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Alone atop the NFC North, Lions are in unfamiliar territory

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The Canadian Press
11/11/2013 4:11:31 PM
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. - NFL coaches always seem keenly aware of the worst-case scenario, so it was no surprise when Detroit's Jim Schwartz brushed off any talk of his team's position in the standings.

The Lions won at Chicago on Sunday to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC North. With a favourable-looking schedule and generally good health, Detroit has a chance to win its first division title since the 1993 season — but there's still a lot of football to be played.

"We've got six wins," Schwartz said Monday. "That's not going to be enough."

For now, it's more than any other team in the division. Detroit (6-3) held on for a 21-19 win to complete its first regular-season sweep of the Bears since 2007. Chicago and Green Bay are a game behind the Lions, and the Packers are dealing with injuries to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and backup Seneca Wallace.

When asked about the possibility of hosting a playoff game or earning a first-round bye, Schwartz was having none of that discussion.

"Good try," he said. "We've got way too far to go to start talking about stuff like that. ... I know it's exciting for fans of our team and people around the league and things like that, but honestly I think you get sidetracked by starting to get ahead of yourself as a team. We want to guard against that."

This is the latest in the season the Lions have been in sole possession of first place since they led the NFC Central after Week 10 in 1999, according to STATS. Detroit was 6-3 at that point, too, then stumbled down the stretch, barely making the playoffs as a wild card at 8-8.

The fine line between winning and losing was obvious Sunday. Detroit allowed a touchdown with 40 seconds left, then stopped a pair of 2-point conversion attempts. Chicago got two chances because of a penalty on the first one.

Toward the end of the second quarter, the Bears came away with no points after driving all the way to the 4-yard line. Jay Cutler's pass was tipped by Ndamukong Suh and intercepted by DeAndre Levy in the end zone.

"It was a great win, no question about it, but you've got to make it count," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We have to make this one count later down the road and it starts next week. We have a new opponent that we don't play every week and that team is dangerous."

The Lions play at Pittsburgh next weekend.

Detroit made a few mistakes against the Bears that could have been costly. Stafford had an interception returned deep into Lions territory in the fourth quarter, but Chicago had to settle for a field goal. The Bears twice appeared to have reached the end zone, but the first touchdown was called back for holding and the second was turned into an incomplete pass by a replay review.

When the Bears drove for their final touchdown to pull within two, they were helped by an unnecessary roughness call on Detroit defensive lineman Nick Fairley — but Fairley came back with a sack on the next play.

"It's a long season to get through. There's a lot of things that you've got to persevere through," Schwartz said. "Praise — and success — is one of those things. Quite honestly, that's something that in the past we haven't done a good job of."

The Lions made the playoffs two seasons ago, then collapsed last year en route to a 4-12 record. They've put themselves in position to take another big step forward over the next few weeks.

Only one of the remaining seven games on Detroit's schedule — the Thanksgiving matchup with Green Bay — is against a team that currently has a winning record.

So the Lions are in an unfamiliar position: They've played well, caught a few breaks — and now their biggest concern may be how well they handle success.

"Being successful in this league is dealing with adversity and bouncing back, but it's increasingly becoming part of the scope of the NFL to deal with praise and to deal with the accolades and things like that," Schwartz said. "It makes it difficult to stay level headed. It makes it difficult to stay even keeled throughout the course of a season."

Calvin Johnson Matthew Stafford (Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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