Bob Wojnowski: Lions shine on prime-time stage, run record to 5-0


Bob Wojnowski

Detroit— The noise and the numbers are ratcheting so quickly now, they’re starting to echo. The Lions no longer are just Detroit’s riveting fresh story. They’ve gone national and gotten numbingly tough, rolling in ways we’ve almost never seen.

The Lions were determined to make their loudest clamor yet Monday night. So were their fans. And with an offensive blur and a defensive blast, they hammered the point — repeatedly.

The Lions beat the Bears 24-13 in front of 67,861 shrieking fans, and there’s no turning back now. Every expectation for this team has rocketed, now that it’s 5-0 for the first time in 55 years and has won nine straight for the first time in 57 years.

See what I mean about the numbers? And the noise?

“It was electric — the fans did an unbelievable job,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was 19-for-26 for 219 yards. “You saw what it can do to an opposing offense, and our defense fed off it. You couldn’t even hear yourself think.”

The frenzy for the Lions’ first Monday night game since 2001 was incredible, as loud as Ford Field has ever been. The full-throttled crowd literally affected the game, causing Bears players to be penalized nine times (yes, nine) for false starts, unable to hear the signals over the din.

There’s nothing false about this start. The Lions have stars in key places, and each one did something big, from Stafford to Calvin Johnson to defensive menace Ndamukong Suh to speedy back Jahvid Best. They’re hitting from all directions, upstaging even playoff baseball. Shortly after the Tigers dropped a crushing, 7-3, 11-inning game in Texas, the Lions launched their whomping, and they whomped hard.

The comeback team in a comeback city, tied together by talent and toughness? It may be trite, but if it fits, go for it.

Past meets present

It fits the Lions, that’s obvious. They trailed at halftime again and took off in the second half again. When Best sprinted 88 yards for the clinching touchdown, and defenders then took turns flattening poor Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, the physical punishment was complete.

“We need to get used to playing in games like this, in prime time,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “It was a big step for this team and a big step for this city.”

You can’t say the Lions shocked anyone this time because they were favored, and probably will be favored in their next three games, at least. You do the math and you realize this is a playoff team, arriving ahead of schedule.

There were ghosts in the building, a convergence of past, present and future, stirred in a cauldron. Barry Sanders was here, the Lions’ preeminent symbol of lonesome glory. On the Bears’ side were Rod Marinelli, the beleaguered former Lions coach, Mike Martz, the former Lions assistant, and Roy Williams, the former Lions receiver. At some point, all were symbols of fake swagger, slowly reduced to footnotes.

“Imported From Detroit” is the auto theme and it’s just a coincidence the car companies are rebounding along with the Lions and the Tigers. But it sure adds to the depth of the pride, and you didn’t have to be wedged into Ford Field to feel it.

If this wasn’t the biggest day in Detroit sports history, it was one of the busiest. In droves, people swarmed in and around Ford Field, clamoring to see first-hand what was going on. In many ways, this was an unveiling for the Lions — to the nation and to their own fans.

The Lions had played at home only once so far, returning after huge road comebacks at Dallas and Minnesota. For hours beforehand, the streets filled, and as the Lions warmed up on the field, fans watched the Tigers on the stadium scoreboards. When Jose Valverde escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, the crowd erupted. It was the last roar for the Tigers on this night, but it was only the start of the noise.

“There was so much energy in the building, I’ve never felt anything like it,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “You could physically feel it on you.”

Almost out of control

This was it, the chance for the hungriest fan base in the NFL to release the beast within. It was almost, dare I say, too much racket and rancor, as the Lions came out determined to prove they’re one of the feistiest, nastiest teams around.

It’s a badge of honor and they’re happy to shove it in the opposing quarterback’s face. The Bears were rattled, no doubt. On their first possession alone, they committed three false-start penalties.

The energy was incredible and the Lions feasted on it — and initially, gorged a bit too much. They had six penalties in the first half, most for committing general acts of mayhem upon Cutler.

The Lions were hitting with impunity (which is still permitted, I believe), and officials tried to keep things under control. Cutler was getting up slowly but he was getting up, and the Bears hung in.

For the Lions these days, it goes back to their stars, and in one stunning sequence, they all made their mark. Facing fourth-and-inches at the Lions’ 25 in the first quarter, Bears coach Lovie Smith inexplicably disdained the field goal and went for it. Running back Matt Forte was crushed by Suh in the backfield, killing the drive.

Three plays later, Stafford lofted a perfect pass to Johnson, who caught it in stride for a 73-yard touchdown. After Johnson leaped atop the end zone wall to celebrate, the Lions had a 7-0 lead and “Megatron” had his ninth touchdown of the season.

But this is the NFL and the Bears are defending division champs, and a team can only ride raw emotion for so long. Somehow, the Lions were outscored 40-3 in the first halves of their last two games, and won both. And when Cutler hit Kellen Davis for a 9-yard touchdown, the Bears were on top at the half, 10-7.

Not for long, of course. Remember, if you can, the last time the Lions lost a game. It was last Dec. 5, 24-20 to Chicago. That was the Bears’ sixth straight victory in the series, so the Lions still had demons to address here.

They addressed them head on, without ambiguity, with everyone watching. The stage was theirs, and they took it like they absolutely meant it.

Bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Twitter.com/bobwojnowski

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