Detroit — If this is who the Lions truly can be, watch out. They busted big plays all day, plays that change games and alter perceptions. Ndamukong Suh spent so much time barreling into the backfield, he probably can identify the mouthwash choices of all the Bears’ offensive linemen.
The Lions turned their rivals into a messy pile of stink for a while Sunday. A letdown in the closing minutes made the score deceptively close, but until then, it was one of the more-complete performances they’d delivered in a long time, a 40-32 thrashing of the Bears. This was all about flexing power, and when the Lions play with controlled ferocity, they have power in unusual places.
Speaking of unusual places, how about this: The Lions (3-1) are tied with the Bears for first in the NFC North, heading to Green Bay next weekend. Who knows if they’ll stay there, but I do know they didn’t get there by happenstance.
Four games in and the Lions have revealed some impressive playmakers. Reggie Bush looks like he’s wearing his age all of a sudden — No. 21 — sprinting through holes with twisting, spinning flair. Whatever Bush has rediscovered at 28, the Lions need to ride it and Matthew Stafford needs to direct it, throwing to an assortment of receivers besides Calvin Johnson.
But defense is where the Lions are growing a nice, nasty edge, and the man who supplies the intimidation — as long as he doesn’t cross the edge — is Suh. He was an absolute force again, with two sacks and near-constant disruption. When Suh clobbered Jay Cutler and knocked the ball loose, and Nick Fairley scooped it up for a 4-yard touchdown return to make it 37-16, Ford Field was as loud as it’s been all year.
It was a thundering play, an act of (clean) intimidation. And it was further evidence that for all the attention on Stafford and Johnson, the defensive tackle terror tandem of Suh and Fairley can be just as dangerous. Just don’t ask it to be nearly as graceful. After Fairley’s touchdown, he leaped to chest-bump Suh and sent him comically flying on his back.
“It was a lack of execution on the celebration,” Fairley said with a grin. “I got up kind of high, he got up high, then he went down. He blamed it on my belly. I think I’m the only guy that’s brought him down this year so far.”
The sacks were Suh’s first two, but statistics don’t come close to defining his impact. Cutler had been sacked three times all season and the Lions collected three of their own, plus three interceptions, two by Louis Delmas. The Bears thrive on forcing turnovers, an area the Lions have been desperate to upgrade.
This team is trying to extricate demons, and the Bears are one of them. They’d won nine of the past 10 meetings, with Cutler generally flawless. Not this time, as the Lions generated pressure without much blitzing.
These clashes always are a bit personal, and Suh had an extra slice of motivation. The Bears drafted guard Kyle Long to help protect against Suh, and the rookie had his hands full — sometimes even full of jersey material.
“I can’t believe we didn’t get about 100 holding penalties against them,” Jim Schwartz said. “(Suh) has been playing at a high level the whole season.”
Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young have played well too. But it’s Fairley and Suh that make the Lions fairly sure they can prevent quarterbacks from picking them apart as they have in the past.
The Bears converted one of 13 third downs against a Lions defense that leads the league in that category, allowing only 21 percent (10-for-47).
The Bears padded statistics with two late touchdowns, which might have contributed to Schwartz’s less-than-happy mood. Cutler finished 27-for-47, and there wasn’t much doubt who won the Suh-Long matchup.
“He’s a grown man,” Long said of Suh. “They make a living rushing the quarterback. They’re relentless, they’re big, they’re physical guys.”
For the Lions, it’s all about channeling energy in the right direction. They committed only three penalties, none of the mindless variety.
It was a typical semi-tumultuous week for Suh. He’s still awaiting word on his appeal of a $100,000 fine, although the league did say it wasn’t pursuing action for another hit against the Cardinals. Suh called scrutiny of that play “petty” and he’s right. He’s a target, although mostly a target of his own making.
Sometimes, that’s bothersome. On days like this, it can be breathtaking.
“I’m not so much worried about whether people see me as dirty, or if they see me as a great player,” Suh said.
“As long we’re winning, I’m satisfied with that. Granted, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. I’d love for it to be focused on my play, but I understand people have their agendas.”
I don’t know about agendas, but I do know one thing. When Suh and his fellow linemen focus on the opposing passer, the Lions can be belly-bumping, quarterback-thumping menaces, and look more and more like a team to watch.