September 26, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Lions need to make some noise in NFC North, or playoff hopes will go south

Reggie Bush on Sunday's game: “We know what’s at stake. This is a big game. It’s as big as it’s going to get.” (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park — Dominic Raiola can still remember the ringing in his ears.

And he’d love to hear it again, starting with Sunday’s home game against the Bears.

Two years ago, a game against Chicago set a new standard for noise violations at Ford Field. The Lions improved to 5-0 with a 24-13 victory that night — their first “Monday Night Football” home game in a decade — aided by a whopping nine false-start penalties from the Bears as the revved-up crowd made its presence felt throughout.

“We need that again,” Raiola said Wednesday. “We need that juice again. That’d be awesome to get that, and I feel like the fans are gonna bring it.

“They’re going to do their part, and we’ve got to do our part. It goes hand-in-hand. We do our part, they’re gonna do their part.”

That’s part of the problem, of course. Too often, the Lions haven’t done their part, starting right here at home in their own division, where they’ve spent so much time in the cellar over the last 20 years, the big-brother/little-brother comparisons hardly even apply. As Jason Hanson, the now-retired kicker, put it last season before a game at Green Bay, “I don’t even know if we’re in the same family right now.”

These next two weeks are a family reunion of sorts for the Lions, with Sunday’s game against the Bears followed by a trip to Lambeau Field. And chances are, they’ll go a long way toward determining this team’s fate.

Two early wins against Minnesota and Chicago helped jump-start their once-in-a-generation playoff bid in 2011. And a win Sunday surely would mean more than simply getting the NFC North lead a month into the season.

Plenty at stake

The Bears, with a new staff and offensive philosophy, are 3-0 and coming off an impressive road performance against the Steelers. Jay Cutler, who is 7-1 in his career against the Lions, is playing with surprising efficiency thanks to a quicker trigger — the offense doesn’t have a pre-snap penalty yet — and the Bears lead the NFL with 11 takeaways. They’ve also won nine of the last 16 meetings with the Lions, and 13 of 16.

“We know what it means,” said running back Reggie Bush, who was a full participant during practice Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday. “We know what’s at stake. This is a big game. It’s as big as it’s going to get.”

That might not be an exaggeration, either. Ask veteran defensive end Israel Idonije, who spent the last nine seasons in Chicago, about the key to success in the NFL and he’ll tell you it’s a simple equation.

“You’ve got to win your home games, and then you’ve got to dominate in your division,” he said. “You win those two battles, and you’ve really positioned yourself well.”

How well? Consider that of the 60 teams to make the playoffs the last five seasons, only four qualified with losing records in their respective divisions, the last being Cincinnati in 2011.

Long division

The Lions haven’t had a winning record in the NFC North … ever. Their last above-.500 finish in the division came in 1997 when it was the NFC Central. Since 2001 and the start of the Matt Millen era, the Lions are 16-59 against division opponents. And after beating the Vikings in the opener, they’re 6-19 in Jim Schwartz’s four-plus years as coach, including 3-3 in ’11.

When I brought that ugly history up Wednesday, Raiola insisted he “never thought about that.” Then he reiterated something he said last week, as the media seized on the Lions’ winless history in Washington D.C., adding, “It’s a new year.”

Still, Idonije called Sunday a “double must-win” game for the Lions. Bush called it a “statement game.”

“Division opponent at home? Yeah, you could say that,” Raiola said. “But I think for this team, every game is one of those. I mean, it’s a constant proving ground. Because look how easily we get tagged ‘Same-Old Lions.’ ”

He’s right about that. It’s too easy to do the same-old thing. But since 2000, the Packers have won six division titles, the Bears have won four and the Vikings three. The Lions haven’t won one in 20 years.

So if they’d like to try something new, these next couple of games would be a good place to start.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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