeanor won over the Detroit Lions locker room. The Lions are 10-4 and would clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago on Sunday.
“That was his message. I was just standing there in shock, like he didn’t raise his voice. I don’t think as he spoke, his blood pressure didn’t go up. I don’t even think he started sweating hard.”

Lions players knew Caldwell wasn’t a screamer, one of the multitude of reasons Detroit hired him to replace the fiery Jim Schwartz. The monotone calmness Caldwell provided that day – and pretty much every day – was noticed. It had already been a theme during Caldwell’s first season. The Lions continually looked to the sidelines during come-from-behind wins to see the same level of emotion every time.

The Lions are 10-4 and headed toward a playoff berth. Caldwell might be the biggest reason why. This has been the antithesis of a typical Lions season. Instead of folding late in a season, they are thriving. Detroit is 3-3 in games in which it trailed by 14 or more points, including against Atlanta on Oct. 26 in London. The rest of the NFL is 11-128 in that situation.

“He’s our flight attendant,” receiver Jeremy Ross said. “When there’s a lot of turbulence on the plane, you look to the flight attendant to see whether you should panic or not. If the flight attendants are calm and they are not worrying when the plane is going all over the place, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ve been here before. They know it’s going to be OK.’

“If they are freaking out, then you’re freaking out, like, ‘Dang, is there something I don’t know?’ So him, when you look at him, he’s calm. He’s reserved. At halftime if we’re down, he’s not like, ‘Ahh, we gotta go.’ He’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s get better and let’s make plays and it’s simple.’"

Caldwell’s influence shows most in those moments, including four game-winning fourth-quarter drives. Detroit’s players look to their inspirational quotation encyclopedia of a head coach to give them on-field stability.

It’s been that way since his hiring.

“He’s got everybody’s ear in the room, you know,” guard Rob Sims said. “That takes a special person to get everybody in the room and maybe lose a couple guys opposed to having a couple guys and losing the whole room, if you know what I mean.

“That’s pretty much what it is. He’s able to grab your attention by his content and how authentic he is.”

Rashean Mathis, 34, is one of the oldest players on the Lions. He’s been through several head coaches between Jacksonville and Detroit. He often says he’s been in the league long enough that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. Then he met with Caldwell for 30 minutes in Caldwell’s office on Mathis’ first day in Detroit after re-signing.

The conversation veered from football to family. By the end, it felt like a father-son conversation instead of a boss-employee one. The pivotal moment came when Mathis said Caldwell told him the game was about the players and he was here to help him succeed. A head coach never told Mathis that before.

“That’s like your boss coming to you and saying, ‘You’re what drives my business,’" Mathis said. “Not too many bosses or people in authority are going to come tell their employees that, that you are what makes my business work, even if it’s known. So that was a comment that sold me.

“I’ve heard some assistants say it: 'We wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you.' But coming from a head coach and he’s conveyed it to the team, he’s conveyed it in front of the coaches, it means a lot. It means a lot. Those little things matter.”

This season, Caldwell’s little things have meant a whole lot in turning a perennial loser into a possible playoff team.

QB snapshot: Matthew Stafford

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15:

Stafford
Stafford
After two weeks in which he played like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Stafford and the rest of the Lions' offense returned closer to reality against Minnesota on Sunday. Gone was the 75 percent completion rate and 300-yard day, replaced by a 60.7 percent, 153-yard passing day.

It was the second time this season Detroit has won a game with fewer than 200 yards passing from Stafford -- both against the Vikings.

"Sometimes it's not going to be pretty," Stafford said. "We've lost pretty ones. It's nice to win an ugly one. It's a part of being a good football team, is finding ways to win when you don't play your best in any of the phases. But we rallied together in the second half and made enough plays to win."

There's a bunch of good news for Stafford, though. He didn't have a turnover for the third straight game. His season completion percentage of 61.5, if it holds, would be the second-highest of his career. And he's on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season.

Stafford also now gets to face Chicago -- the team he completed 75.6 percent of his passes against for 390 yards on Thanksgiving. The Bears have continued to struggle since then, and are allowing a completion rate of 75 percent or better in seven of their 14 games this season.

In nine career games against Chicago, Stafford has completed 62.4 percent of his passes (214-of-343) for 2,313 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He is 4-5 against the Bears in games in which he was credited with the win or loss.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said “it doesn’t look good” for right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who left Sunday’s 16-14 win over Minnesota with a left knee injury.

Caldwell said the Lions still were running some more tests before making a final diagnosis.

Waddle
Waddle was hit by Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen, who rushed from the opposite side of Waddle. He ended up being blocked into Waddle’s left knee, causing it to buckle awkwardly in the third quarter.

Based on the film, Waddle did not see Griffen run into him. He immediately crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain and reaching for trainers when they came to him. He was then carted off the field.

"It looked bad," right guard Larry Warford said. "I don't want to say anything about it, but yeah, I usually don't hear L.A. scream. I don't think I've ever heard him scream before."

If Waddle is out for any amount of time, the Lions probably will turn to undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas, who has played both left and right tackle this season.
DETROIT -- LaAdrian Waddle is one of Larry Warford's closest friends on the Detroit Lions. They were rookies together last season. They line up next to each other every play, with Warford as the right guard and Waddle as the right tackle.

In the third quarter Sunday during Detroit's 16-14 win against Minnesota, Warford heard something he never heard from his close friend before. After Waddle's left leg was rolled up on, Warford heard him yell.

Waddle
Warford
"It looked bad," Warford said. "I don't want to say anything about it, but yeah, I usually don't hear L.A. scream. I don't think I've ever heard him scream before."

Waddle had his left leg rolled on during the second-to-last play of the third quarter. He immediately showed signs of pain. Then he fell to the ground and was down for minutes as doctors and trainers examined him. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also came out to check on his injured knee.

Then the cart came out for him and he was helped onto it, his right leg extended and his left leg bent as he was taken off the field.

Caldwell said he was "not certain" about whether Waddle's season was over and didn't have any concrete updates on his right tackle's status.

"No, not yet," Caldwell said. "Obviously, any time they get carted off, you know it's not good. So we'll see."

This has been a rough season of injuries for Waddle. He was injured on the first series of the season opener against New York with a calf injury that forced him to miss the next three games. He has also had two brain injuries, an ankle injury and a different knee injury -- almost all of them forcing him to miss all or parts of other games this season.

"My heart goes out to him because he's a young kid, has a lot of talent," left guard Rob Sims said. "He's just kind of been plagued by things, little stuff here and there and being a younger guy who was kind of plagued by some things, they put titles on you and things like that."

If Waddle is forced to miss time -- and judging on how the injury looked and the way his teammates were talking, it seems possible -- rookie Cornelius Lucas will slide in at right tackle once again for Detroit as it continues its playoff push.
video
DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions have seen this scenario happen so often this season. The offense starts woefully slow and can’t move the ball. An opponent takes an early lead.

Then the Lions' defense -- one of the best units in the NFL -- makes a play. Whether it's a sack, an interception or forcing a three-and-out, the defense changes the flow of the game in favor of Detroit.

Sunday's big plays featured Glover Quin and Darius Slay intercepting Teddy Bridgewater on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. The takeaways put the Lions in good field position, leading to 10 points that shifted the momentum of the game.

This is the truth about these Lions: They will be as good as their defense allows them to be. Right now, that’s pretty darn good.

“They are up there with one of the best defenses that I’ve played against in my time, in my career,” Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Their front four is as talented as anyone. They get after the quarterback, but DeAndre Levy is playing at a really high level in the middle. Both of the safeties are playing at a really high level.

“When you have it from front to back, you look at all the great defenses, the Seattles, the San Francisco 49ers, that’s how they are built and the Detroit defense is just like that.”

It has harassed quarterbacks over and over again, using a front four led by Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah to force sacks and tough decisions. Consider: In the three drives in which the Lions sacked Bridgewater, they allowed no points. And the defensive front forces opponents to scheme differently when they face the Lions because of Suh and Ansah, something Rudolph acknowledged Sunday.

Detroit stops the run better than anyone in the NFL, too. The 76 yards Minnesota gained was above the Lions’ season average, but in the second half, they allowed only 12 yards on eight designed runs.

This leads to another critical point with Detroit's defense: How it reacts. The Lions allowed 14 points in the first 20 minutes of the game. Then they didn’t allow Minnesota to score again. It's a similar plot to games earlier this season, when the Lions' defense has improved as the game went on. This comes from adjustments the players and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are making.

“You’re going to have spots where you give up a couple plays, but in life itself it’s all about how you react and we react better than probably any other defense in the league,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “That’s the biggest key. ... Meaning the negative plays that you give up, how do you bounce back from that? When you give up a touchdown, how do you bounce back from that? We respond well. We respond very well. It’s just the makeup of the team.”

It has been all year. It’s been key for Detroit’s offense, too. Unlike in previous seasons, when the Lions didn’t have a defense that could be expected to eventually shut down an opponent, this year Detroit's offense knows the defense can.

It allows the offense time to settle down, figure things out and make adjustments if it starts slow, knowing it has a strong defense that will keep a game from becoming out of control early.

The turnovers, as they did Sunday, help, too.

“Defense has been huge for us,” guard Rob Sims said. “We were stalling early, a couple penalties here and there and just not hitting our stride. It’s like that sometimes, but when you have a defense that plays like that, we can fight back and make our adjustments and it’s nice.”

It’s more than nice. It’s why Detroit is closing in on a playoff berth for only the second time since 2000.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 16-14 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Prater
    Longtime Lions center Dominic Raiola said the possibility of this being his final game in Ford Field did not cross his mind -- similar to what he told me Friday. Raiola’s contract is up at the end of this season. “I still believe I got more,” Raiola said. “That’ll take care of itself. The week-to-week grind is what I’m worried about right now.”
  • Raiola saw billionaire Warren Buffett on the sidelines before the game, and while the longtime Lions center has Nebraska ties, he said he didn’t go over to the personal friend of Ndamukong Suh to say hello. Raiola said “that’s pretty big-time. I was impressed.” Rashean Mathis joked that he might have to ask Suh for Buffett’s number as well.
  • Kicker Matt Prater said he didn't think about his longest field goal record when he saw Blair Walsh lining up for a 68-yard field goal to try to win the game. “I don’t think about that because records are meant to be broken and I hope to get a chance to break it,” Prater said. “And bring that record to Detroit.” Prater, who made three field goals Sunday, holds the record right now with a 64-yard field goal.
  • Devin Taylor continued his somewhat surprising apparel decisions. He left the Detroit locker room Sunday wearing an ugly Christmas sweater with half of a stuffed animal sticking out of the front of it and the other half of the stuffed animal sticking out the back with Taylor in between.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
7:17
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Detroit again returned to its ways of the first half of the season -- sputtering on offense and needing its defense to come up with the plays that would end up earning a victory. Two interceptions in the first half -- one by Glover Quin and one by Darius Slay -- set up 10 points for the Lions and were some of the best offense the team had all day.

In a game the Lions had to win to keep their NFC North hopes alive and to keep their wild-card chances in good shape, the Detroit defense again came through, just as it has all season long. The Lions' defense was even more stout in the second half, when it didn’t allow a point and snuffed out two late Minnesota drives. If the Lions are going to make the playoffs and have any chance to make a run in them, it will be behind Detroit’s defense.

Stock watch: Rising -- Quin. The safety had an interception for the third straight game Sunday, this one a pass Teddy Bridgewater essentially threw right to him. His 56-yard return was even more impressive for the Lions, as it set up Detroit’s first touchdown and gave the Lions their first sign of life all day.

Rising -- DeAndre Levy. Another strong week for him with 11 tackles. He also snuffed out a potential Minnesota first down when he expertly spied Bridgewater on a third down to keep him from being able to turn upfield. It led to a Bridgewater incompletion.

Falling -- Lions' offense. Detroit’s offense took a dip Sunday after consecutive good weeks. Matthew Stafford was a bit less accurate (17-of-28 for 153 yards), and the Lions struggled to do much on offense in the first half. They gained 89 yards in the first half and didn’t gain a first down until the second quarter. Detroit gained only 233 yards of offense all game, more than 100 yards fewer than the Vikings.

Matt Prater comes through: Detroit had a kicking problem through the first five games of the season. That’s settled down now, as the signing of Prater before the first Minnesota game in Week 6 was a good one. Prater made all three of his field goal attempts and was a big reason the Lions were in the game.

Game ball: Jason Jones. The defensive end came up with maybe the biggest play of the game for Detroit. He blocked a Blair Walsh field goal to get the Lions the ball back and keep it a one-point deficit. It led to a rare sustained Detroit drive Sunday and a Prater field goal. Jones had four tackles and a sack of Bridgewater -- one of four by the Lions on Sunday.

What’s next: The Lions hit the road for their final two games of the regular season, at Chicago next Sunday and then at Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
DETROIT -- For the first time since the end of September and beginning of October, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush will play in back-to-back games.

Suh
Bush
Bush
Bush is active for the Lions on Sunday against Minnesota despite being listed as questionable on the team's official injury report Friday.

He played in the first five games of this season before injuring his ankle against Buffalo. He then sat against Minnesota, played sparingly against New Orleans, sat against Atlanta, played sparingly against Miami and then sat the next three games before returning last week against Tampa Bay.

The Lions will also have linebacker Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) active as well as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (illness). Suh was warming up Sunday with a winter hat on his head as a bug affected the Lions' team.

Lions' inactives: QB Kellen Moore, OT Garrett Reynolds, OG Rodney Austin, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Caraun Reid, DT Nick Fairley.

SPONSORED HEADLINES