Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders make it a big night
Barry Sanders represented the past. Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and company represented the present (and from the looks of things, the future too). And the Detroit Lions and their fans just plain represented on national television Monday night.
Detroit made the most of its first appearance on “Monday Night Football” in a decade. The largest crowd ever at Ford Field (67,861) actually delayed the national anthem with their chants of “Bar-ry! Bar-ry!” after the Lions’ legend took part in the coin flip.
Then the current Lions took over with a 24-13 comeback victory over NFC North rival Chicago to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1956, the year before their last NFL title. Detroit kept pace with another division rival, the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, as the only undefeated teams in the league.
That huge crowd definitely played a role, causing nine Bears false starts with their ruckus.
"It was unbelievable," said Stafford, who completed 19 of 26 for 219 yards with two touchdowns. "Especially early on, some of those third downs, you couldn't hear yourself think."
"We were going against a loud crowd, but that isn't an excuse," Chicago Coach Lovie Smith said. "Pre-snap penalties kill you."
Johnson gave the crowd something to cheer about with his ninth touchdown reception of the season (an NFL record for the first five games of a season), a 73-yarder from Stafford early in the second quarter to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
Javid Best had the second-longest run in franchise history, an 88-yard touchdown run (three yards longer than Sanders’ biggest gain on the ground) in the third quarter. Best finished with a career-high 163 yards.
First-round draft pick Nick Fairley also made his Lions debut as a backup defensive end behind Ndamukong Suh and others.
Overall, it was a huge night for Detroit fans (well, at least Detroit football fans), who suffered through an 0-16 season just three years ago. But perhaps the one person who wasn't celebrating was Coach Jim Schwartz, who preferred to shift his focus to Sunday's game against another surprise team, the 4-1 San Francisco 49ers.
"I don't think you win any awards for 5-0. We've got to play 16 games," Schwartz said. "We've got a long way to go. It's a good start."
-- Chuck Schilken
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Upper photo: Calvin Johnson runs for a touchdown against Brandon Meriweather of the Chicago Bears. Credit: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Lower photo: Barry Sanders enjoys the moment before Monday night’s game. Credit: Carlos Osorio / Associated Press