DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are one of the surprise teams in the NFL.
Motown has a healthy 7-2 record. The Lions are tied with New England and Denver for the second-best record in the league behind the 8-1 Arizona Cardinals.
Still, the Lions don't pass the eye test. They don't look as good as their record, especially if you watch their entire games, not just a game-winning highlight on TV.
That's not to discount their winning or pooh-pooh their talented roster filled with many high draft picks after so much embarrassing losing.
Still, it's hard to look at some of their wins, especially the last three and not wonder if this team is more lucky than good.
Winning cures all and covers up a lot of blemishes. Nobody cares about how poor your offense played for three-plus quarters or all the dumb penalties you committed or the atrocious turnovers.
For sure, no one expects a team to be perfect, even great teams has flaws.
Aside from their defense – ranked No. 1 – the team's statistics look pretty ordinary.
Nonetheless, they keep bucking the odds in the NFL and continue winning. For the third straight game, the Lions needed a last-minute comeback to win.
This time, Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an 11-yard, touchdown to Theo Riddick with 29 seconds to go to beat the Miami Dolphins, 20-16, on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
"It was giving me a heart attack personally, but as long as we're winning, that's all that matters," Lions' linebacker DeAndre Levy said about another late-game win.
Somehow, Stafford – who threw for 280 yards with two TDs and one interception – shook off another lackluster performance to shine at the end. "The guy gets in his mind he wants to win the game and that's what he does," All-World receiver Calvin Johnson said.
Three weeks ago, Stafford beat the New Orleans Saints with two TDs in the final four minutes.
Two weeks ago in London, Stafford led the Lions back from a 21-0, first-half deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 24-21.
Easily, the Lions could have lost the last three games and be 4-5 standing at instead of in first place in the NFC North ahead of the Green Bay Packers (6-3).
"We just fight," Lions' WR Golden Tate said. "We have a really, really good team.
"Unfortunately, it keeps coming down to the end."
The Lions' offense has sputtered all season. Stafford may have made miracle plays late, but hasn't had the type of season most thought he would with the offensive weapons he has.
In fact, Stafford entered that game with the 22nd-best quarterback rating behind Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick who was benched this past week and one spot ahead of Washington QB Kirk Cousins, who was benched a few weeks ago.
The difference is that Stafford has been able to make a play late to win. Riddick gave Stafford credit for the winning TD on a wheel route.
"Stafford extended the play, I just continued on my route and had to make, obviously, a good catch," he said. "I was fortunate to do so."
The reason Stafford has had the chance to make-good at the end is all on the defense.
The defense, which entered the game No. 1 in the league, has allowed the Lions to keep the game close, even when the offense can't get anything going. The Lions have the 31st ranked rushing attack, which is next to last in the league, averaging a measly 77.8 yards per game.
The Dolphins came into the game averaging nearly 31 points a game in their last five.
But the Lions' defense was able to shutdown the Dolphins, limiting them to just a field goal in the fourth quarter.
"Three weeks in a row, we've kind of made it tough on ourselves and made it a harder game," Lions' DE Jason Jones said. "But this is the NFL and teams come to play."
Despite the Lions' record, it's hard not to think about the great starts gone bad in the past. Last year, they were 6-3 after nine games and didn't make it to the playoffs.
Safety Glover Quin said this season feels differently than last year. "The confidence that we have, winning close games, winning down the stretch, just playing better," Quin said. "Last year, we were winning but we weren't really playing well, giving up a lot of yards and it wasn't good."
This team looks good and lucky at the same time.