CBSSports.com National Columnist

Lions young, loaded for strong run for many years to come

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DETROIT -- I could wait. That would be easy, and it would be safe. I could wait for the Lions to get to a Super Bowl, and then write that something special was brewing in Detroit way back in the fall of 2011, when the Lions were less than one-third of the way through what would become their breakout season.

Or I could do it now. Say it now. Let you know, if you didn't already -- but I bet you do -- that something special is happening in Detroit. And not just special like the Arizona Cardinals were special with that Super Bowl appearance in 2008 or the Chicago Bears were special with that Super Bowl appearance in 2006 or Dexys Midnight Runners was special when it released the song Come on Eileen in 1983.

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The Detroit Lions will be no one-hit wonder, is what I'm saying.

Not that the Lions have recorded their first hit yet. They haven't -- this franchise has never been to the Super Bowl, and has just one playoff victory since 1958 -- and I understand that. But it's a matter of time. Could be a few years. Could be a few months. But it's going to happen. This team is going to the Super Bowl, and it's not going to stop at one. That's my prediction, and not merely because of what I just saw Monday night.

Although what I saw was awfully impressive.

The Lions beat the Bears 24-13 -- Detroit's first appearance on Monday Night Football in a decade -- to extend the franchise's longest winning streak in more than 50 years to nine. It's also the longest current regular-season winning streak in the NFL, and that's important because this story isn't just a Detroit story.

This is an NFL story.

The Lions are here, and they're winning, and barring a bad run of injuries they're not going to stop winning for a long time. Their best players are awfully young, and almost all of them put on a show Monday night.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two more touchdowns, giving him 13 on the season against just four interceptions. Nine of those TDs have gone to receiver Calvin Johnson, giving him an NFL mark for the most TD catches in the season's first five games. Running back Jahvid Best uncorked the second-longest scoring run in team history with an 88-yard burst, then broke a 43-yarder that essentially sealed the victory late in the fourth quarter, finishing with 163 yards on 12 carries.

Those were three of the Lions' most recent first-round picks -- Johnson in 2007, Stafford in 2009 and Best in 2010. Another first-rounder from 2009, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, caught a touchdown pass Monday and stayed on pace for an 80-catch season. And another first-rounder from 2010, No. 1 overall pick Ndamukong Suh, ran down ball carriers all over the field and attracted so much attention that other members of the defensive line combined for three sacks. Detroit's defensive front is probably the best in football, and it's only going to get better; 2011 first-rounder Nick Fairley, a defensive tackle, made his debut Monday night.

CBSSports.com Grades
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
C
QB Jay Cutler had the kind of game he usually had against Detroit, with a 99.6 passer rating, a TD pass and 249 yards, and Matt Forte did, as well, with 116 yards rushing. This one falls almost solely on a defense that bears no resemblance to the past Lovie Smith defenses. Viable NFL defenses do not allow a 73-yard TD pass and 88-yard TD run.
By Gene Chamberlain
RapidReports Correspondent
Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions
A-
Jahvid Best's career-high 163 rushing yards were the key to Detroit's most complete offensive performance this season. The presence of a legitimate ground game opened the entire playbook, and the resulting coverage gave Matthew Stafford and Detroit's receivers room to shine. The defense held Chicago in every key situation, and Detroit emerged from Monday's game a legitimate playoff contender.
By John Kreger
RapidReports Correspondent

Other than ancient kicker Jason Hanson and the offensive line, which has two 11-year veterans in left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola, the Lions are young and good, which means they're going to get better as they get older. And already they're terrific, joining the defending Super Bowl champion Packers as the only undefeated teams left in the NFL.

Like the NFC North rival Packers, who are literally owned by their fan base, the Lions have a special relationship at home. It's a newish relationship, but it's special nonetheless. Once on the short list for potential blackouts every week, the Lions now have quite possibly the loudest home-field advantage in the league. That's a subjective statement, and I don't know that it's true, but I do know this: My ears have never ached at a football field like they ached Monday night -- and I've never seen a visiting team be rendered so helpless at the line of scrimmage by crowd noise.

The Bears committed nine false-start penalties, a head-shaking number that ranks right up there with Calvin Johnson's nine touchdowns in five games for shock value. Six of those pre-snap penalties came in the first half, the other three in the fourth quarter when the Bears were trying to rally.

All told, the penalties combined with some bad drops and decision-making -- most of it by Devin Hester -- to undermine an impressive performance in defeat by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. He was 28 of 38 for 249 yards and a touchdown, owning a 99.6-rating against a ferocious front four, and his numbers were stymied by drive-killing drops downfield from Hester and Matt Forte. Hester also lost 8 yards on a short pass after reversing fields, running backward and being tackled. And then there was the kickoff he fielded at the Chicago 3, his momentum carrying him out of bounds at the 7.

The only Bear who came close to having that kind of dismal day was safety Brandon Meriweather, who was beaten by Johnson for a 73-yard touchdown and who was flagged for unnecessary roughness for spearing Lions receiver Nate Burleson late in the first half. Those are two of the Bears' most gifted players, Hester and Meriweather, and they played like knuckleheads.

Detroit's most gifted players? They played like gifted players. And there were a lot of them on the field Monday night.

Get used to that. This Detroit team isn't going away. It's going to the playoffs -- for years to come.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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