NFL Wire News

Lions can claim first division title since 1993

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — For the first time since 1993, the Detroit Lions have a chance to win their division. With a 20-14 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday and the Green Bay Packers beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions (11-4) and Packers (11-4) ensured next Sunday’s game will decide the NFC North champion.

“This is what we play for,” wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “We’re right there on the doorstep, but we have one more task ahead of us, and that’s to go out next week and get another W.”

But if the Lions play like they did in Chicago next week at Lambeau Field, there’s no chance of them earning their first win in Green Bay since 1991. At Soldier Field, the Lions won despite two red-zone interceptions by Matthew Stafford and a few costly special-teams blunders. By winning their 11th game, they’ve locked up their best record since they were 12-4 in 1991, but the Lions have to correct several mistakes before the playoffs begin.

Stafford finished 22 of 39 for 243 yards and two interceptions, and he took four sacks. Johnson had six catches for 103 yards and eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the fifth consecutive season, a franchise record. Joique Bell ran 13 times for 74 yards, Reggie Bush had seven carries for 54 yards and each scored a touchdown as the Lions finished with a season-high 138 rushing yards.

The Lions’ third turnover was a muffed punt by Jeremy Ross, which gave the Bears the ball at the 11-yard line and set up their first touchdown in the second quarter. Linebacker Julian Stanford drew a flag for roughing the kicker on a punt that set up a third-quarter touchdown for Chicago.

The Lions’ No. 2 defense allowed just 14 points, but that unit was far from perfect, too. The Lions had just one sack in the first three quarters and left openings for backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen, though his receivers dropped several passes.

“We’ve had starts like this unfortunately before, so we found a way to get it done and that’s most important,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “We definitely understand we need to play a lot better. We need to start faster.

“We need to come out like (Mike) Tyson and just start swinging.”

The Lions clinched a spot in the NFC tournament when the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Washington Redskins on Saturday, but players denied that the emotional hangover played a role in the struggles Sunday.

“That’s clear to see that we’ve got to play better,” Johnson said. “We can’t turn the ball over three times. You can’t win against a good team turning the ball over three times. I’m not saying that Chicago wasn’t a good team, but we just grinded it out today.”

NOTES: The NFL announced Monday a one-game suspension for center Dominic Raiola after he stomped on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson’s ankle in the third quarter Sunday. Raiola will appeal the suspension Tuesday with hopes of playing next week against the Packers. … WR Calvin Johnson eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for a franchise-record fifth straight season. He finished the game with six catches for 103 yards, his 44th 100-yard game. Johnson has the second-most 100-yard games in his first eight seasons in NFL history, trailing only Randy Moss’ 45. … RB Joique Bell was benched for the first quarter Sunday for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — Matthew Stafford threw two red-zone interceptions Sunday and finished 22 of 39 for 243 yards and a 53.7 passer rating. His offensive line didn’t help much as he took four sacks and three other hits. The only bright spots were Calvin Johnson’s 103 yards and a couple of nice catches by Golden Tate.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The Lions had their best rushing performance of the season, finishing with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Joique Bell was suspended for the first quarter but finished with 74 yards on 13 carries and an impressive 17-yard touchdown. Reggie Bush looked as good as he has all year, with seven runs for 54 yards, including a 13-yard score, and six catches for 44 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B — If the Bears had not dropped several passes, the Lions probably would’ve lost. Considering Jimmy Clausen was the quarterback, that’s not a good sign heading to the postseason, but it was still a solid performance by the pass defense. Clausen finished 23 of 39 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Lions had two second-half sacks, both by Ndamukong Suh, and Glover Quin caught his league-leading seventh interception.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus — Matt Forte ran for 55 yards on 19 carries, which is a solid effort against the Lions, but they continued to prove that teams can’t run against them. Forte is one of the top backs in the league, and his longest run was 10 yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: F — The third phase nearly cost the Lions the game, gift-wrapping two touchdowns for the Bears. Late in the second quarter, a punt bounced off return man Jeremy Ross and right to Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis, giving Chicago the ball at the 11 to set up the first touchdown. In the third quarter, Julian Stanford was called for roughing the punter, and the Bears scored three plays later. Matt Prater made field goals from 30 and 39 yards, but also had a 37-yarder blocked in the fourth quarter.

–COACHING: D — The Lions should’ve cruised to a victory, and as much as the players made errors, the coaching staff didn’t have the right game plan. They should’ve thrown to Calvin Johnson more as the Bears couldn’t cover him. They should’ve blitzed more to fluster Jimmy Clausen. And even though Jim Caldwell constantly preaches one game at a time, it appeared the players’ minds were elsewhere during the game.


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