Matthew Stafford: Don't count Detroit Lions out of playoff picture yet

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CHICAGO — The Detroit Lions remain a long shot to snap their three-year playoff drought, but after beating the Chicago Bears, 34-30 — for their second win since Oct. 25 — Matthew Stafford said not to count the Lions out.

“That was (interim coach Darrell Bevell’s) first message to our team, was, 'Hey guys, we're two games back of Arizona with five to play. There's a lot of football left. And Denver just played a game with no quarterback, so who knows what's going to happen,'” Stafford said. “We just got to go out there and continue to play, continue to work with a great attitude, be ready to have some fun while we do it, and go out there and turn it loose on Sundays."

The Lions (5-7) likely need to win out to have a shot at the third and final wildcard spot, but Sunday's victory pulled them within a game of the Minnesota Vikings (6-6) in the NFC playoff race.

The Arizona Cardinals also are 6-6, but have lost four of their last five games, including 38-28 to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

The Vikings currently hold the tie-breaker over both the Cardinals and Lions. The Bears (5-7) are tied with the Lions for ninth place in the NFC.

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If the Lions can beat the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers and likely playoff-bound Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next three weeks, their Jan. 3 finale against the Vikings could be for a playoff spot.

On Sunday, the Lions rallied from 10 points down in the final 3 minutes to win a division game for the first time since 2018.

Players credited Bevell’s play-loose approach for fueling the comeback.

Asked if that tact could propel the Lions into the playoffs, Stafford said, “You’re going to hate the answer, but we got to take it one week at a time, there's no question about it.”

“Obviously, when you come in fresh and ready to go and everybody’s basically together as one — when stuff happens like that, it’s a good chance that you’re going to succeed,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “So I think, yeah, that’s been a difference, but just everybody gathering around and after every score, every defensive stop or if somebody makes a big play, you hear everybody yelling and that was definitely great to see, great to hear and we just got to keep going.”

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Foreign substance

Stafford threw his ninth interception of the season Sunday early in the fourth quarter when 299-pound defensive tackle Bilal Nichols stepped in front of a tight end screen pass to Jesse James.

The interception was Nichols’ first since his junior year at Delaware in 2017.

“We were kneeling the ball at the end of the game and I was talking to him, I went and patted down his left arm looking for a foreign substance, see what kind of pine tar he had on that left arm,” Stafford joked. “But no, it was a great play by him. I thought worst case, he bats it down. He made the pick, kudos, tip your hat to him, keep moving.”

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The Bears led by 10 at the time of Nichols’ interception, but failed to get a first down on their next three drives as Stafford led the come-from-behind victory and the Lions made two clutch defensive plays late.

“At halftime, we kind of settled down a lot,” defensive end Romeo Okwara said. “We came out in the second half and played pretty decent. We slowed down the run game a little more in the second half. We started to play more like ourselves and we made a couple of plays at the end there.”

Briefly

Matt Nelson played most of the final three quarters at right tackle after Tyrell Crosby left with an ankle injury. Running back Kerryon Johnson (knee) and special teams standouts Mike Ford (back) and C.J. Moore (ankle) also left Sunday’s game with injuries.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions keep slim playoff hopes alive with win over Bears