Thanksgiving leaves Lions stuffed with hope

November 29, 1991|By Curt Sylvester | Curt Sylvester,Knight-Ridder

PONTIAC, Mich. -- On a day of thanksgiving and tradition, the Lions departed from the traditional.

They won a big game.

With a share of the NFC Central lead at stake, they did something Lions teams haven't done very often in the last few decades.

They won.

They ran a fake punt, put Pro Bowl running back Barry Sanders out in the slot and ran a two-back offense.

And they beat the Chicago Bears.

Erik Kramer threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Robert Clark, Eddie Murray kicked three field goals and the defense did the rest as the Lions moved into a first-place tie yesterday with a 16-6 victory over the Bears.

It wasn't exactly a magnificent performance.

Eleven first downs. Sixty-two yards rushing for Sanders. A modest 9-for-27 passing afternoon for Kramer.

But on Thanksgiving Day -- before a national television audience and 78,879 at the Silverdome -- it served its purpose.

"In this locker room, we knew this team was for real," linebacker Chris Spielman said. "Now the rest of the country knows it, too."

With three games remaining, the Lions and Bears are 9-4.

The Lions play at home Dec. 8 against the New York Jets, then finish with road games against Green Bay and Buffalo. The Bears play at home against Green Bay and Tampa Bay, and finish with a Monday night game at San Francisco.

To the winner belongs the Central Division crown; to the runner-up, there should be a wild-card playoff berth.

And never mind what those Lions teams of the '60s, '70s and '80s might have done in this kind of down-to-the-wire finish.

"We ain't those teams," said nose tackle Jerry Ball. "We've got higher standards; we expect to win. We just have to stay focused and win everything from here on out."

The nine victories are the most by the Lions since the 1983 team won the division title at 9-7. Detroit hasn't won 10 games since 1970.

On a day when the offense struggled, the Lions' defense came up big.

"It's probably one of the better games that any team I've ever coached has played," coach Wayne Fontes said. "I thought our defense just played a splendid football game."

Mike Ditka, whose Bears turned the ball over six times, thought less of the Lions' defense.

"What did they do to us? Nothing," said Ditka. "What did we do to ourselves? That's the difference. Mistakes. The same thing cost us a football game last week [16-13 overtime loss to Miami]. It doesn't do you any good to control the clock [33:50 to the Lions' 26:10], run up and down the field and not score points.

"The points were there to be scored. It wasn't like they took them away from us. We took them away from ourselves. So that's why I'm upset. This ain't the first time I've been upset. But I'm upset."

Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who threw two touchdown passes to beat Detroit on Nov. 3 in Chicago, completed 27 of 47 for 244 yards but had a bad day overall.

The Lions came up with four interceptions and Harbaugh lost two fumbles. Spielman recovered the first, Bennie Blades the second.

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