A lion takes a bite of a meat-stuffed pinata with the Chicago Bears' team insignia at the Detroit Zoo.
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DETROIT -- It has been so long -- a decade, in fact -- since the Detroit Lions played a regular season game on Monday night that kicker Jason Hanson can't remember it.
Hanson probably has a hard time recalling what happened Oct. 8, 2001, because all he did was kick off once in a 35-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams at the Pontiac Silverdome.
"Wow, it has been that long," Hanson said entering his 300th game with the Lions. "Monday Night Football is the NFL's showcase game, and it's exciting that people want to see us play on it again."
Hanson hopes to make new memories in prime time at home against the Chicago Bears.
Detroit is aiming for its first 5-0 start since 1956, the year before its most recent NFL title, and to snap a six-game skid against Chicago.
The defending NFC North champion Bears want to avoid falling to 2-3 in a division led by the upstart Lions and Super Bowl champion Green Bay.
"It's a game that puts us right in the mix or will set us back three games," Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs said. "This is a must-have. We have to have it. Period."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler tried to downplay the game in one breath before acknowledging reality a moment later.
"It's got a playoff atmosphere to it," Cutler said.
There's a lot of that going around these days in the mitten-shaped state.
The Lions are kicking off a seven-day stretch in which they'll play two home games, the Tigers will host Texas in Games 3-4 of the AL Championship Series next door at Comerica Park.
Also, No. 11 Michigan plays at No. 23 Michigan State 75 miles away trying to snap a three-game losing streak in the series and stay undefeated on the season.
"This is a great little stretch for Detroit," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "But I'd like to think there's a lot better to come."
NFL history suggests the former laughingstock of the league will make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
Nearly 70 percent of teams that won the first four games of a season have made the playoffs since Chicago's 4-0 start in 1933, according to STATS LLC.
Bears receiver Roy Williams said one of his former teams has gotten used to winning -- an NFL-best eight times in a row during the regular season since losing to Chicago -- and he's happy for the Motor City.
"I know the fans are excited," Williams said. "They truly deserve it. No offense to the Bears fans or Cowboys fans, but those fans are the most loyal fans that I've seen going through everything that they went through, but still showing up at the games and still cheering for their football team."
Fans at Ford Field might finally get to root for first-round pick Nick Fairley.
The defensive tackle hasn't played in a game since he helped Auburn win the national title.
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