DETROIT (AP) – Just when it looked like the Lions might have changed conversation about their team, they had an off-the-field setback that hurt their chances of sustaining success.
Nate Burleson became the butt of jokes when police say he got into a one-car accident because he was distracted by pizza boxes sliding off the front-passenger seat. It led to a broken arm that needed surgery and the Lions losing their No. 2 receiver indefinitely.
Detroit (2-1) won at Washington last week for the first time in franchise history, and has a chance to move into a first-place tie with the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears (3-0) on Sunday at home.
With the return of speedy running back Reggie Bush, the Lions are slight favorites to hand Chicago its first loss.
“It almost counts as two games,” said Bush, who didn’t play against the Redskins because of his banged-up left knee. “We know what it means, and what’s at stake.”
Here are five things to watch when Chicago tries to earn a two-game cushion in the NFC North:
BUSH IS BACK: The Lions found out how well Bush fits into their offense as a complement to Calvin Johnson in the first six quarters of the season. He had 191 yards of offense in the opening win over Minnesota, then made Arizona respect him enough it helped Johnson score two touchdowns in the first half against the Cardinals. Bush, though, took a helmet to his left knee that knocked him for most of the second half at Arizona and for last week’s game against the Redskins.
“There aren’t many players that are better in space than Reggie, and he is a guy that can run inside and outside as well,” said Chicago coach Marc Trestman, who was a consultant for New Orleans coach Sean Payton in 2007 when Bush played for the Saints. “He is a difference-making player and certainly a guy we have to pay a lot of attention to.”
NEXT MAN UP: Both the Bears and the Lions are without a key player on their defensive lines. Chicago tackle Henry Melton and Detroit end Jason Jones each injured their left knees last week, ending their season. The Bears plan to give Nate Collins a shot to start in Melton’s place. The Lions will replace Jones by rotating rookies Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Devin Taylor, along with veteran Israel Idonije, who insisted he won’t have revenge on his mind against the team he played 134 games for from 2004-12.
“If I’m trying to prove anything to anyone, it is proving to my teammates, my ownership and management that bringing me was the right decision,” Idonije said.
QUICK TRIGGER: Jay Cutler is off to a strong start in a new-look offense because he isn’t standing in the pocket very long, an adjustment that will make it difficult for Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh-led pass rush to get to him. “They still run play-action and do a lot of different of things, but the ball still does come out a lot quicker,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “Their percentage completion is higher as a result. They have taken fewer sacks as a result and I think they only have three sacks so far.”
Cutler has, in fact, been sacked just three times in three games, and Detroit’s defense has twice that many sacks.
BANGED-UP BALLHAWK: Bears cornerback Charles Tillman vows he’ll play Sunday despite leaving last week’s game against the Steelers with a groin injury, and missing practices because of a sore knee. Tillman has had a lot to do with Johnson failing to score in his last three games and averaging just 62 yards receiving against Chicago, which, not coincidently, has won each of those matchups.
TAKEAWAY TEAM: Schwartz said the No. 1 priority against Chicago is for the Lions to limit turnovers. That won’t be easy. The Bears lead the league with 11 takeaways, recovering six fumbles and intercepting five passes, and have scored an NFL-high 44 points off those turnovers. Chicago’s defense has three touchdowns in the last two games and a league-high 12 such scores since 2012.
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