Though Jim Schwartz wouldn't admit it on Monday afternoon, Reggie Bush was the biggest reason the Detroit Lions swept the Chicago Bears and put themselves in great position atop the NFC North division.
Bush was the first Lions' runner since Barry Sanders to go for 100 yards twice in one season against the Bears, notoriously one of the toughest teams to run against in the NFL. Both times, it's no coincidence that Detroit swept the series against Chicago. Sunday was perhaps the best example of this, as the Lions' run success helped set everything else up during the day.
Where Bush has made his presence felt the most is pounding away late in games. Sunday, with the Lions clinging to a one point lead, it was Bush churning out clutch runs. He pounded out four of them on Detroit's final drive of the day. The first went for five yards, while the second and third were crushers, each going for 11. That forced Chicago to use two time outs, each of which would have come in handy late. The Lions haven't been able to control the clock with the running game in recent memory, so Bush's late heroics were a positive step forward.
Likely trying to cover for all his players, Schwartz bristled a bit at the notion that his team hasn't been able to close teams out with the running game lately. "I wouldn't say we haven't had (that ability) before," Schwartz commented when asked about the comparison. "Look back to Jacksonville last year, Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure did a nice job salting that game away."
With all due respect to the coach, the Lions running the clock out against a terrible Jaguars team which would finish 30th in the league in run defense during 2012 was hardly a noteworthy accomplishment. Even though the Bears were without Henry Melton and Lance Briggs Sunday, the Lions have found ways to go away from the run late and fail to protect leads with an inability to run out the clock. With Bush, they simply crammed it down Chicago's throat late behind a suddenly nasty offensive line with great success.
It's clear that there has been a major sea change in Detroit. When Schwartz was hired in 2009, he referenced the ability to win road games in November and December within the elements even though the Lions played in a dome the majority of the time. Finally, it looks like Detroit is built for that test with the explosive Bush and the physical Bell. Question the coach's in-game decision making at times? Sure. Just don't question the mental and physical toughness he has instilled in this Lions' team.
With Bush in the fold and a tougher offensive line in place, they can finally run the ball with authority, especially late in games. That should make the Lions a tougher than usual foe during the second half of the season.
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