A few thoughts on a wild game at Ford Field:
What it means: Down 24-7 in the second quarter, the Detroit Lions outscored the Carolina Panthers 42-11 the rest of the way to clinch their seventh victory of the season and keep pace with the Chicago Bears in the NFC wild-card picture. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lions are the first team in NFL history to overcome 17-plus point deficits to win three games in the same season. The others were in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings (20-0) and Week 4 at the Dallas Cowboys (27-3). No lead is safe against this team.
Welcome back Mr. Smith: Raise your hand if you saw this kind of game coming from tailback Kevin Smith, who re-signed with the team only two weeks ago. Smith scored three of the Lions touchdowns, accounting for 201 combined yards rushing and receiving. The only Lions player in the past 50 years to average more than Smith's 8.8 yards per carry Sunday is Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Most of us had given up on the Lions getting game-changing production from their backfield in any sense, much less as a runner. The Lions thought so little of Smith that they declined to bring him to training camp. Could he be their answer? What a story that would be. Said Lions coach Jim Schwartz: "There are a lot of great stories in the NFL and I’m sure there are a lot of storylines today, but I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to find a better story than Kevin Smith."
StaffordWatch: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two first-quarter interceptions, putting him in a similar situation as last Sunday against the Bears: In a pass-only catch-up mode while hampered by a fractured right index finger. But I thought Stafford got it together on the possession after the Panthers took their 17-point lead. He hit receiver Nate Burleson for a 15-yard pass on third-and-12, and ultimately completed the final six passes of a 12-play drive that made clear the Lions weren't going away. Stafford completed 77.8 percent of his passes and followed those two interceptions with five touchdown passes. That's what a quarterback does when he wants to take his team to the playoffs.
SuhWatch: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished with two tackles, but don't let the box score fool you. He had a whale of a second half, forcing one of Cam Newton's four interceptions with a strong inside rush. I'm not sure if Suh has impacted a game more this season than he did Sunday.
What's next: The Lions will host the Green Bay Packers in their annual Thanksgiving Day game, beginning a stretch that will include two games against the Packers and one against the New Orleans Saints. That schedule is what made Sunday's victory so crucial to the Lions' playoff chances.