'MNF' in Detroit: Bears fight for relevance

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
3:16
PM ET
Lions fanAP Photo/LM Otero"It's important for our players to perform for our fans," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Monday.

You know already that Detroit hasn't hosted a Monday Night Game in 10 years. You're aware that the Detroit Lions haven't won on Monday night since 1998 and that Ford Field has been sold out for months and that 2,000 standing room only tickets were sold in a matter of hours last week and maybe, just maybe, you saw the lions who stomped on a bear pinata at the Detroit Zoo.

If you think the past week has been crazy in Detroit, the next 36 hours or so will be flat-out wild. But when you pull back the pomp and sift through the circumstance, and when you're done listening to Barry Sanders narrate the new introduction of ESPN's broadcast, and you remember that Sanders played in the last Lions' victory on a Monday night, you'll note that we have a pretty critical division game on our hands as Week 5 matchups go.

A Lions victory would give them a three-game lead over the 2010 NFC North Champions in the second week of October. The Chicago Bears would be 2-3, trailing what could be two 5-0 teams if the Green Bay Packers defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Jay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US PRESSWIREJay Cutler has a passer rating above 100 in four meetings against the Lions.
It's not unheard of for a team with a three-game deficit after Week 5 to recover and clinch a division title. It happened as recently as 2009, when the San Diego Chargers (3-3 after six games) overtook the 6-0 Denver Broncos, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But let's just say the Bears don't want to put themselves in that spot, which required the Chargers to win their final 10 games while the Broncos finished 2-8. It's also never too early to note that a defeat Monday night would give the Bears two losses in the division and three in their conference, both of which are important factors in playoff tiebreakers. And with two of their division competitors off to perfect starts, the Bears find themselves fighting for relevance with leaves still on the Upper Midwest trees.

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs dispensed with the usual cliches this week and acknowledged to Chicago reporters that Monday night's game is "huge." He added: "It's a division game, and it's a game that puts us right in the mix or will set us back three games. We're just coming off two losses in the conference, so this is a must have. We have to have it. Period."

The Bears have won six consecutive games against the Lions, and quarterback Jay Cutler has finished with better than a 100 passer rating in his four starts against them. The potential of overcoming that history, which has become a weekly event for the Lions, brings another level of intrigue to this game. One of the biggest challenges for the Lions, in fact, will be to enjoy the festivities while still recognizing the importance of the game itself.

In truth, the NFC North could be a two-team race by early Tuesday morning.

"It’s important for our players to perform for our fans," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "I mean, they know the history of this franchise and they know how long it's been since they really had something to get behind and something to cheer about. I don't know if that makes a difference on [game day]. It's important for us to play well, it's important for us to play for our city, but there’s a lot of other things that go into it."

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