Detroit Lions Finally Assuming Playoff-Minded Identity

Zach KruseSenior Analyst ISeptember 29, 2013

Sep 29, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions free safety Louis Delmas (26) celebrates after the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. The Lions won 40-32. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If the Detroit Lions qualify for the playoffs in 2013, Sunday's 40-32 win over the previously unbeaten Chicago Bears might serve as the jumping-off point.

In taking over first place in the NFC North, the Lions transformed Jay Cutler back into his pre-Marc Trestman form, ran over the Bears defense with a healthy Reggie Bush and didn't commit a game-changing penalty. And save for garbage time, the Detroit defense controlled the game with a dominant showing.  

Overall, it was the kind of win that can provide the confidence needed for a team with just four wins a season ago to push for the playoffs now. 

At the quarter point of the 2013 season, the Lions are now 3-1, including a 2-0 mark both at home and inside the division. A 12-loss Detroit team went 2-6 at Ford Field and 0-6 against the NFC North last season.

In the NFL, there's no quicker path to the postseason than protecting home field and getting results against divisional opponents.  

A stretch in the second quarter helped the Lions take over an otherwise even contest. 

After the Bears took a 10-6 lead on Matt Forte's 53-yard touchdown run, the Detroit defense held Chicago to minus-10 yards over the next 10 plays and forced three three-and-outs and a Cutler interception. In the process, the Lions ran off 24 straight points to open up a 30-10 lead with less than three minutes left in the first half. 

Cutler gave Detroit a couple of big assists, including three interceptions and a lost fumble. The gunslinging quarterback had shown improvement at protecting the football through the first three games under Trestman, but he looked a lot like the same mistake-prone problem he's been in recent years on Sunday.

Cutler's four turnovers resulted in 17 points for Detroit, including a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception that set the Lions up inside the 5-yard line. The Bears quarterback had entered the contest with just four turnovers in the three previous games this season.

With the defense doing its job in the takeaway department, the Lions offense asked Bush to do most of the heavy lifting. 

In his first game back after sitting out Detroit's win over Washington in Week 3, Bush ran for a season-high 139 yards on just 18 carries (7.7 yards per carry). His 37-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter was vintage Bush, and it gave Detroit a 30-10 lead. 

He finished the afternoon with 173 yards of total offense. 

An under-the-radar signing this past offseason, Bush now has 433 total yards—including 254 rushing—in just three games with the Lions. He's been a perfect fit for the Detroit offense, and no running back is averaging more yards from scrimmage per game this season than Bush's 144.3.

His presence running the football allowed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to attempt just 35 passes against an opportunistic Bears defense. Detroit ran the ball 30 times for 159 yards, marking the second time this season the Lions have gone over 100 yards rushing. In 2012, the pass-happy Lions had 100 or more rushing yards just seven times. 

An offense in the midst of a rushing revolution was aided by a defense that didn't have a big penalty (three for 25 yards Sunday) and controlled the game for long stretches. 

The Bears would end the game with 417 total yards, but Cutler was sacked three times and Chicago finished just 1-of-13 on third down. Detroit also held Chicago to field goals on its first three trips to the red zone, which helped the Lions swell their lead after a sloppy start. 

Even the shaky Lions special teams provided a spark, as returner Micheal Spurlock broke off a 57-yard run back of a second-quarter punt. A few plays later, Detroit took the lead at 13-10 when Stafford scored from a yard out. 

It was a complete performance for the Lions, from offense to defense to special teams. Building three-score leads against a division opponent—especially one riding as high as the Bears were in Week 4—typically takes a comprehensive effort similar to Detroit's Sunday.

Now, the division-leading Lions should feel confident in setting their sights on competing for a postseason appearance. 

Since 1990, roughly 65 percent of teams that have started a season 3-1 have made the playoffs. Sunday's win should provide Detroit the internal confidence it needs to make a serious run at returning to the playoffs in 2013.