ALLEN PARK - It's still October, with plenty of football remaining to be played, and neither of the teams involved is better than .500, but for the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, the game Sunday is as big as it gets. So far, anyway.
Barring a tie game, the winner will lead the NFC North with a 4-3 record and the loser will fall a game off the pace at 3-4.
Not exactly game-of-the-century stuff but it's a game the Lions need badly - for one obvious reason and for one reason more personal.
Obviously, the Lions don't want to slip out of first place in a division that could go to the team capable of putting up an 8-8 record.
More personal, the Lions took a 38-6 drubbing at the hands of the Bears in the second game of the season, Sept. 18, at Soldier Field. They need to even the score and - in the process - erase the Bears' tie-breaker edge in the head-to-head category.
"Obviously, it's a big game because it's a division game against the Bears," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "They handed it to us, pretty much embarrassed us last time in Chicago. Both teams have the same record; obviously they're up on us because of the win against us."
The Lions haven't been in any kind of a showdown game since losing the final game of the 2000 season to the Bears. They finished 9-7 but missed the playoffs because of the loss, and owner William Clay Ford hired current team president Matt Millen to rebuild the team from the ground up.
It's still too early in the season to consider this a major showdown but that doesn't make the game any less significant, especially to the Lions, who have gone through a rash of injuries and could be playing without as many as six starters - receivers Charles Rogers (suspension), Roy Williams (quadriceps) and Kevin Johnson (Achilles' tendon), kick returner Eddie Drummond, and Pro Bowl defensive players Shaun Rogers and Dre' Bly.
If it's up to Garcia, the Lions won't be thinking about the shorthanded angle. Their minds will be on taking the next step back toward NFL respectability and contention.
"This is the next step in the process of getting to that point," Garcia said, referring to the goal of contending for a division title and the playoffs. "And if you can't continue to take steps forward, you're always going to find yourself at the bottom.
"This is an opportunity for us to take another step forward. If we can go out there and play good football, continue to grow as an offense and continue to just play with a lot of intensity, a lot of guts on the defensive side of the football, it gives us opportunities to be in football games and win football games.
"That's where we want to be every Sunday. We want to find ourselves taking
steps forward, getting better as a team - especially on the offensive side of
the ball - we need to progress that process. We need to take huge steps, huge
If they don't take some kind of a step forward Sunday, it might not make much difference where they are in late December.
SERIES HISTORY: 152nd game in the series that began in 1930, when the Lions were still the Portsmouth Spartans. Although they won the opener, it wasn't an indication of things to come. The Bears hold an 84-62-5 edge in the series, including a 38-6 drubbing they administered at Soldier Field in the second game of the season. The Lions have fared better at home, where they are 38-34-1. They are 3-0 against the Bears at Ford Field.