DETROIT — Detroit Lions fans counted down the final seconds — as if it was New Year’s Eve — when the franchise finished its first Monday night game in a decade.
The Motor City is hoping this party doesn’t stop any time soon.
Matthew Stafford’s second touchdown pass put Detroit ahead in the third quarter, and Jahvid Best’s 88-yard run later in the period gave the Lions a double-digit lead in a 24-13 win over the Chicago Bears.
“It was electric,” Stafford said. “Our fans came out and did an unbelievable job.”
The Lions did a pretty good job, too.
Detroit (5-0) is undefeated through five games for the first time since 1956 — the year before its last NFL title.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz, though, refused to celebrate, pointing to the team’s next game on Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
“We’ll start on San Fran in about an hour and a half,” Schwartz said shortly after midnight.
The defending NFC North champion Bears (2-3) are off to their worst start since 2007. They are three games behind Detroit and defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay (5-0) in the division.
Detroit and its fans were clearly fired up for the Monday night game.
The Lions had their largest crowd at Ford Field, and the 67,861 fans created enough noise to rattle the Bears into nine false starts.
“It was unbelievable,” Stafford said. “Especially early on, some of those third downs, you couldn’t hear yourself think.”
The Bears looked unnerved at times by the raucous crowd. Chicago committed six false-start penalties in the first half — an NFL season high for a game, according to STATS, LLC.
“We were going against a loud crowd, but that isn’t an excuse,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. “Pre-snap penalties kill you.”
Chicago quieted the fans briefly by taking a 10-7 lead just before halftime and seemed to make them a little nervous by pulling within eight points with 4:07 left to play.
Best, though, made them roar again with a 43-yard run that was capped by a horse-collar penalty that gave Detroit the ball at the Chicago 22. He ran for another first down that took time off the clock and set up Jason Hanson’s 31-yard kick with 1:56 to go to seal the victory.
The Lions got some large gains on offense while holding Chicago to just three points in the second half.
“Can’t give up the big plays,” Smith said. “Their defense made us earn everything. We didn’t do the same.”
Stafford lofted a pass to Calvin Johnson for a 73-yard score — extending his NFL-record start with nine TD catches in five games — early in the second quarter.
Best’s 88-yard run was the second-longest in franchise history, trailing only Bob Hoernschemeyer’s 96-yard run against the New York Yankees on Nov. 23, 1950. It was 3 yards longer than Hall of Famer Barry Sanders’ longest gain on the ground.
Smith was dumbfounded that Best wasn’t touched on the run through a hole up the middle and past the secondary.
“Hard to swallow,” Smith said. “Jahvid Best is a good player, but we can’t let that happen.”
Stafford was 19 of 26 for 219 yards and two TDs, including the go-ahead score to Brandon Pettigrew from 18 yards with 9:55 to go in the third quarter. Best more than doubled his previous career-high with 163 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Johnson finished with five catches for 130 yards. For the first time this season, he didn’t score twice, but he made an impact as usual against a team that tried to slow him down with double coverage.
Matt Forte ran for 116 yards on 22 carries for the Bears.
Jay Cutler was 28 of 38 for 249 yards, with a TD and no interceptions.
“They were getting 3, 4 yards of surge every time, and that makes it hard to stay in the pocket,” Cutler said.
He was sacked three times and was hurried and hit many more times.
“Jay was under a lot of pressure,” Smith said. “But he kept us in it.”
Cutler’s 9-yard pass to Kellen Davis gave the Bears a three-point lead late in the first half, but it wasn’t large enough to hold off the NFL’s first team to come back from 20-point deficits in consecutive weeks.
Detroit didn’t need to rally this time, taking the lead and making enough plays on both sides of the ball to keep the Lions undefeated, much to the delight of the sports-crazed fans in the state that are buzzing about them and baseball’s Tigers, along with Michigan and Michigan State’s ranked football teams.
The Lions, who became the NFL’s first 0-16 team just three years ago during the league’s worst stretch of futility since World War II, are finally giving their legion of followers something to cheer about.
“Some of our guys were on the team, so they know what the city’s been through,” Best said. “They know what this team’s been through. I can definitely feel the sense of how hungry the city is.”