By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – In the middle of the second quarter Sunday, the Detroit Lions desperately needed a spark. The Minnesota Vikings had jumped out to a 14-point lead, and they were driving again, already on Detroit’s side of the field.

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The entire game turned when safety Glover Quin intercepted a pass and returned it 56 yards, setting up the Detroit offense on Minnesota’s 11-yard line. The Lions promptly scored, cutting the Vikings’ lead to seven points.

On the second play of the next series, Detroit came up with another pick, this time courtesy of cornerback Darius Slay. On the ensuing drive, the Lions tacked on a field goal, trimming Minnesota’s lead to four points. The momentum shifted further in favor of Detroit.

Fast-forward to the fourth quarter. The Lions trailed, 14-13. The Vikings had first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. Even holding Minnesota to a field goal in that situation would have been impressive. Instead, the Lions kept the Vikings off the board entirely when defensive end Jason Jones blocked the kick.

The Lions kicked a field goal on their next drive and took the lead, 16-14. Minnesota got the ball back with more than three minutes remaining and fantastic field position thanks to a 51-yard kickoff return. The Vikings only needed a field goal to retake the lead, but Detroit forced a turnover on downs.

As it has so many times this season, the Lions defense enabled a come-from-behind victory Sunday.

“Our offense, it has the capability of being explosive and putting up 35 points, and then there’s games where they’re going to battle and go against a good defense and have that dogfight,” safety James Ihedigbo said. “So we know defensively, if we need to make a play, hey, let’s make a play, and regardless, if our offense is scoring 35, we still want to have that attitude, ‘Hey, let’s make a play, let’s shut them out, let’s not even give them a life to breathe.’ It goes hand in hand. There are going to be games where they pick us up, too. It’s all about playing team ball.

“If you don’t start off well or if another team’s out-executing you, whatever it may be, that’s a little bit of adversity,” Ihedibgo added. “That doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s how you handle that. Guys can put their heads down and say, ‘Aw, man, it’s just not our day,’ and they end up winning, or you can sit there and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and take this game. Let’s take over this game. What can we do to play our coverages better?’ And that’s really our mindset. We’re never satisfied with saying, ‘Oh, okay, we got a three-and-out.’ Let’s get a turnover. How can we get the ball? How can we score? That’s what’s going to carry us as a team and as a defense.”

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Difficult situations seem to bring the best out of the unit. Ihedigbo said the key has been the attitude of the group, the continual pursuit of more big plays – more sacks, more three-and-outs, more turnovers – no matter how many have already been made. In essence, Ihedigbo said the members of the Detroit defense expect to make plays rather than merely hoping to do so.

“Having that mentality that we are playmakers and we can change or control games by the way we play is what we feed off of, and it’s brought us this far, and it’s going to carry us further,” Ihedigbo said.

“It’s our attitude,” Ihedigbo continued. “When you’re playing with guys like the guys we have, it’s kind of that look that everyone just looks around and says, ‘Hey, we’re not playing our style.’ And it’s not saying, ‘Hey, you make a play.’ Everyone looks and says, ‘I’m going to be the guy to make a play,’ and that’s kind of our mentality, and it lights a match, and guys go out there and make plays, and we get off the field, and that’s really what’s been effective for us as a defense, and it’s going to carry us as we make a run here.”

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell did not want to focus on the shortcomings of the offense, which went three-and-out on its first four drives and scored only the touchdown set up by Quin’s lengthy interception return. While scoring only 16 points can hardly be construed as ideal, the coach would not concede that.

“[I] make no apologies for it,” Caldwell said. “For us to win, I’m not going to apologize for that. That’s your guys’ job to kind of talk about all the ills. I’m happy, okay, that these guys were able to get it done. I’m not apologizing for wins, and most of the people who are here probably shouldn’t either, for the most part. This team has been battling, been fighting. I hope none of our guys come in here and apologize for it, 16 points. I don’t care if it was a half a point … particularly against that team the way they’re playing. I was proud of those guys.”

Running back Joique Bell played as well or better than anyone on the Detroit offense, grinding out 62 yards on 15 carries. Caldwell has talked about wanting running backs to average four yards per carry, and in Sunday’s game Bell averaged 4.1. The offense ultimately did enough to help the team get the win, but Bell certainly appreciated the defense’s contributions.

“It’s great,” Bell said. “When you can go out there and you’re not playing your best football and you can always depend on our defense to go out there and hold up and give you a chance to go out there and get started and not get too far behind – we have a defense like that. The sky’s the limit, and we just have to do our part.”

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Now tied for first place in the NFC North, the Lions will win the division if they win their final two games of the regular season.