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Undrafted Lucas steps in and steps up for Lions

Josh Katzenstein and Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — For the first time since taking over for ironman Jeff Backus in 2013, Lions left tackle Riley Reiff missed a start Thursday.

The Lions held out hope Reiff could recover from the left knee injury he suffered in last weekend's loss to the Patriots, but Thursday morning, undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas learned he would make his first NFL start.

"I prepared all week, so when he told me, I knew it was time to go," Lucas said.

Even though Reiff has been the best offensive lineman for the Lions, Lucas filled in and made his absence easier to swallow in a 34-17 victory over the Bears.

The Lions faced a Bears defense that had seven sacks the past two games, but they gave up just two with Lucas at left tackle and fellow rookie Travis Swanson, a third-round pick who started at right guard with Larry Warford (knee) missing a third straight game.

Lucas drew a matchup against veteran Jared Allen, and though Allen had a sack, it came against left guard Rob Sims.

"I think he did a great job against a future Hall of Famer, a first-ballot guy," Sims said. "It was good. I'm happy for him, proud of him."

The Lions also ran strong, particularly on the final drive, and Lucas and the rest of the front played a role in Joique Bell having 91 rushing yards.

"Both guys hung in there and did a very good job," coach Jim Caldwell said of the rookie linemen. "I'm anxious to really take a look at the film.

Answering the bell

With Reggie Bush missing his third straight game with an ankle injury, the Lions needed to rely on Bell to carry the load. Bell responded with the best running game of the season for the Lions, with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. More than half of that total came on their final drive of the game, trying to run out the clock.

After the offense went the last two games without scoring a touchdown, Bell thought that this could be a breakout week for the offense.

"I felt it this whole week," he said.

Trailing, 14-10, on a 4th-and-goal from the 1, Lions coach Jim Caldwell decided to go for it — and called the play for Bell, who jumped over the pile at the goal line to put the Lions ahead for good. It turned out to be a game-changing play, showing confidence in the running game and offense that had struggled of late.

"That speaks volumes for the coach trusting in us to go for it on fourth down and making a statement," said Bell, who scored multiple touchdowns for the second time in his career. "I read a lot into it and I know they were depending on us to come through.

"The offensive line did a great job and I was able to get it in."

For Bell, playing in front of the home fans on Thanksgiving Day is special because he's from Michigan and is honored by the tradition.

"Every game for me is special. To be able to be from Michigan and to play for my home state is a remarkable feeling," he said. "It's like I'm living in a movie and I'm going to enjoy every second of it."

Reaching a milestone

Center Dominic Raiola made his 200th career start for the Lions on Thursday, the most in franchise history, and became emotional in the fourth quarter when the Ford Field announcer noted the achievement.

"I group myself with this city, and we've been through a lot in 14 years," he said. "We've been bankrupt; we've been 0-16. You keep kicking us down, but we keep getting up."

A second-round pick in 2001, Raiola has missed four starts — all in 2008 — since earning the starting center job in 2002. He's started 92 straight games.

This season, Raiola broke linebacker Wayne Walker's record of 197 starts, which he made from 1958-72.

Raiola becomes the fifth active player with 200 career starts, joining quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, safety Charles Woodson and defensive tackle Justin Smith. Brady is the only active player with more starts for one team with 202 in New England.