CHICAGO -- It had never happened before. Not once.
By coming from behind to complete a 27-24 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Detroit Lions completed their NFC North road slate with a 3-0 record. That’s the first time in franchise history the Lions have won every divisional road game. Only once before had the Lions gone through the division without a loss on the road, back in 1961, when Detroit was 5-0-1.
But more important for the Lions is this: Detroit’s win over Chicago sets up a huge Thanksgiving game against the division-leading Minnesota Vikings. If the Lions win on Thursday, they would cut the Vikings’ division lead to one game and hold the tiebreaker over Minnesota.
"They are division games. Like, you have to win them. You have to win them," Lions defensive end Cornelius Washington said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. Minnesota is one we've got to have."
That led to an amusing moment in the Lions' locker room after the win. Washington, who made it clear Detroit has to win in November to make the playoffs, asked a Lions staffer whether or not Thursday's game against Minnesota was needed to win the division. The staffer smiled and then gave an answer: "It'd be helpful."
To which Washington responded: "Let's go with that. It'd be helpful. I mean, I personally, I think you need to win them all, but hell."
And by winning the three division road games -- and still having the Vikings, Bears and Packers to go at home -- the Lions understand what Thanksgiving could mean.
"Any time you win on the road in this league, it's a huge bonus," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "On the contrary, we haven't done a great job at home. We'll have a big opportunity this Thursday at home against a division opponent, against a really good team, and we've got to come out and play well."
To beat the Vikings, the Lions will probably have to play well from the start of the game, too, something Detroit has not done in wins over the Browns and Bears the past two weeks.
What it means: The Lions are now 3-1 in games this season in which they have trailed by double digits in the first quarter. Going into Week 11, the rest of the NFL had four wins combined under those circumstances. That shows what type of team the Lions are at this point -- a slow-starting squad that adjusts throughout the game. Against teams that are going nowhere in 2017 like the Browns and Bears, the Lions can get away with that. But they won’t be able to on Thanksgiving. It’s something the Lions have to figure out. For the second straight week, however, Detroit can say a win is a win, keeping the team firmly in the playoff race.
What I liked: Marvin Jones continues to make good plays. His stop-and-go route for a 28-yard touchdown was a beautiful pass and route. The Lions have found a really good connection between Stafford and Jones this season. In addition, kicker Matt Prater is close to automatic late in games from more than 50 yards. His 52-yard field goal with 1:35 to play gave the Lions the final margin. Prater has been incredibly critical for the Lions this season.
What I didn’t like: What looked like an aberration last week is now a problem. The Lions' run defense allowed more than 200 yards for the second straight week, this time 222 yards and two touchdowns. And considering Detroit had been better at stopping the run than the pass for the majority of the season, that’s a big concern. The injuries on the front seven to Ezekiel Ansah and Haloti Ngata have been part of the problem, but it’s deeper than that. Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's 19-yard scramble with 15 seconds left to give the Bears a chance at a tying field goal was a prime example of it. The Lions defense has to be a bit concerned overall, too, after giving up 398 total yards to Chicago. In addition, Detroit’s run game continues to be an issue. The Lions could not get much going running the ball again, but that’s mostly to be expected at this point. The other main concern is a slow start. Again. Eventually, that is going to cost the Lions in a crucial spot. It almost did Sunday against the Bears.
Fantasy fallout: Stafford did what he needed to, throwing for 299 yards with two touchdowns. The lost fumble will cost some fantasy points, but this was a better-than-expected day from Stafford. Golden Tate had a quiet day with only three catches for 32 yards. Theo Riddick was nonexistent with 35 rushing yards and one catch for 4 yards.
Prater saves the Lions again: He’s as consistent as they come -- and for the Lions, that’s been massive. He made his 13th career game-winning kick with less than two minutes remaining in a game, and his first one this season. His game-winner was also the 42nd field goal of 50 yards or more in his career, tying him with John Kasay for the third most in NFL history. Only former Lions kicker Jason Hanson (52) and Sebastian Janikowski (55) have more.
What’s next: The Lions host the Vikings on Thanksgiving in a game that could all but decide the NFC North if Minnesota wins.