Updates throughout. With AP Photos.By LARRY LAGEAP Sports Writer
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz went home for a nap early Tuesday morning, following the Lions’ win over the Chicago Bears. A couple hours later, he went right back to work.
The Motor City is buzzing about the franchise’s first 5-0 start since 1956 and football followers from coast to coast are taking notice of the suddenly formidable Lions.
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Schwartz refuses to get caught up in the hype and is focusing on the reality that his team hasn’t put a complete game together yet.
”We haven’t played our best,” he said with glassy eyes Tuesday. ”We still have improvements to make.
”We’re still a work in progress there, but we’ve managed to put good enough efforts together to win the first five games.”
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 47 of 52 teams to get off to a 5-0 start have made it to the playoffs, according to STATS, LLC.
But Detroit can’t afford to have a letdown because it hosts the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in a matchup of teams that are experiencing turnarounds. They’re a combined 9-1 after they had a 1-9 record at the same time last season.
The Lions beat the Bears 24-13 in their first Monday night game in a decade despite 12 penalties that cost them 94 yards and gave Chicago four first downs.
Detroit didn’t slow down Bears running back Matt Forte, who helped them keep the ball for 39 minutes — nearly double the time of possession for the Lions.
Defensive end Cliff Avril, though, said it was big that the team found a way to stay undefeated on a big stage.
”The whole country is seeing how good the team can be,” Avril said. ”Even with the win, we had so many mistakes so it is huge, but we’ve got to bounce back and get the sixth.”
The last time Detroit got off to this good of a start, it beat the 49ers to improve to 6-0 on Nov. 4, 1956 – the year before winning the franchise’s last NFL title.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said his father was born back then, but his mom wasn’t.
”Yeah, it’s been a while,” Stafford said. ”We understand that, but it’s behind us now. We understand we had a great win. It’s great for the city, it’s great for our team, but we’ve got a short week coming up and a really hot San Fran team coming in.”
The 49ers – led by first-year coach and former Michigan star Jim Harbaugh – is coming off a 48-3 win over Tampa Bay that was their most-lopsided win since beating Denver by the same margin in the 1990 Super Bowl.
Detroit started its roll last season, closing with four victories, and now has won nine straight for the league’s longest active winning streak.
The Lions have won five in a row in one season for the first time since a seven-game surge in 1995.
Their defense, with a deep and dominating front, is leading the way by giving up 10 or fewer points in the second half of each of their games to date.
Stafford and Co. are putting up plenty of points, too.
Calvin Johnson is the first NFL player with nine touchdown catches in the first five games of a season. Stafford, who ranks third in the league with 13 TD passes, has thrown for 19 scores over his last seven games for the best stretch by a Lions QB since Bobby Layne had a dominant run during the 1951 season.
One of Stafford’s targets, tight end Tony Scheffler, left Monday’s game with concussion-type symptoms after getting hit by linebacker Brian Urlacher, according to Schwartz. Lions linebacker Justin Durant was held out for a second straight game with similar ailments.