DETROIT -- The Lions have long said that they believed they are a good team. They showed it in spurts throughout this season, but not often enough to be believed. That's why they ended up in a series of must-win games in December to simply keep their season alive.
On Saturday, though, they illustrated why that potential had always been there, why they had reason to believe in what they were saying, even while struggling against most of the playoff-bound teams they faced. The Lions were efficient on offense. They made plays on defense. They still have Matt Prater.
And it is games like these, a 20-10 win over the Chicago Bears, which make the Lions so tantalizing. But is it really something you can believe in? Or should believe in with two games left in the season?
"I mean, we're growing. In the past, a lot of the guys were younger, and you got to grow," Lions safety Glover Quin said. "So now, each year, each player gets a little more experience, a little older, and you learn how to win big games, and you understand the importance of games like this. And we came out and we were focused and we were ready to go."
One thing that is different about this year's Lions is that it is the first time since 1999-2000 that the franchise will go back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins. They went 8-8 in 1999 and 9-7 in 2000.
It's tough to read too much into this win over the up-and-down Bears. Chicago beat Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore this season, all teams that the Lions lost to. But Chicago also lost to San Francisco and Tampa Bay. Plus, the Bears are out of playoff contention and essentially playing out the string before the offseason.
And the Lions have shown in the past that they can handle subpar teams in a national spotlight, like they did twice on Monday Night Football this season -- once against the 2-11 Giants and the other versus a Packers team that was still figuring out how to play with fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley.
So yes, Detroit looked good Saturday night, scoring points on four of its first six drives. And yes, the Lions' defense continued to turn over mediocre teams, forcing three Mitchell Trubisky interceptions -- two from likely Pro Bowler Darius Slay and one by Quandre Diggs in the end zone to end a Bears threat in the fourth quarter.
"We just had to out-physical them, and that's what we did," Slay said. "Because they out-physicaled us the first game [Nov. 19, at Chicago], but they just came up short. We just out-physicaled them today, and that's the result."
But there has to be a measure of perspective. The Lions have not beaten a team bound for the playoffs since Week 4 at Minnesota -- against an arguably worse version of the Vikings team than the one the Lions played on Thanksgiving in a game that Detroit never led and actually trailed by double digits for the majority of the contest.
This is still a Detroit team that Baltimore blew out 44-20 two weeks ago -- a loss that put the Lions in must-win games over the final four weeks of the season. They still are on the fringe of the playoff race, although the win over the Bears is what Detroit needed to keep pace and have any shot at the postseason.
All the Lions can do at this point is win, watch and wait to see what happens around the league on Sunday and Monday -- see if they get any closer to a playoff berth based on other results in the NFC.
Saturday's performance could be seen as progress, though, because the Lions needed a 52-yard Prater field goal with a rough wind to barely beat the Bears, 27-24, a month ago at Soldier Field. That win felt like an escape, something the Lions have often done this season against teams in the bottom half of the league.
Saturday night didn’t feel like that. It felt like the type of win good teams are able to pull off. But are the Lions a good team? Like so many Detroit teams before that have hung around the playoff race until the end, it's really difficult to know. And like so many other Lions teams before, that makes this team very tough to trust when it matters the most.
"The postseason -- can't really speak on it too much," Detroit defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. "Just really want to get this next game with Cincinnati [Dec. 24, in Ohio]. Go out there and just play good ball against those guys and let the postseason, however it unfolds. If we're in it, good. If not, then I'm gonna be sad."