DETROIT — This was one of those Sundays at Ford Field where you start thinking about beating the stadium traffic, what you’re gonna eat for dinner, pretty much anything other than the game itself in the moment.
Maybe you fired off a tweet that didn’t age well. Maybe you sent some angry texts in a group chat or said some choice words in the direction of your television during this game. It’s understandable if your mind went there. It was that kind of game for the Detroit Lions, for much of the game. You’ve seen it all before.
These players, this staff, this team, though? They had something else on their minds.
“We’re gonna fight it till it says 0:00,” defensive tackle Alim McNeill said in the locker room, after the Lions’ 31-26 comeback win over the Chicago Bears improved their record to 8-2. “We were down 26-14 with 2:59 to go and we won the game. We’re gonna fight till it says 0:00. If you think it’s over, it’s not.”
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The Lions, for much of the afternoon, were playing like a team that was begging to lose, begging for people to doubt them. Many had this game against the Bears, who were 3-7, chalked up as a win for the Lions before kickoff. Instead, we saw uncharacteristic football from a group that’s better than the performance it put forth Sunday.
Missed tackles, four turnovers, no flow or rhythm. It all led to the Lions trailing late in the game, looking left for dead.
The perceived dagger came with 6:36 to go. With the Bears up 23-14, a 30-yard run from Justin Fields on third-and-14 put Chicago into Lions territory, with a chance to bleed some more clock and require the Lions to score two touchdowns in the final few minutes.
When he emerged from the ground, Fields danced, then dance some more. A fitting celebration, if not for the final score.
BIG RUN FEELS
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The Bears would take a 26-14 lead with 4:15 to go after a late field goal. Per ESPN analytics, their win probability hit 98.2 percent after the play. That was news to the Lions. They felt it was theirs for the taking. So they took it.
“I would say nobody ever batted an eye at the mistakes,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said. “It wasn’t going to be a situation where we were going to quit because you don’t have any option other than going out there and competing. We’d be doing a disservice to each other, the coaches and fans to go out there and not keep fighting. We know in this league it can come down to the last second. We just keep playing.”
When they got the ball back, the Lions offense promptly went to work. Jameson Williams had a pylon route. His job pre-snap was to eye the safety. If he’s playing inside leverage, which Eddie Jackson was, he knows he has enough speed to run to the pylon and beat his man, with Amon-Ra St. Brown getting the corner (Jaylon Johnson) to play low.
Perfect route, perfect read from Jared Goff, and enough space for Jamo to slip behind the defense. Six plays, 75 yards, only 1:16 off the clock. Bears 26, Lions 21.
WIDE OPEN JAMESON WILLIAMS
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You want a sign that this Lions team is different? Look no further than Goff and Williams on that play. Their chemistry is still under construction. Williams is still developing as a receiver in this league, and has been criticized this season. But he’s a competitor at heart, and all he wants to do is help this team win games.
Goff had one of his worst performances of the season. He threw three interceptions, costly turnovers that helped the Bears take a lead. But he put it all behind him with the game on the line and helped his team erase it.
“I don’t take my job lightly,” Goff said. “My job is so much greater than how good I do. It’s so much greater than what my stats are, or how many touchdowns I can throw. It’s about being there for my teammates and being the best I can be on every play and throughout the game. And even when things aren’t going my way, I’m not playing as well as I’d like to early on, how do I find a way to kind of center myself back to be what my true job is, (which) is to be the best on every play and do everything I can for my teammates.”
“He’s part of the herd,” coach Dan Campbell said of Williams. “He’s putting in the work, so that was good to see. It was a huge moment, it was a huge play and he just keeps getting better and better and better.”
But the Lions needed more. A defense that had trouble getting off the field and failed to force a three-and-out the first nine times it took the field got one when it needed it most. More often than not, that’s how things happen to go for this team.
Fields and the Chicago offense stepped onto the turn, hoping to ice the game. First down, run up the middle, no gain. Timeout, Lions. Second down, rush left, gain of 1. Timeout, Lions. Third down, moonshot, incomplete. No timeout necessary.
Just like that, the Lions were getting the ball back. It was playing out how they envisioned.
“If we could just find a way to get a stop, I felt pretty good about where we were going to be at,” Campbell said.
Before you knew it, the Lions were in business. A gain of 13 here, a gain of 12 there. Passes of 6, 8, 8 and 9 yards. Runs of 10 and six. It was a beautifully crafted drive in which positive yards arrived in bunches. The Lions marched down the field with the belief they were going to win this game.
It set up a first-and-goal from the Chicago 1 with 31 seconds to go. In need of a touchdown, in that moment, the Lions turned to their workhorse back. The Chicago Bear-turned-Detroit Lion. A gameday captain who began the week offering nothing but love for his former teammates and began the day dapping them up before the coin toss. David Montgomery avoided the bait, and took the high road when commenting on his former team. And after his game-winning, 1-yard touchdown with 29 seconds to go, in the locker room surrounded by Chicago media, he used the spotlight to talk about his new team and city. His comments reflect everything he’s all about, and why the Lions signed him in free agency.
“I call this place the land of the misfit toys,” Montgomery said after the game. “You get a lot of guys who’ve been told no their whole lives or been told they’ll never be good enough. You got a beautiful city like this that’s been gritty, (with) blue-collar people. People look at this city for a while as not taken serious, and now, we’re beginning to be serious. The city of Detroit is behind us and you can feel it. We’ve got a bunch of guys in this locker room, the coaches, high-character guys, gritty guys. You see what it’s like when, for a long time, you done got beat down. The tide begins to change.”
The Lions would seal this victory on a strip-sack safety from Aidan Hutchinson, with the Bears hoping to tie it or take the lead. It put the Lions up 31-26, and victory formation ensued. So many Lions teams of the past would’ve lost that one. Some of these players have been on Lions teams that would’ve lost that one. If there were any lingering doubts that this team isn’t like those ones, Sunday served as further proof.
When we talk about “Same Old Lions” with this group, we now have to talk about an old Lions team of the ’60s — the 1962 team, to be exact. That’s the last time this franchise started a season 8-2.
When told that after the game, Decker, the longest-tenured Lion, briefly smiled to himself. McNeill did the same. They’re aware of what they’re doing and the type of team they have. They can take solace in every win — even wins like this — knowing it’s the culmination of a three-year process.
The Lions took their blows from others and bounced right back up. They’ve lost games they should’ve won. They had to learn how to get here, doing what good teams do, winning games they’re not supposed to win.
“Those are the moments we’re built for,” Campbell said. “This is why you play this game at this level, it was for moments just like that. It was awesome.”
(Top photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
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