NFC North: Detroit Lions


DETROIT -- Joique Bell ran up the middle and had nothing. Just a wall of his own blockers and any hole being plugged up by defenders. Instead of caving, though, he bounced outside and ended up gaining a couple of yards Thursday against Chicago.

It was a small play during the Detroit Lions34-17 win over the Bears on Thursday, but it was perhaps a play of larger significance. For the first time this season, Detroit stuck with mainly one running back -- Bell -- and let him handle all of the carries.

It was a strategy perhaps forced by Reggie Bush’s third straight missed game due to an ankle injury, but it also was one that worked.

“We certainly feel that we have guys that can play when [Bush’s] not there, that can come in and give us a lift,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “So you have to say the offensive line has done a nice job in that area.

“But overall, we have guys that step in and do it and that’s key. The next man steps up and performs decently.”

That man has been Bell running the ball and Theo Riddick, who had six receptions for 54 yards, catching it.

Part of the Lions' success running was due to them sticking with it -- and with one back -- throughout the game. Bell was the only Detroit player to have a carry Thursday and he had 23 of them for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

More important, the Lions hit Caldwell’s desired four yards per carry average for only the second time this season.

“You keep pounding and pounding and pounding and eventually, something’s going to open up,” Bell said. “And we were able to make some big runs toward the end.”

Bell has taken advantage, mostly, because of Bush’s ankle injury. It is an ankle that has kept him from being healthy the past two months. His last fully-healthy game came in Week 4 against the Jets. Since then, he’s been in and out of the lineup.

Bush continues to say he expects to play and then by game day, he is inactive. He has missed the past three games.

“It’s just health,” Caldwell said. “Whenever he gets in shape, not good shape from being out of shape but in terms of injuries that he’s sustained. He’s just not quite where he should be yet and hopefully in another week, he’ll be back.”

Until then -- and maybe even after -- Bell seems to be the Lions’ best, most consistent rushing option.
DETROIT -- There were times this week when Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Fuller wasn't sure if his brother, Kyle, would play for the Chicago Bears.

Kyle Fuller, a cornerback, had been injured Sunday against Tampa Bay, and it seemed like there was a good chance that the first on-field meeting of the Fullers might not happen on Thursday. But Kyle ended up active, and the Fuller brothers lined up across from each other for a few plays.

They were lined up opposite one another during Calvin Johnson's first touchdown reception in the Lions’ 34-17 win over Chicago, but they also went against each other for a few plays at the end of the game.

And when they did, Corey did exactly what he said he was going to. He laughed.

“It was a lot of fun,” Corey said.

Corey said Kyle was talking, trying to get quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw at him toward the end of the game for a real Fuller vs. Fuller moment. That didn't happen, but it still became a nice moment for a family that had custom jerseys made for the occasion and planned on spending Thanksgiving dinner at Corey’s place in Michigan on Thursday night -- Kyle included.

Corey, who talks trash with his brother often, got his teammates involved as well. Johnson, who was Fuller’s assignment a good portion of the game, had 11 catches for 146 yards. After the game, Johnson was asked if Corey had asked Johnson to apologize to his brother for having a big game on him.

Nah, Johnson said, Corey told him to keep going at him. Johnson did -- but Corey was still impressed what he saw from his brother.

“I did,” Corey said. “I told him to pour it on him. You know, for Kyle to travel and cover Calvin Johnson, that’s big. That says a lot for a rookie.

“So he can only get better. So he had a great year. I actually think he did a pretty good job today. He was just covering Megatron, and he didn’t get the name Megatron for nothing.”
DETROIT -- The feeling came back to Matthew Stafford again during warm-ups -- something the Detroit Lions quarterback says he has sensed before. He looked around, saw how his teammates were preparing and thought this might be the day.

The day the Detroit Lions rediscovered the offense that had abandoned them for so much of the season. That all the talent the Lions pieced together would finally live up to its potential. The tempo was faster. Everything was crisper.

And after two straight losses where the Lions didn't score a touchdown and couldn't do much of anything on offense -- they needed a 34-17 win over Chicago like this as they enter a tight playoff race in December.

"It breeds confidence, you know," wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. "We know what we can do. We have film on what we can do so we just stick to those things and have great weeks of practice and just keep on pouring it on."

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesAgainst the Bears, Matthew Stafford completed 34 of 45 passes for a season-best 390 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The confidence comes from 474 yards of offense -- the most the Lions accumulated since last Thanksgiving, when they gained 561 yards against Green Bay and the ninth-best yardage total for the Lions since 2001.

This started a week ago, when Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi trimmed the play sheet so Detroit could practice more plays that would be used in games against different looks. While it didn't show against New England, the team benefited this week, when the Lions were able to focus in on exactly what they wanted to do and when.

One of the biggest changes for the Lions on Thursday was how they ran their offense. There was a faster tempo -- a more urgent pace -- to how Detroit ran its offense and it showed in its 70 plays, only the fifth time Detroit has run that many plays this season. Stafford appeared more comfortable and put together one of the best games of his career, completing 34 of 45 passes for 390 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Stafford said the Lions were kind of in a no-huddle tempo -- even though Detroit did huddle up -- so they could control the game's pace. This, in many ways, fits Stafford better than a slower, more methodical offense. Playing this way, Stafford said, was emphasized during the week.

"We didn't intentionally get away from it," Stafford said. "It's something that you have to be cognizant of and make sure you push yourself on. It's not easy to do. Receivers are running 40 yards down field and running back to the huddle and getting back to the line of scrimmage. It's difficult to do.

"I think being at home helps with as many personnel changes as we do, play-in and play-out, being able to communicate those. Guys being able to see and hear me say who is where in what personnel grouping definitely helps."

It aided Stafford, too. His 75.6 completion percentage was the fourth best of his career and his best since 2012. Actually, of his top six games, completion percentage-wise, three have come against Chicago. His QBR of 82.9 was the ninth-best of his career.

Stafford made smart decisions, evaded pressure well -- he was sacked only twice. The offense avoided penalties (five for 38 yards) and pass-catchers had only one drop. Against the blitz, Stafford was even better. He had a career-high 14 completions against blitzes for a career-high 200 yards. Of those 14 completions, he found Calvin Johnson 10 times for 137 yards and both of Johnson's touchdowns. Those numbers against the blitz are all career-highs for Johnson, too. That was the majority of Johnson's 11 catches for 146 yards.

It started with Stafford.

"This is not a typical performance now, let's not fool ourselves, right," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "[That's] not something that's done consistently in this league. But do I think that he's capable? I think and still do believe that he's capable of having great games and I do think that you still haven't seen the best of him yet.

"This was outstanding today but I think he's just capable of continuing to rise."

If Stafford does, the Lions might have found the offensive rhythm they have craved all season long.

"As a team we need to play like this more often," Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We always knew we were able capable of playing like this.

"We're not really surprised at how we played because this is how we should be playing. This is the kind of offense we got."
DETROIT -- Longtime Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola has picked up another record for the franchise.

Raiola started his 200th game Thursday against the Chicago Bears, the first player in Detroit history to make 200 starts. He had passed Wayne Walker (197 starts) and Jeff Backus (191 starts) this season.

The 35-year-old was a second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2001, and since then has played in all but four games for the Lions -- a constant presence on the offensive line over the past decade-plus for Detroit.

He is one of five active players to have 200 starts, behind quarterback Peyton Manning (251 with Indianapolis and Denver), defensive back Charles Woodson (230 with Oakland and Green Bay), defensive lineman Justin Smith (212 with Cincinnati and San Francisco) and quarterback Tom Brady (202 starts with New England).

Only Brady has more starts with one team among active players.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Willie Young heard Matthew Stafford called him “one of my favorite teammates” Tuesday and the former Detroit Lions defensive end -- now with the Chicago Bears -- started to laugh.

Young, who left the Lions in free agency during the offseason, was actually one of the more well-liked players in the Detroit locker room during his four years with the Lions, but, yeah, Young thought Stafford might be trying to fete him just a little bit.

“Absolutely, yeah,” Young said, laughing. “Yeah. He’s buttering me up on that one. Matt Stafford, man, he was a cool guy. He came to work every day, put the work in. Obviously he’s a very talented quarterback. He doesn’t make too many bad decisions, I would say. I know this year he hasn’t been because they’ve been on the winning side of things.

[+] EnlargeWillie Young
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFormer Lions defensive end Willie Young has been a force as a Bear, compiling eight sacks.
“He’s obviously a respected quarterback, get rid of the ball fast, make pretty good decisions, has some good guys in the backfield running the ball for him. But I could see why he might be trying to be kinda nice to me right now because he’s a little low on protection right now. I don’t blame him for being nice right now.”

Stafford is smart to try to get on Young's good side, as Young has flourished since leaving Detroit in the offseason. Finally getting a chance to be an every-down defensive end in his fifth NFL season, he is 13th in the NFL in sacks with eight -- two more than he had in his four seasons with the Lions. Considering the Lions could end up starting two rookies on the offensive line Thursday if Cornelius Lucas replaces the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle, and Young could have a big return to his old stadium.

Young was a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State, but ended up as mostly a rotational player until last season, when he played every game after a season-ending injury to Jason Jones. Having had to learn behind Kyle VandenBosch, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Andre Fluellen in various forms helped him as he watched from the sidelines.

“Don’t get it wrong now, is it tough sitting on the sidelines, not playing, knowing that you have what it takes to be a player, yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Young said. “But I was able to figure out a way to deal with that and take everything that I could from the game, from the sideline standpoint. It just bettered me as a person and obviously as a player.”

It’s a progression Lions players expected when Young received more snaps, especially after he made the leap from 11 tackles in 2012 to 47 in 2013, which helped set up his free agency move.

Young said Tuesday he didn’t know if the Lions made him an offer during free agency or if they even called his agent to inquire about his services. He just knows his agent told him he was headed to Chicago on a new deal.

When asked about Young and free agency, Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t say whether or not he had wanted to bring Young back this season or not, but complimented his pass rushing ability.

His old teammates, though, saw exactly what Young could do from the beginning and figured this type of leap might come from him.

“Everybody saw what he could do from the jump,” Fluellen said. “I’m actually not surprised at all. He has a special talent and he has a really good attitude for the game.

“I’m not surprised at all.”
When: 12:30 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: Ford Field, Detroit TV: CBS

The Detroit Lions broke their Thanksgiving Day hex last season when they annihilated NFC North foe Green Bay. At the time, the Lions looked like a team potentially heading for the playoffs after stopping a two-game skid.

The Lions didn't win a game the rest of the season.

This season, the Lions face a Chicago Bears team that has won two straight and, much like Detroit, has a bunch of offensive talent currently failing to meet expectations. Does one of these teams break out Thursday?

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down what could happen in this divisional Thanksgiving clash.

Rothstein: Chicago has a ton of offensive talent on paper, but this team has not put up the offense that one would think. What has been the main culprit here?

Wright: A few things, but the main issues throughout this team's struggles have been quarterback Jay Cutler, who has a penchant for committing turnovers, and the play calling. Cutler leads the league in giveaways, and in all but one of this team's losses this season, the quarterback turned over the ball multiple times. Yet in all but one of the team's victories, Cutler didn't throw an interception. So there's definitely a correlation there, as the Bears are 3-10 during Marc Trestman's tenure when they finish on the negative side of the turnover margin and 1-4 when the turnover margin is equal. Obviously, the Bears could minimize Cutler's exposure to potential turnovers by leaning more on the ground game with Matt Forte averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. But what happens is the Bears too often abandon the running game for the pass, which is understandable given all the weapons on the outside. Once the Bears start throwing it all over the yard, Cutler starts turning it over and opposing defenses capitalize (opponents have scored 82 points off Chicago's turnovers), which in turn makes it impossible to rededicate to the ground game because by then the offense is usually trying to overcome a deficit.

What's your take on the perception that Jim Caldwell has been too conservative, and do you see him loosening up some with this team trying to snap a two-game skid?

Rothstein: It's interesting because he wasn't at all against Miami, when the Lions attempted two fake punts in a half. Since then, the offense has looked completely out of rhythm, passes are getting dropped again, Stafford is under duress and Calvin Johnson is going through only the second three-game stretch of his career where he has caught less than 50 percent of his targets. But being at home cures a lot of things for Detroit typically, and that alone should help. Theoretically.

Switching to defense, what has gone into Willie Young's success with Chicago? He was emerging with Detroit, but how has his game grown?

Wright: You've been around him, Mike. You know the type of guy he is. Young's ascension is a product of the work he's put in, and the Bears just happened to bring him aboard at the perfect time in his career. Obviously it helps Young to have a veteran such as Jared Allen around to teach him some of the nuances of the game. But Young has also benefited from working with martial arts expert Joe Kim. The Bears brought in Kim as a consultant to work with the defensive linemen on hand-fighting techniques, and that's helped the group as a whole. Throw in Allen's tutelage and Young's own work ethic and you see why he's been able to put together a breakout season.

Can you provide a rundown on what's taken place with the guys Young will face, the offensive line? I know the group has struggled pretty much all season, but Riley Reiff's situation probably complicates things with the Lions looking possibly to start a couple of undrafted free agents at the tackle spots.

Rothstein: Between injuries, a small change in how the team blocks this season and just struggles with personnel, it's gotten really rough for the line. Let's start with the injuries. Right guard Larry Warford -- probably Detroit's best lineman -- is still out with a knee injury. LaAdrian Waddle, the right tackle, is healthy now but has been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries. Reiff, the left tackle, hurt his knee Sunday against the Patriots and his status is in doubt for Thursday. So the cohesion has barely been there. Also, some of the concepts have changed with how they block and how long it takes both the routes and runs to develop due to play calls, so it has put some other pressures on the line.

For so long, the Bears have used Peanut Tillman on Calvin Johnson. Tillman's out. How do the Bears deal with Johnson and Golden Tate now?

Wright: To me, that's one of the most significant concerns for the Bears entering this game. As you already know, rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller's availability for this game is uncertain with him suffering a knee injury in the win over Tampa Bay. Fuller had been playing with a broken hand and a hip pointer prior to his latest setback. Fuller's injury didn't appear to be significant initially. But if Fuller can't go, the Bears would likely go with undrafted rookie Al Louis-Jean, who possesses similar size to Tillman (6-foot-1, 187 pounds). But would you want to put an undrafted rookie on Johnson? Tim Jennings (5-8) would likely struggle matching up with Johnson. So Chicago would be in a tough spot if Fuller isn't able to play. If the Bears are forced to go with Louis-Jean, the corners would probably stay on their respective sides with the defense giving the corner to Johnson's side safety help over the top, along with extra help underneath, whether that's from a linebacker or the nickel.

The Lions have lost two in a row for the first time all season, and surely there's some level of concern starting to creep in internally. This is uncharted territory for 2014 at least, but do you believe the Lions are better equipped to deal with this type of adversity now with Jim Caldwell calling the shots?

Rothstein: Theoretically, yes, although the personal foul penalty by C.J. Mosley and then the antics from Dominic Raiola at the end of Sunday's loss to New England did have me questioning whether Caldwell's message is truly getting through. The players still seem to believe in him and in the way he goes about things, which is always trying to stay calm and not showing signs of panic. This helped earlier this season when Detroit had three straight come-from-behind wins in October and November to help put them in this position. It's why Thursday is so big. Lose three straight and thoughts of another free fall might be more than just percolating around the edges.

QB snapshot: Matthew Stafford

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss in Week 12:

Matthew Stafford is coming off a career-worst 39.1 completion percentage Sunday against the New England Patriots, and if his history is a guide, the Lions could be in trouble the rest of the way starting Thursday against Chicago.

In his career, Stafford is 4-12 in Weeks 13-17, including a 1-9 mark down the stretch in the past two seasons. His statistics also have showed significant drop-off as the season enters its final five weeks. Over the past three seasons, his QBR from Weeks 13-17 has dropped from 83.0 in 2011 to 49.6 in 2012 to 29.6 in 2013. His completion percentage has also been lower each season from 2011 to 2013, including a 57.4 percent mark last year.

After a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2011, he dipped to .86 touchdowns per interception in 2012 and .71 touchdowns per interception in 2013. Considering the way Detroit’s offense is struggling right now -- no offensive touchdowns in eight quarters -- how Stafford adjusts during the season’s final five weeks will be critical not only for the Lions’ playoff chances but also for his effort in turning around a disturbing trend.
Each week from here to the end of the season, we’ll assess Detroit’s standing in the NFC North and NFC wild card races.

And as of now, the Lions are right in the middle of the hunt in both situations.


Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 24-31

Seed as of now: Out of playoffs due to tiebreaker with Seattle (common opponents)

Games left: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, at Chicago, at Green Bay.

NFC North:

Green Bay

Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 27-27

Games left: New England, Atlanta, at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, Detroit

Seed as of now: No. 2

Lions interests: Detroit still has a shot here, but it is tough to see the Packers losing to Atlanta or at Tampa Bay. New England is a possibility this weekend, but Green Bay has not lost at Lambeau Field this season. At Buffalo could be tricky as well and then there’s the season finale against the Lions. For that game to matter for divisional purposes, Detroit needs to either gain a game back on the Packers or at least keep pace at one game behind. Another Detroit loss combined with a Green Bay win would make any sort of NFC North crown very dicey.


Top seed/NFC bye:


Record: 9-2

Seed as of now: No. 1

Who they have left: at Atlanta, vs. Kansas City, at St. Louis, vs. Seattle, at San Francisco

What needs to happen for the Lions to get the No. 1 seed: Highly unlikely at this point. They are two games back of Arizona, and the Cardinals hold the tie-breaker as of now, too. Arizona’s schedule is tough down the stretch, but even so, the Lions do not look like a team capable of making up that ground right now.


Wild-card race:


Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 29-26

Games left: at Dallas, Seattle, Dallas, at Washington, at New York Giants

Seed as of now: No. 3

Lions interests: There will be a lot more known about what the Lions need from Philadelphia and Dallas after the teams play each other Thursday. But right now, the Lions likely could still use a split from these games. Both the Eagles and Cowboys have similar schedules down the stretch -- each other twice, one difficult non-division opponent at home and a game against Washington. The only difference is Dallas plays at Chicago while the Eagles play the Giants. If one team sweeps the other in those Dallas-Philadelphia games, though, the Lions would actually be better off with Dallas winning the division and Philadelphia in a wild-card spot because Detroit holds the No. 2 tiebreaker over the Eagles (conference record, where the Lions are 5-2 and the Eagles are 4-3).


Record: 8-3

Remaining opponents record: 29-26

Games left: Philadelphia, at Chicago, at Philadelphia, Indianapolis, at Washington

Seed as of now: No. 5

Lions interests: As mentioned above, the Lions would be in a better position as of today if the Cowboys won the division and sent the Eagles into any potential wild card tie. That could easily change, though, considering the No. 2 tiebreaker is conference record and wins/losses between the teams would play a role. From a competitive standpoint, though, Detroit might want Dallas to win the division over Philadelphia because if they ended up in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup, the Cowboys might be the more beatable team.

San Francisco

Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 31-24

Games left: Seattle, at Oakland, at Seattle, San Diego, Arizona

Seed as of now: Out of playoffs

Lions interests: Right now, the 49ers are tied with the Lions and Seahawks for the final playoff spot. Those San Francisco-Seattle games will be extremely important to Detroit. If one of the two sweeps the other, the chances of a two-way wild card tie instead of a three-way one increase dramatically. If there’s a split, it could come to a three-way tie. Right now, Detroit is out of the playoffs, and if they were in a two-way tie with the 49ers, they would lose out due to conference record.


Record: 7-4

Remaining opponents record: 35-20

Games left: at San Francisco, at Philadelphia, San Francisco, at Arizona, St. Louis

Seed as of now: No. 6 seed

Lions interests: Right now the Lions are in a two-way tiebreaker with Seattle -- the Seahawks eliminate the 49ers in a first tiebreak scenario -- and would be in the playoffs due to the third tiebreaker: common opponents if there are four or more. Right now, the Seahawks are 4-0 against common opponents (Arizona, Green Bay, Carolina and the New York Giants) while the Lions are 2-2. The Seahawks can be no worse than 4-1 there while the Lions can be no better than 3-2 so if the overall and conference records are the same, Detroit will lose out on a seed or playoff berth if it reaches the third tiebreaker. For that reason, the Lions need San Francisco to beat Seattle.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – They had miscommunications that led to open receivers. Against a Hall of Fame quarterback, that was a crippling blow to the Detroit Lions' chances of beating the New England Patriots.

The Lions had the top-ranked scoring and overall defense entering Sunday’s game. New England and Tom Brady dissected what the Lions have been able to do and exploited Detroit like no team has this season.

Typically, no matter how much Detroit has struggled on offense or in special teams, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been able to point to his defense as a bright spot. Not Sunday, after 34 points allowed and a second straight game without a sack.

“They were able to move the ball, score touchdowns on us and we got a little settled down there for a while right after the half,” Caldwell said. “But they still were able to handle us pretty well.”

New England essentially abandoned the run until late in the game, rushing only six times in the first half and 20 times overall. They instead trusted their Hall of Fame quarterback, who completed 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

On those touchdowns, the Lions lost tight end New England tight end Tim Wright, who was incredibly wide open on both plays. Communication breakdowns, safety James Ihedigbo said, led to some of the issues.

“They run a fast-paced offense. They schemed us up pretty good,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We didn’t execute our defense.”

It has been an all-around stingy defense all season, ranked in the top 10 in essentially every major defensive category entering Sunday. And even after they were beaten handily for the first time this season, the Lions’ defense remained among the best in the league in all of those categories – including points allowed (17.3 per game) and run defense (70.73 yards a game and 3.15 yards per play).

“They just executed at a high level,” Ihedigbo said. “You have to give hats off to New England. They came out. They went up-tempo. They did what they did well and just, they executed.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted to make one more play, extend one more drive to try for another improbable comeback.

Stafford was pressured on fourth-and-10 from the New England Patriots' 25-yard line with 11:36 left. He kept looking downfield. With nothing available, Stafford scrambled. He headed toward the sideline and had enough room to get the first down.

Instead he slid, starting a yard short. Instead of extending the drive, his decision to slide ended it, giving the ball back to the Patriots again in a 34-9 loss Sunday.

It was another poorly performed play in a litany of them Sunday against New England, a day so bad that Detroit's perpetually level-headed coach Jim Caldwell couldn't even find a bright spot when he addressed the media after the game.

"This is one of the few times that we've kind of stood here in front of you and didn't have at least some bright spots to talk about," Caldwell said. "We didn't have many in this game."

On offense, that has been the problem for a series of games now -- almost every one this season. This -- against Miami, Arizona and New England -- was a stretch of games where Detroit could have established itself as a contender in the NFC.

What this game -- along with the lackluster offensive showing against Arizona -- showed is the Lions are still far from being one of the league's elite teams. Instead, they went 1-2 and have scored only field goals the past two games. They were picked apart on defense for the first time this season by a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady.

Touchdowns have also disappeared from Detroit. The Lions haven't scored a touchdown in eight quarters and counting. They haven't had a rushing touchdown in four games.

"It's one of those games, we just ... it's embarrassing," receiver Golden Tate said. "We've got to chalk it up and have a short-term memory. That's the most important thing, not to lose our swagger, not to lose our confidence.

"Just come out with a mission, come out on a mission to really take it out on our next opponent, which happens to be Chicago, who is also another good team regardless of what their schedule says."

Detroit could easily be a playoff team, even though Sunday's loss combined with Green Bay's win over Minnesota pushes the Lions a game behind the Packers in the NFC North. And for now, it throws Detroit into a murky wild-card mix with Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco -- essentially four teams fighting for two spots.

Reaching that goal starts with rehabilitating an offense that has not looked consistently sharp since the opening week of the season. While Detroit may have put up more yards and points than a week ago in Arizona, larger issues once again showed up.

Dropped passes, which had not been an issue this season, hurt the Lions. At least six of Stafford's passes were dropped -- three of which would have been touchdowns.

"Everybody has one of them games," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We just weren't executing, weren't playing Detroit Lion football, the football that we know we are capable of playing. Whenever there's dropped passes, there's just lack of focus on our part."

That lack of focus crushed drives Sunday -- or at least kept the Lions from finishing them with touchdowns. The lack of offensive cohesion sums up where the Lions are right now as their true identity slowly comes into focus: a good defense with an offense still struggling to find itself with five games left.

"We were scoring three," center Dominic Raiola said. "They were scoring seven. Can't do it. We got to score six, you know."

Whether Detroit starts to score with more consistency the remainder of the season will be the difference between the Lions being a playoff team or watching at home again in January.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots.
  • During the week, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not consider taking play-calling duties away from first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. After another game without a touchdown -- the first time the team has gone two straight games without an offensive touchdown since 2000 -- Caldwell said they would be looking at things to change in the offense, although nothing drastic. When asked if he would consider taking play-calling duties away from Lombardi, Caldwell offered a one-word answer: "No."
  • Reiff
    The Lions lost another offensive lineman for the majority of the game Sunday after left tackle Riley Reiff injured his left knee on the game's first play. Reiff, who was walking in the locker room after the game, said to ask the coaches about his knee, and Caldwell had no update on the severity of his injury. Caldwell said he felt rookie Cornelius Lucas "held his own" replacing Reiff, but Lucas gave up at least one sack.
  • Lions safety Glover Quin lined up in the slot more often than normal as Detroit used its three-safety nickel package with Quin, James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Detroit did that to try to keep New England from finding mismatches all day. "That was the thinking behind that," Quin said. "To try to hold up [passes] and the run game."

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

What it means: This was always going to be a struggle and perhaps the Lions' toughest game of the season. However, there should be legitimate concern with Detroit's offense right now. The Lions have gone two straight games without a touchdown and despite shrinking the play-calling sheet in order to help find offensive rhythm and consistency, the Lions gained 335 yards -- right around their 332.3 yard per game average -- but once again appeared largely inconsistent.

More on this below, but perhaps a bigger concern was the return of the drops for the Lions -- an issue in 2013 but so far not a problem this season. Detroit had at least six drops against the Patriots, including three potential touchdowns.

Defensively, the Lions weren't much better. While the Patriots abandoned the run early, Tom Brady was able to carve through Detroit's defense, completing 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also not sacked -- the second straight game the Lions have been unable to sack an opposing quarterback.

Stock watch: Rising – Golden Tate. He went over 1,000 yards for the season and once again had a strong game with four catches for 97 yards a week after the Lions only threw two passes to him. He also was one of the few Detroit receivers to not drop a pass -- an accomplishment on a day where the Lions dropped three potential touchdown receptions. Falling – Pass-catchers. Eric Ebron dropped Matthew Stafford's best throw of the day -- a touch pass in stride that hit Ebron in the hands before he dropped it. There were also drops in the end zone by Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross. Calvin Johnson had a couple of drops as well. But those three dropped touchdowns made a massive difference in the game.

Back to second: With Green Bay knocking off Minnesota, 24-21, the Lions are officially out of first place in the NFC North. The Packers are 8-3 and the Lions are 7-4. This puts Detroit in a crowded wild-card race with Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. This is realistically three teams for two spots -- one of the Eagles or Cowboys will win the NFC East -- and something that is going to be watched the rest of the season.

Game ball: Once again, Tate was one of the few bright spots on the Lions and the only one offensively for the team. He gave the Lions more than a third of their total offense Sunday -- 97 yards receiving, 13 yards rushing -- and is the only player on Detroit able to show any offensive creativity right now. He's been the only consistent thing on the Lions' inconsistent offense this season.

What's next: The Lions head home for a short week before facing division rival Chicago on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving game.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Reggie Bush said Monday he felt he would return to the Detroit Lions' lineup against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

That won’t be happening.

Bush is inactive for the Lions against the Patriots, the fourth time he will have missed a game this season due to his lingering ankle injury. He had practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on a limited basis.

With Bush out, expect Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to both see increased work similar to last week when Bush sat against Arizona. Bell had 85 yards rushing against the Cardinals, the most of any back for the Lions in a game this season.

Bush initially hurt the ankle in Week 5 against Buffalo and missed the next week against Minnesota. He aggravated the injury against New Orleans in Week 7 and sat out the next week against Atlanta. Then he played against Miami in Week 10 and injured it again, forcing him to sit against Arizona and now New England.

By missing his fourth game, Bush is assured of playing only 12 games this season at maximum. It will be his fewest games played since 2010, when he appeared in eight games for New Orleans. This season, Bush has 53 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown, along with 26 catches for 169 yards.

Lions inactives: RB Reggie Bush, RG Larry Warford, DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, TE Kellen Davis.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running backs haven't hit holes efficiently. Sometimes, the blocking just isn't there for them. And yet other times, their decisions have been rough.

There are many, many reasons to explain why the Detroit Lions' running game has been extremely inefficient this season. Here's another -- and one that might change Sunday when they face New England: The Lions haven't had their three top backs -- Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick -- all healthy for an entire game at the same time since the third week of the season against Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's performance against the Cardinals -- 14 carries for 85 yards -- gives hope that Detroit's running game may be about to turn a corner.
Yes, Detroit's run game was in bad shape even before that, but the Lions posted their second-highest yards per carry number of the season in Week 2 against Carolina (3.9 yards), had their highest rushing total in Week 3 against Green Bay (115 yards) and put together their only multi-touchdown rushing game of the season in Week 1 against the New York Giants (2).

Since then, Bell, Bush and Riddick have each missed all or parts of games due to injury. The Lions haven't rushed for a touchdown since Week 7 against New Orleans. They rushed for 98 yards Sunday against Arizona -- the first time the Lions have come close to 100 yards since Week 6 against Minnesota.

Against the Cardinals, Bell looked like the decisive runner the Lions have needed this season and his 85 yards were the most by any one Detroit running back in a game this season.

“The overall numbers weren't huge, but I think our running game looked a lot better this last week and that's obviously encouraging,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “And so, if we can keep getting those big plays and getting a little bit more consistency, that's going to help us.”

The big plays and the consistency have been the biggest issues for Detroit this season with the offense as a whole and the running game. Bell has 14 runs of 10-plus yards this season with four of them coming Sunday against Arizona. Bush has two of those plays -- but none since Week 4, the last week he was fully healthy for an entire game.

George Winn, who is the team's fourth back and only used in case of injury has two 10-plus yard runs, both against the Bills when Bell was out. Riddick, who is more of a receiver out of the backfield, has yet to have a run of 10 or more yards this season.

Of the four, Bell has been the back that has been the most consistent and the closest to being able to have a big running game -- especially since Bush and Riddick are used in a receiving role as well. The way Bell ran Sunday, though, gives Detroit some confidence it might have found something with its rushing.

With Bell handling the majority of the work, the Lions posted a season-high 5.2 yards per rush, the first time this year they have eclipsed Jim Caldwell's desire of four yards per rush in a game.

“You have a guy that's capable, who can break tackles and sometimes, that has to be done,” Caldwell said. “We attribute it to the fact that he practiced extremely well for a number of weeks and you could see it coming that he's going to have a big game.

“I think his big games are yet to come. When I think you look at the running game, our average is up where we want them, they're above it and we want to continue that. We want to run it even better.”