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Lions defense gets playoff push back on track

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit – — On a short week and coming off two straight disappointing losses, the Lions got back on the winning track with a 34-17 victory over the Bears on Thursday at Ford Field.

The defense gave up 14 points in the first three drives but buckled down to give up only a field goal the rest of the way. After going two games without a sack against the Cardinals and Patriots, the defense got to Jay Cutler three times.

While they're in a playoff push, just a game behind the Packers, the Lions needed to avoid a loss to the division-rival Bears, which would have put them in an uphill climb with just four games remaining in the regular season.

"We couldn't let this get out of hand; it's an important game for us as an NFC North Division game and we need to be 8-4 so bad," Lions defensive end Jason Jones said. "We had to buckle down and make more plays than they did."

Unlike their second-half collapse last season, when the Lions started 6-3 and finished 1-6 and out of the playoffs, they're looking to avoid any losing skids that can take them out of postseason contention.

"It's the next win for us — it puts us right where we want to be," safety Glover Quin said. "We control our own destiny; we just have to keep winning. We have a three-game home stand and you can't win all of them if you don't win the first one. So, we were able to get the first one.

"Now we have to go back and get ready for Tampa."

The season could come down to how the Lions play in the next three games, with home matchups against the Buccaneers and Vikings before finishing on the road against the Bears and the Packers, a finale that could decide the division champion.

Looking at the lessons learned from last season, there could have been some doubt creeping in to their approach and how they were going about their business on a day-to-day basis.

Left guard Rob Sims said there was some doubt, especially during their two-game losing streak, but it didn't show in Thursday's win.

"There's always doubt. You'd be lying if you said it doesn't. It's always, 'Man are doing the right things? Are we doing this the right way? Am I doing the right thing?' " Sims said.

"But we kept each other uplifted, hung in there and nobody pointed fingers through that stretch."

That included the patchwork offensive line, which was without the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle and Larry Warford at right guard.

Undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas stepped in beside Sims and rookie third-round pick Travis Swanson played well in his third straight game at right guard.

As they did in the previous two games, the Lions tried to stay aggressive and get to the Bears offensive line. Without Nick Fairley, the Lions' defensive line wasn't at full strength, but they were able to hold the Bears receivers and put a halt to the running game.

"The game plan was simple this week," Jones said. "Every week, we face different tackles but the main theme is to attack — make sure you're putting pressure on them and taking advantage of their weaknesses."

Offense responds

As well as the defense played after the first two scores, the offense clicked, finishing with 34 points — one off the season high, set in the opening win over the Giants.

"We played well and I think the guys worked at it, didn't get down on one another and it gives us an opportunity to build upon something," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

Although there's a sense of relief, Caldwell wasn't so quick in declaring the offense healed.

"The minute you get comfortable in any stage in our league, you're going to have problems," Caldwell said.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/detnewsRodBeard