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The Lions' running game has struggled so far this season, but the addition of Golden Tate has helped minimize the problem.

In Tate, the Lions have a receiver with hands so reliable they can trust him to keep the clock running late in games, which he proved in Week 3 when he turned a screen into an 8-yard gain on third-and-7. That play helped the Lions run out the final 6:54 in their 19-7 win over the Green Bay Packers.

In Week 4, Tate shined as bright as he ever did in four years with the Seattle Seahawks, showing why he was worth as much as the Lions thought — $31 million over five years. His eight catches tied a career high, and the 116 yards were just 13 yards shy of his best mark.

With Calvin Johnson hobbled, Tate provided Stafford another reliable target, something he didn't consistently have in a No. 2 receiver during his first five years in Detroit.

Tate's swagger is undeniable, but the manner in which he plays is what truly sets him apart from the other receivers that have tried to excel opposite Johnson. In high school, Tate played running back, and on nearly every catch, he uses his exceptional vision and agility.

At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Tate has the size of a typical slot receiver, but he runs with the strength of a tailback, which is a key reason he's so successful gaining yards after the catch during his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he's broken eight tackles this season, ranking second among receivers behind only Baltimore's Steve Smith Sr.

"I'm not the typical 6-1, 6-2 guy, so I've got to make up for it in other places and that's how I make it up," he said recently. "Once the ball is in my hands, I try to turn into a running back. That's just the knack that I have, I guess."

Five of Tate's eight catches Sunday gained 11 or more yards. Two of them converted third downs, including his first catch, which gained 35 yards after he easily broke one tackle to gain an extra 20 or so yards.

The most impressive play, though, was a 16-yard gain near the end of the third quarter that moved the Lions to the 2-yard line to inch closer to finishing a 90-yard drive. Tate caught a screen and ran through Jets cornerback Darrin Walls, who appeared ready for Tate to juke or spin, which he'd done earlier in the game.

Instead, Tate lowered his pads and came close to scoring on what probably should've been a short gain. Two plays later, Stafford scored on a 1-yard run.

Game after game, Tate is showing why he was their top free-agent target. He can play inside and outside and looks like a perfect complement for Johnson.

So far this year, Tate has 317 receiving yards, which puts him on pace for 1,268 yards. Even if he doesn't keep this up, there's a good chance he'll break his career high of 898 yards from 2013 and increase his yardage in each year of his career. At 26, he's still getting better, which should delight the Lions' front office.

Tate has caught 24 of his 31 targets in 2014. The only thing he hasn't done this season is score a touchdown, and on several plays, he's been clearly frustrated that he didn't reach the end zone.

"For the style of player I am, I'm really shifty, I'm capable of making guys miss and I take a lot of pride in that," he said. "So every time I get the ball, I'm trying to score. I get really frustrated when I don't break tackles sometimes. That's just who I am."

Around the NFC North

* Anyone who expected the Vikings to score 41 points without Adrian Peterson is a liar. Minnesota (2-2) put on a show in Sunday's 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons, running for 241 yards. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked good, too, with no turnovers and a 98.9 rating, though his ankle injury could be a concern.

* The intra-division matchup in Chicago ended with both the Packers and Bears at 2-2. It might sound crazy, but Green Bay can be really good when it keeps the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands. The best quarterback on the planet was 22-for-28 for 302 yards and four touchdowns, nearly a perfect game in a 38-17 win at Soldier Field.

* Jay Cutler, meanwhile, threw two interceptions in the second half and had two fumbles, though the Bears recovered both. Plus, the Chicago secondary looked suspect in an ugly home loss.

Around the NFL

* The Cowboys defense was supposed to be historically bad this season, but it looked pretty good in Sunday night's 38-17 win over the Saints. Running back Demarco Murray is a legitimate early-season MVP candidate with 534 rushing yards, 156 more than anyone else.

* The Panthers made a terrible mistake letting Smith — the franchise's best player ever — leave this season. Even if it was the right financial move, Carolina had no chance of winning the 35-year-old's revenge game Sunday. The Ravens crushed the Panthers, 38-10, behind Smith's 139 yards and two touchdowns.

* The Eagles became the first team to start 3-0 despite trailing by 10 in all three games. In Week 4, they were on the wrong side of a comeback, losing to the 49ers 26-21 after leading 21-10. San Francisco, meanwhile, needed the win badly to keep pace in the NFC West.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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