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

Ndamukong Suh wants fans to answer the call on Monday night


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— Suuuuuhhhhh!

Get your vocal cords ready. Ndamukong Suh wants to hear you Monday night.

“One thing I really feed off is hearing my name out there,” Suh said Thursday. “Players may say they tune all that out, but when I make a play and hear my name, those things really feel good.”

Suh was in the midst of the din at Comerica Park for Game 3 of the American League Division Series this week, and he’s counting on a similar roof-raising decibel level at Ford Field on Monday against the Bears.

“Being at that Tigers game, that was a great example of feeling that atmosphere,” he said. “I was six rows up and being able to feel the crowd, that noise, I am definitely looking forward to the same type of thing. I really expect nothing less from the Monday night game. I am excited for it.”

Aware of game’s magnitude

Crowd noise, though, is generally proportionate to the quality of play on the field. As quarterback Matthew Stafford said, “We know this game is big for the city, but we also know we have to play well for it to be any kind of fun.”

Suh understands that, which makes him all the more anxious to get at it.

“Probably the most exciting thing about our team is that we have yet to play a perfect game,” he said. “We’ve played very mediocre. With that, there’s a lot of room to improve.”

Suh, an all-Pro and defensive rookie of the year last season, is off to what can be best described as a quietly effective start. He has 11 tackles and two sacks — far from the torrid pace he set last year when he had 10 sacks.

But, in the grand scheme of the defense, he and the rest of the line has keep steady pressure on quarterbacks and been at times overtly disruptive, other times subtly disruptive.

“Any competitive defensive lineman wants a lot of sacks and it’s unfortunate that we are down on our numbers, but we understand we’ve done some good things,” Suh said. “One way to measure us to see the things we’ve done in the backfield, causing pressure and making quarterbacks loft balls up that lead to interceptions. But by all means, we want to get back to sacking the quarterback.”

Revenge factor?

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 15 times, second behind Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (18).

Last year in the game at Ford Field, Suh was fined for hitting Cutler with excessive force outside the pocket. He was asked if such a hit might have some carry-over impact on Cutler’s psyche.

“I have no idea; you’d have to ask Jay Cutler about that,” Suh said. “That’s not my concern and it was not the reason for the hit. The reason to hit him hard is to create a play, get him to fumble.”

Suh said the thing he liked most about the defense has been its resiliency and adaptability. He has shown the same traits individually.

Teams are emptying the trick box to find some way to neutralize him, occasionally with some success.

They try to use his penetration against him, either with trap blocks inside, or chipping him with an offensive tackle.

“A lot of teams do that,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “They keep a tight end in and bring a tackle down. But every time they keep a tight end in, it’s one less guy in the route.”

Learning to adjust

As for the trap blocks, that’s a systemic issue.

“We’re vulnerable to trap blocks,” Schwartz said. “You tell guys to get up field and rush the passer, they’re going to be susceptible to the trap. But our linebackers are expected to play that. We don’t want our guys slowing down and playing traps. Suh is an instinctive guy. He’s seen those things before. If we are getting off the line the way we are supposed to, our linebackers should fill those (gaps) up.”

Schwartz would caution against measuring Suh merely with statistics.

“The most impressive thing about him wouldn’t be impressive to other people,” Schwartz said. “But it’s that he’s always in on the play, and it’s because he has great instincts, great balance and he’s so strong.”

He’s so strong, in fact, that even when he’s blocked well, Suh manages to, at the very least, hold his gap most times.

“The great way our defense is set up, when I get penetration, I am doing my job,” Suh said. “Even if they knock me off course — whether they are trapping me from the inside-out, or doing a wham block from the outside-in — a lot of times I withstand those blows and stay in my gap and get my job done.”

Attuned to rivalry

For a guy who grew up in Portland, Ore., and played at Nebraska, Suh seems to have a grasp of the magnitude of a Bears-Lions game, especially one played on the big stage of Monday.

“These were the two top teams in the north back in the day,” he said. “I kind of consider this like going back to the Big 12 — which doesn’t exist any more — and the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry. I look at it the same way. The Bears are definitely a team we want to get after. They are in our division and they beat us twice last year, and they have a great team.

“For me during big game weeks, I am a little more quiet. I want to make sure I am calm. When it’s the right time and I am on the football field, then I unleash it. This is going to be a great challenge and I am ready.”

Bears at Lions

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Monday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: ESPN/WXYT

Line: Lions by 51/2

Records: Bears 2-2,Lions 4-0

Series: Bears lead 91-64-5 (Chicago 24-20, Dec. 5, 2010)

Did you know?: The last “Monday Night Football” appearance for the Lions was Oct. 8, 2001, against the Rams, who won 35-0.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

twitter.com/cmccosky

Lions tickets moving fast; Monday night game sells out


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions fever may be at an all-time high.

About 500 fans showed up at the Ford Field box office — some as early as 5 a.m. Wednesday — to lay their claim to individual Lions game tickets. They sold out the Monday night game Oct. 10 against the Bears in about 45 minutes.

“And other tickets are moving fast, too,” said Lions president Tom Lewand. “For the Thanksgiving Day game (against the Packers) there were just a few left.”

Lewand said he was blown away by the box office turnout.

“That’s surprising to us that in this day and age of the Internet and toll-free calls, people still came out to the box office,” he said.

The Lions have also sold out Saturday’s exhibition game against the New England Patriots; it will be shown live locally on CBS.

“People are voting with their pocket books and making an investment in us,” Lewand said. “And that is an investment we have to honor and respect. It is up to us now to deliver a return on that investment.”

Ron Olkowski, 50, drove more than an hour from Richmond to buy a few pairs of tickets for him and his 16-year-old son, who plays football for Romeo High. The father was in line outside Ford Field by 8:30 a.m.

“True fans come out here,” he said. “Anyone can sit at their computer, drink coffee and click a button.”

Olkowski had a half-season ticket plan last year, but chose to buy single-game tickets this year because the package didn’t include either of this season’s premium games — the Monday night game against the Bears or the Thanksgiving game against the Packers. Last season his half-season package included the Thanksgiving game against the Patriots.

On Wednesday he waited more than two hours to buy tickets against the Chiefs (Sept. 18, home opener), 49ers (Oct. 16) and Vikings (Dec. 11). And as he walked away from the ticket booth, he asked, “These are all guaranteed victories, right?”

On the field

On the practice field Wednesday, running back Jahvid Best returned to practice, though the team is in shorts. He has been cleared of any post-concussion symptoms.

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) is not practicing.

Both Best and Vanden Bosch won’t play against the Patriots.

Lions schedule

Sun., Sept 11 — at Tampa Bay, 1

Sun., Sept. 18 — Kansas City, 1

Sun., Sept. 25 — at Minnesota, 1

Sun., Oct. 2 — at Dallas, 1

Mon., Oct. 10 — Chicago, 8:30

Sun., Oct. 16 — San Francisco, 1

Sun., Oct. 23 — Atlanta, 1

Sun., Oct. 30 — at Denver, 4

Sun., Nov. 13 — at Chicago, 1

Sun., Nov. 20 — Carolina, 1

Thu., Nov. 24 — Green Bay, 12:30

Sun., Dec. 4 — at New Orleans, 1

Sun., Dec. 11 — Minnesota, 1

Sun., Dec. 18 — at Oakland, 4

Sat., Dec. 24 — San Diego, 4

Sun., Jan. 1 — at Green Bay, 1

Josh Katzenstein contributed to this report.