CHICAGO - The Detroit Lions put themselves in the playoff picture by being one of the NFL’s hottest teams, winning six of seven and barely losing to Buffalo during a surprising and successful stretch.
With a chance to potentially secure an NFC wild-card berth, the Lions went cold in Carolina and lost by two touchdowns.
Detroit (7-8) did not doom its chances, but it must close with wins over Chicago (3-12) on Sunday at home and against wild-card contending Green Bay (7-8) on the road next week to have a shot at being in the postseason for the first time since 2016.
"The adversity we’ve been through this year is much greater than one loss," said Lions quarterback Jared Goff, referring to the team’s 1-6 start. "We know how to bounce back from things like this, and I think we will."
The Bears, meanwhile, are trying to avoid breaking a team record. They have lost eight straight games to match the franchise mark shared by the 1978 and 2002 teams.
"Getting down in the dumps about things, it’s not going to solve any sort of issue," Chicago tight end Cole Kmet said. "Also, I do think there’s a lot of promise here. You see kind of the pieces that we’ve got here, you can see where we can go with this. So there is real optimism."
Even though the Bears are relegated to playing for pride, they have no plans to shut down Justin Fields. The dynamic quarterback was hobbled against Buffalo after his foot was stepped on, leaving it swollen and bloody, and his non-throwing left shoulder was separated six weeks ago.
Despite a lack of playmakers around him, Fields has made strides in his second season.
"If you look at how he is progressing during the course of the year with all the different lineups up front, all the different receiver lineups, with losing (Khalil) Herbert for quite an extended period of time, I think he has done well," Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. "You know he has improved his game, and we are excited to see where these last two games are gonna go."
Often, Fields has simply made plays by himself on the ground.
He has run for 1,011 yards and has a shot to break Lamar Jackson’s single-season quarterback rushing record of 1,206 set by Baltimore’s star during his 2019 MVP season.
The Lions let Fields run for 147 yards and two touchdowns, including one from 67 yards without being touched, in their comeback win at Chicago. Detroit allowed the Panthers to run for a franchise-record 320 yards last week.
The Lions’ confidence in their tight ends has been validated since they traded standout T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota nearly two months ago.
Detroit’s Shane Zylstra caught three touchdown passes last week to give him four scores this season. Brock Wright has two touchdowns and James Mitchell has scored once. Including Hockenson’s three touchdowns with the Lions, their tight ends are one TD away from matching a franchise single-season scoring record for the position group.
Chicago’s Kmet has been pretty good, too. He scored twice in the Week 10 lost to Detroit, giving him a career-high five touchdowns in a three-game stretch, and he had a team-high five receptions last week against Buffalo.
The Bears hope to get their run game going again after Buffalo shut it down.
Chicago was held to 80 yards, 2 yards more than its season low and less than half its league-leading average. Fields had a season-low 11 yards, David Montgomery ran for 62 yards on 16 carries and Herbert had 7 yards on 6 attempts after missing four games with a hip injury.
WHAT A RUSH
Detroit desperately needed to bolster its pass rush in the offseason and two draft picks have delivered. Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick, has seven sacks, and sixth-round selection James Houston has five.