The Detroit Lions' spectacular turnaround continued in the national spotlight in their last game. Now looking match their best start in 55 years, the Lions face a team that's undergoing a similar resurgence under a new coach.
Former University of Michigan star Jim Harbaugh will try to lead his San Francisco 49ers to a fourth straight victory and deal the Lions their first loss of the season Sunday at Ford Field.
Playing its first Monday night game in a decade, Detroit (5-0) pulled away in the second half for a 24-13 victory over Chicago. Jahvid Best had an 88-yard touchdown run, the second-longest in franchise history, as the Lions outscored the Bears 17-3 over the final 30 minutes for their first 5-0 start since 1956.
Detroit opened 6-0 that year, a run capped by a 17-13 victory over San Francisco.
Best finished with a career-best 163 yards and Calvin Johnson became the first player with nine touchdown catches in the first five games, scoring on a 73-yard reception in the second quarter.
"The whole country is seeing how good the team can be," defensive end Cliff 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."
That sixth victory would extend Detroit's league-best winning streak to 10 regular-season games, but it may not be easy to come by.
The 49ers (4-1) are off to their best start in nine years and coming off their most decisive victory in decades. Leading the renaissance is Harbaugh, who turned down a chance to coach his alma mater before leaving Stanford for San Francisco.
The NFC West leaders routed Tampa Bay 48-3 last Sunday in their most lopsided regular-season win since beating the Los Angeles Rams 48-0 on Dec. 27, 1987. At this time last season, San Francisco was 0-5 in its worst start since 1979, Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh's first year with the team.
The 49ers would be among the NFL's unbeatens along with Detroit and Green Bay if they hadn't blown a 10-point lead in a 27-24 overtime loss to Dallas on Sept. 18.
"It's truly different," tight end Delanie Walker said. "I don't even want to say it's the players because we've got the same players from when I first came here. It's got to be the coaches. Coaches are doing a great job. It's just unbelievable. You can't even speak about it.
"We're moving on, we're looking to the future. ... We're setting the standard of real 49er football."
Alex Smith has aided his team's resurgence with one of his own, throwing seven touchdowns and one interception after totaling 51 TDs and 53 INTs in his first five seasons.
Smith, though, will be without a key target for the rest of the year as receiver Joshua Morgan suffered a broken bone in his lower right leg against the Bucs. Morgan had season highs of five receptions and 75 yards before the injury.
"I just feel sick for him and for our team," Harbaugh said. "There's nobody you can afford to lose. Especially him, Josh was really playing well."
With Braylon Edwards also out following right knee surgery, the Niners signed wideout Brett Swain to a one-year deal.
San Francisco might have to rely more heavily on Frank Gore, who has 252 of his 400 rushing yards over the past two weeks. During a 20-6 home win over Detroit in 2009, Gore had 71 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and caught four passes from Smith for a team-best 81 yards.
The Lions' Matthew Stafford might also be without a key receiver in tight end Tony Scheffler, who left Monday's game with concussion-like symptoms. Scheffler has caught two touchdowns and helped Stafford throw for 19 in the past seven games, the best stretch by a Detroit quarterback since Hall of Famer Bobby Layne also had 19 over seven contests in 1951.
Looking to snap a seven-game losing streak to the 49ers, the Lions will have the backing of a Ford Field crowd that contributed to the Bears committing nine false start penalties - six in the first half.
The Lions, losers of 12 of 13 meetings, lost 19-13 in their last home game against the 49ers on Nov. 12, 2006, as Gore ran for 159 yards and a touchdown.