The Detroit Lions showed the kind of resilience in their most recent game that was often missing during their previous seasons.
To equal their best start in 55 years, the Lions might have to outlast a team accustomed to playing some gritty games.
Detroit will try to extend the NFL’s longest active regular-season win streak during Sunday’s matchup with the resurgent Dallas Cowboys.
The Lions’ 20-0 deficit at halftime last week in Minnesota might have seemed like more of the same for a team that’s endured 10 consecutive losing seasons and produced the league’s only 0-16 campaign in 2008.
Instead, Detroit pulled off a stunning rally behind Matthew Stafford’s two touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson and Jason Hanson’s four field goals. In overtime, Stafford completed a 40-yard pass to Johnson to set up Hanson’s 32-yard kick, which delivered a 26-23 victory.
Johnson, who shares the team lead with 16 catches and leads the Lions with 225 receiving yards, is the first player in NFL history to have two touchdown catches in each of his team’s first three games.
“Our team battled and fought their way through,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We couldn’t have started the game worse in all three phases, then our defense started playing well and our offense started scoring. It was gratifying to get the win.”
Their seventh consecutive victory gave the Lions (3-0) their best start since winning the first four games in 1980 and a team record-tying fourth straight road win. It also kept them as one of the league’s three unbeaten teams along with NFC North rival Green Bay and Buffalo.
The Lions started 6-0 in 1956 and 10-0 in 1934, their first season after relocating from Portsmouth, Ohio.
“I think if you go down to our locker room after each of these three weeks, there’s nobody that felt that we played our best football yet,” Schwartz said.
A trip to face the Cowboys might require the Lions to play one of their better games. Dallas (2-1) has responded from what could have been a demoralizing season-opening loss with a pair of comeback victories.
The Cowboys rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco on Sept. 18, and Dan Bailey kicked three of his six field goals in the final 16 minutes during an 18-16 victory over Washington on Monday night.
“When the whole season ends up getting written and the book’s done on the year, they don’t ask you what happened in week two or three or four or six, why you lost or won. It’s a ‘W’ or an ‘L,'” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Some are ugly. Some you win going away. But at the end of the year, you need the wins. Tonight was a great example of us keep grinding, keep going forward.”
The victory pushed Dallas into a tie for first in the NFC East and was the team’s ninth straight game decided by three points or fewer, an NFL-record streak that began after a 35-19 home win over Detroit on Nov. 21. The Cowboys are 5-4 over that stretch.
“Two out of three games in the NFL last year were within one score in the fourth quarter,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We play a lot of those games. You have to understand and you have to believe you can make the plays when necessary.”
The fractured ribs Romo suffered against the 49ers are still a concern, but he’s expected to play again. An injured left shoulder kept him out of last season’s matchup against the Lions, but Jon Kitna was stellar against his former team.
Kitna, who played in Detroit from 2006-08, threw for three TDs and rushed for another. Bryan McCann put his team ahead for good with a 97-yard punt return in the third quarter.
Dallas is seeking its third straight win over Detroit and sixth in seven matchups. The Cowboys, though, again may be without top receiver Miles Austin, who sat out Monday’s game with an ailing hamstring.
Dez Bryant (thigh) and Felix Jones (shoulder) played through their injuries, and Jones had a career-high 115 yards on 14 carries. He rushed for 51 yards on 11 attempts during last season’s matchup with Detroit.
Stafford, who has completed a career-high 66.9 percent of his passes this season for 977 yards and nine TDs, missed that game with an injured right shoulder.
The status of the Lions’ top draft pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, is unknown. Fairley, selected No. 13 overall out of Auburn, is recovering from foot surgery and has yet to play for Detroit.
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