ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions have earned the right to keep their hopes of making the playoffs for at least another week.
Perhaps fittingly, they did it by making enough plays late in a game to win.
Detroit ended its second losing streak of two or more games this season, going 49 yards to set up Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal to beat Tampa Bay 24-21 Sunday.
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In Jim Caldwell’s four seasons, the Lions lead the league with 20 wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
”The biggest thing is they are not daunted by some huge task and adversity,” Caldwell said Monday. ”They use it more as a friend than a foe.”
Detroit (7-6) faces Chicago (4-9) at home Saturday, aiming to close the regular season strong enough to stay in postseason contention.
The Lions will have to win their next three games and get some – or a lot – of help to reach the playoffs for the second straight time and third overall under Caldwell.
Carolina (9-4), New Orleans (9-4) and Atlanta (8-5) are all ahead of them in the NFC, and they all beat Detroit to own a potential tiebreaker.
Detroit’s best chance to beat the Bears, win at Cincinnati and defeat Green Bay at home is to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford as well as it did against the Buccaneers.
Stafford was not sacked for the first time in a game this season. He was sacked 13 times the previous four games and stepped on once, leading to him throwing with a banged-up hand.
”Matthew’s been incredible in that sense,” Caldwell said. ”Tough. Hard-nosed. Quick healer. And when he doesn’t heal exactly like you’d want to and feel great, he finds a way to play through them and play well through them. So, that’s an unusual trait.”
Stafford usually doesn’t have much of a running game, forcing him to throw a lot and lately he has been very accurate in the one-dimensional offense that relies on his right arm.
He is the first NFL player to complete at least 80 percent of his passes in consecutive road games with at least 29 attempts. Against Tampa Bay, he was 36 of 44 and his 81.8 percent completion rate tied for the third-best by an NFL player with at least 44 passes in a game.
”Our guys on the training staff did an unbelievable job helping me out getting this feeling as good as I possibly could,” Stafford said. ”Our guys did a great job of keeping me upright and they allowed me to sit in there and throw the ball around and make the game feel pretty good.”
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