It was lucky No. 7, but if you believe Darius Slay, “Ain’t no luck about it.”
Slay intercepted two Mitchell Trubisky passes on Saturday, including his career-high seventh of the season on the game’s second-to-last play, as the Detroit Lions beat another inferior opponent, 20-10, over the Chicago Bears.
Slay plucked an overthrown Trubisky pass out of the air with 34 seconds to play, then raced down the home sideline trying to score while Lions coach Jim Caldwell waved frantically for him to take a knee.
Daniel Brown pushed Slay out of bounds well before he crossed midfield, and Slay acknowledged after the game that he got a little too caught up in the moment.
“I was kind of mad ’cause they kept trying to score when you couldn’t win and I was getting angry, so I wanted to score,” Slay said. “I saw (Caldwell). I was not (trying) to get down, but I will, though. For a coaching point, I will do that. But at that moment, I was kind of mad. I was being selfish.”
The win kept the Lions (8-6) on the fringe of the NFC wildcard race with two games to play.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Lions have a 23% chance of making the playoffs, but need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals next week and the Green Bay Packers on New Year’s Eve, and get some help.
The Carolina Panthers (9-4) and Atlanta Falcons (8-5) currently own the two wildcard spots in the NFC, with the Lions a half game out of the sixth seed. The Seattle Seahawks also are 8-5, and the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have seven wins.
All five of those teams play this weekend, with the Packers and Panthers facing each other on Sunday.
The Lions, whose playoff hopes seemed bleak after back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, are guaranteed to finish at least .500 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1999-2000.
“That’s not our focus,” Caldwell insisted about the playoffs. “We don’t talk about all that stuff, that’s for you guys to write about. Our focus is on one thing, that’s Cincinnati. That’s it, nothing more than that. That’s it.”
The one-game-at-a-time approach has served the Lions well the last two weeks, and on Saturday it helped them turn in one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
Along with Slay’s two picks, Quandre Diggs had an interception and a sack in his third career game at safety, and the Lions held the Bears’ seventh-ranked rushing attack to just 43 yards on the ground.
Jordan Howard, who ran for 125 of Chicago’s 222 yards when the Lions beat the Bears at Soldier Field in November, had just 37 yards on 10 carries on Saturday.
“We came out there and punched them in the face, that’s what was different,” Slay said. “We got out there and out-physicalled them, outhit them. And that’s what we preach to our defense, and that’s what we went out there and did. Last time, they came and hit us and we still fought back, made it a close fight, but this one wasn’t going to be close.”
The Lions, plagued by slow starts recently, scored on a Matt Prater field goal on their opening drive and never trailed Saturday as Matthew Stafford finished with 237 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Stafford, who’s completed 80.2 percent of his passes over the last three games, threw for 154 yards in the first half and gave the Lions a 20-3 lead early in the third quarter with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ebron.
“Matthew, he’s been on a tear lately, been playing well,” Caldwell said. “He’s been playing well for a while, so he hangs in there, delivers the ball. He’s got some receivers making plays for him, too. That catch by Marvin Jones and a couple other guys making some things happen for him, so he’s got some guys that are helping him.”
Jones caught a 58-yard bomb on a third-and-18 play in the second quarter to set up the Lions’ first touchdown throw, a 3-yard Stafford pass to TJ Jones.
Stafford rolled to his right on the play to escape pressure and heaved a pass downfield. Bears safety Eddie Jackson waited for the ball in the secondary like a centerfielder on a fly ball, but Jones ran in front of him and tumbled to the ground with the catch.
“The one to Marv was an exceptional play,” Stafford said. “Third-and-extra-long, they pick it right there and the guy falls down, that’s a real good net punt I think, so I’m willing to take those chances. Felt like we needed a spark at that time in the game and it was a big one, helped us get in the end zone.”
The Bears scored their only touchdown on Trubisky’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Benny Cunningham with 2:32 to play, then drove inside the Lions’ 30 on their final drive, though the outcome never as in doubt.
Trubisky, the second pick of this year's NFL draft, finished 31 of 46 passing for a career-high 314 yards, but all three of his interceptions came in the second half.
Stafford completed 25 of 33 passes, and Theo Riddick added 49 yards rushing on eight carries and played the vast majority of the snaps at running back before leaving in the second half with a wrist injury.
Tion Green played the majority of the second half, while Ameer Abdullah saw only a handful of reps in his first game back after a two-game benching.
Ebron led the Lions with five catches for 33 yards, and Marvin Jones added 85 yards receiving.