Matthew Stafford scrambles and looks for a receiver Sunday in Chicago. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
What a difference a few weeks makes.
After the Lions lost in Arizona in Week 2, former NFL head coach Tony Dungy said they looked like the "same old Lions" on NBC's “Football Night in America.”
Now, with a season sweep over the division-rival Bears, Dungy thinks those Lions will win the NFC North.
"That was a huge game yesterday, and it definitely puts them in the driver's seat," Dungy said in a phone interview Monday morning. "It gives them the season sweep over Chicago if there are any tiebreakers. And with (Green Bay quarterback Aaron) Rodgers and now Seneca Wallace hurt, I do believe the Lions are going to win it."
With a 21-19 win over the Bears (5-4) at Soldier Field Sunday, the Lions (6-3) now lead the NFC North. The Packers (5-4) lost to the Eagles, 27-13, in Green Bay, and Rodgers (collarbone) is likely out for at least three weeks.
Attrition certainly helps, but the Lions have played well enough to be considered the favorite to win the division right now.
"What it's been is a little bit more consistency, and I've really been impressed with Matthew Stafford," Dungy said. "Obviously, he's been the leader for a number of years, but you're starting to see it develop all the way around. I just think the last three or four weeks they've been outstanding."
The Lions are 3-1 in their last four games with a 27-24 loss to the Bengals as the lone setback, and since Cincinnati (6-4) leads the AFC North, it was hardly a bad loss.
In Week 6, the Lions overcame a 10-point halftime deficit against the Browns in Cleveland. In Week 8, they beat the Cowboys after trailing by 10 with 6:45 remaining. And Sunday they won in Soldier Field for the first time since 2007.
"There's no question that (Stafford is) in charge and guys believe in him, even in situations where they're down," Dungy said. "They still feel like he's going to get the job done for them, and to me, that's the sign of a great quarterback."
Dungy was in Jackson, his hometown, to tell Middle School at Parkside students about Comcast's Internet Essentials program, which provides internet to low-income families for $9.95 per month. The two-year old program has already connected 250,000 families in the U.S., many for the first time.
Dungy, however, still sees the Lions' undisciplined play as an issue. The Lions had four personal fouls Sunday, including two on the Bears' final drive. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that moved Chicago to midfield, and defensive end Willie Young was flagged for roughing the passer on the 2-point conversion attempt, giving the Bears another try.
But since the Lions stopped the second 2-point attempt, they proved capable of overcoming those penalties.
Still, if the Lions want to make noise in the playoffs, they need to keep the undisciplined play to a minimum.
"That's going to come up to haunt you in big games, no question about it," Dungy said. "That's where that discipline is going to come to really be the determining factor because you're going to play good teams. You're going to play tough situations where you've got to be on your game every minute. That's where they've got to continue to grow to me. But getting this road that was really a step in the right direction."
Around the NFC North
* With Sunday's loss, the Bears are now in a world of hurt, literally and figuratively. Chicago effectively trails the Lions by two games in the division because the Lions' season sweep gives them an edge if the two finish with the same record.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jay Cutler now has to deal with an ankle injury in addition to a groin injury, and he certainly looked hobbled in the second half Sunday. Backup Josh McCown, who played the final drive, has looked good in his action this season, but a healthy Cutler certainly gives the Bears the best chance to win.
* Even the Packers' backups can't stay healthy. Already ravaged by injury, Green Bay lost Wallace, the second-string quarterback, to a groin injury in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the Eagles. Third-stringer Scott Tolzien played OK, but Green Bay working out Matt Flynn Monday makes the most sense. The Packers desperately need a spark in order to pull out victories with Rodgers out.
* The Vikings (2-7) won for the first time in the U.S. Thursday night, beating Washington 34-27. Minnesota's only other victory came in London over the Steelers. Washington has been putrid this season, especially on defense, so don't read too much into this.
Around the NFL
* The Jaguars will not go 0-16. They beat the Titans, 29-27 -- in Nashville no less. No matter what the Titans do the rest of the year, this defines their season, and potentially losing quarterback Jake Locker (foot) doesn't exactly instill confidence.
* Some people weren't impressed with the Panthers' four-game winning streak because they'd beaten the Vikings, Rams, Bucs and Falcons. This week, though, Carolina went into San Francisco and beat the 49ers, 10-9. The Panthers are for real, and they have the best defense in the NFC.
* Rams rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin proved why he was the eighth overall pick Sunday. He caught two touchdowns covering 138 yards and returned a punt 98 yards to the house. Why did he field a punt at the 2, you ask? Well, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer only gave Austin 15 snaps on offense, because he's a terrible coach.