''We haven't played our best,'' he said with glassy eyes Tuesday. ''We still have improvements to make. We're still a work in progress there, but we've managed to put good enough efforts together to win the first five games.''
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 47 of 52 teams to get off to a 5-0 start have made it to the playoffs, according to STATS, LLC.
But Detroit can't afford to have a letdown because it hosts the NFC West-leading 49ers on Sunday in a matchup of first-place teams that are experiencing turnarounds. They're a combined 9-1 after they had a 1-9 record at the same time last season.
The 49ers are making almost as much noise on the West Coast as the Lions are in the great Northeast.
Detroit beat the Bears 24-13 in their first Monday night game in a decade despite 12 penalties that cost them 94 yards and gave Chicago four first downs.
Detroit didn't slow down Bears running back Matt Forte, who helped them keep the ball for 39 minutes – nearly double the time of possession for the Lions.
Defensive end Cliff Avril, though, said it was big that the team found a way to stay undefeated on a big stage.
''The whole country is seeing how good the team can be,'' Avril said. ''Even with the win, we had so many mistakes so it is huge, but we've got to bounce back and get the sixth.''
The last time Detroit got off to this good of a start, it beat the 49ers to improve to 6-0 on Nov. 4, 1956 – the year before winning the franchise's last NFL title.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said his father was born back then. But his mother wasn't.
''Yeah, it's been a while,'' Stafford said. ''We understand that, but it's behind us now. We understand we had a great win. It's great for the city, it's great for our team, but we've got a short week coming up and a really hot San Fran team coming in.''
The 49ers – led by first-year coach and former Michigan University star Jim Harbaugh – are coming off a 48-3 win over Tampa Bay that was their most-lopsided win since beating Denver by the same margin, 55-10 in the 1990 Super Bowl.
Detroit started its roll last season, closing with four victories, and now has won nine straight for the NFL's longest active winning streak.
The Lions have won five in a row in one season for the first time since a seven-game surge in 1995.
Their defense, with a deep and dominating front, is leading the way by giving up 10 or fewer points in the second half of each of their games to date.
Stafford and Co. are putting up plenty of points, too.
Calvin Johnson is the first NFL player with nine touchdown catches in the first five games of a season. Stafford, who ranks third in the league with 13 TD passes, has thrown for 19 scores over his last seven games for the best stretch by a Lions QB since Bobby Layne had a dominant run during the 1951 season.
Burleson looking for breakout amid multiple targets
You know it has to be killing Nate Burleson. Five games into the season, and the Lions wide receiver hasn't been able to break out any of his well-planned, well-rehearsed touchdown dances.
But Burleson understands the bigger picture. If teams are keeping an extra eye on him and Calvin Johnson, the field must be open for somebody else. And that's exactly what's been happening.
"There are some things that you're trying to scheme and you think might go to a particular player, but there are others where the quarterback has to go where the defense dictates," Schwartz said. "It would be different if our quarterback was putting balls in bad spots, but he's not. He's making good decisions, and the whole thing is, let the offense work efficiently."
It's a tribute to the weaponry of the Detroit offense that Burleson, the No. 2 receiver, can be lost in the shuffle for three games and the points keep coming. Burleson caught 12 passes for 153 yards in the first two weeks of the season. In the three games since, he's had five catches for 34 yards.
It's not that the Lions have gone away from him, it's that defenses are giving the Detroit offense better options.
Johnson, obviously, is the one constant target – as he should be. But lately, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and even rookie Titus Young have been more available to quarterback Matthew Stafford than Burleson has.
Pettigrew has had 21 catches for 215 yards in the last three games after having just five catches for 64 yards in the first two. Young has had nine catches for 106 yards the last three weeks after catching five passes in the first two weeks.
"If the offense is working efficiently, then everybody is getting the right amount of footballs," Schwartz said. "It's a fact of life, there is one football and you can only score seven points for a touchdown regardless of how you did it or who got the ball or who's gotten the most of them. The idea is to score points, and we'll try to do that however we can."
New and hot
--- Rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Detroit's first-round draft pick, played 18 snaps in his impressive pro debut against the Bears. Thirteen were pass plays, and he had three pressures and one quarterback hit. Schwartz said, "This was Nick Fairley's first game since the national championship game. Guess what? That was a pretty big stage. I don't want to say that Monday night wasn't a big stage for him, but the last football game he played in was for the national championship, and he was the best player on the field in that game."
--- Running back Jahvid Best, well known to Bay Area football fans during his college days at the University of California, spurted through a gaping hole up the middle with 5:20 left in the third quarter Monday and went the distance. His 88-yard dash was the second-longest scoring run in franchise history, surpassed only by Bob Hoernschemeyer's 96-yarder in 1950. "Jahvid did his thing when he gets into the secondary," Stafford said. "The long run was unbelievable. I thought he'd get a 30- or 40-yard gain, and he just outran everybody."
--- QB Matthew Stafford had five overthrows Monday, but he still managed a 107.7 rating. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He has thrown at least two touchdowns in all five games. His best pass of the night was a pretty, 73-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, which he lofted 55 yards in the air.
--- RB Jahvid Best had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. He almost got it on one play, busting through the right side of the line untouched on his 88-yard jaunt to the end zone. Best also had a 43-yard run in the fourth quarter that set up the game-clinching field goal. His 163 rushing yards were the most by a Lion since Kevin Jones ran for 196 in 2004.
--- TE Brandon Pettigrew's 18-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter was a direct result of Best's running. A simple play-fake to Best froze LB Brian Urlacher. Pettigrew raced over the middle unattended. He had four catches for 39 yards.
--- WR Calvin Johnson had a tough matchup with 6-foot-2 CB Charles Tillman and the Bears' Cover-2 defense. Still, he found a way to catch five of the six balls thrown his way for 130 yards and a touchdown. On the 73-yarder, the Lions caught the Bears in single-safety coverage, and he bolted past Chris Harris. Johnson has nine touchdown receptions through the first five games, an NFL record.
--- KR Stefan Logan is sneaking back into the offensive mix. He lined up in the slot and wound up taking a misdirection handoff for 6 yards. He has been used on reverses and fake reverses as well.
--- OLB Justin Durant (concussion) will have to go through the entire battery of tests again this week. He was cleared last week but had a relapse of symptoms during warmups Monday.
--- TE Tony Scheffler (concussion) did not finish the game Monday. He was crunched by Urlacher after a 12-yard catch in the third quarter.
--- SS Amari Spievey was a late scratch Monday night. Schwartz said Spievey was held out for physical reasons. Spievery was limited all week by a sore hamstring, but his heart was also hurting. His cousin, professional basketball player Chauncey Hardy, was killed in a bar fight in Romania.
--- OLB DeAndre Levy posted 13 tackles against the Bears. He had been slowed by knee soreness in Weeks 2 and 3, but he has come on strong. "He was playing heavy," Schwartz said. "He was knocking guys back when he was tackling."
Lions report card: Detroit 24, Chicago 13
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Again, after a slow, erratic start, Matthew Stafford found his groove in the second half. He was overthrowing a lot of passes early, just as he was in Dallas the previous week. Still, he finished with a 107.7 passer rating on 19-for-26 passing for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He's thrown at least two touchdowns in five consecutive games. His best pass of the night was a gorgeous, feathery 73-yard hookup with Calvin Johnson. Johnson outran single-safety coverage, and Stafford hoisted the ball some 55 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Well, there it is. After four weeks of hearing Jim Schwartz defend the run game as "efficient," it was electrifying and game-changing Monday. Jahvid Best posted a career-best 163 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown. C Dominic Raiola and RG Stephen Peterman blasted a huge hole, and RT Gosder Cherilus kept the end from crashing down. Best was untouched.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Give Bears QB Jay Cutler credit. That he managed 249 passing yards against the pressure he faced was remarkable. According to ESPN, Cutler was under pressure on 42 percent of his 38 pass attempts. That's the most any quarterback has been pressured in a game this season. He was sacked three times and hit six times.
RUN DEFENSE: C -- The Bears had great success running around the left side of the Lions defense. They were allowing either DE Cliff Avril or Willie Young to crash and then effectively taking out OLB Bobby Carpenter and CB Chris Houston. RB Matt Forte finished with 116 yards (5.3 per carry). But in short-yardage situations, the defensive line was stout, in particular, DT Ndamukong Suh, who ended a first-quarter drive by stopping Forte on third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- You have to give the Lions top marks for taking Devin Hester out of the game. They only kicked the ball out of bounds twice on punts and out of the end zone on kickoffs once. Even so, Hester had 1 yard on punt returns and averaged 21 on kick returns. The Bears started drives eight times at or inside the 20.
COACHING: A -- Hard to say where you would take points off. The team is unbeaten. The game plan is sound and creative every week, yet, when things have gone badly in the first half, there's no panic. The coaches just make calm, subtle adjustments, without drastically altering the plan, and the team handles its business in the second half. The Lions have outscored their last four opponents 92-16 after halftime.