ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Ndamukong Suh hopes the focus will now be on his play, not all the fines and controversies he's dealt with throughout his young career.
Suh was drawing attention for all the right seasons Sunday, when he had two sacks and forced a fumble to help the Detroit Lions to a convincing 40-32 win over the Chicago Bears. It was a welcome step forward for the fourth-year defensive tackle, whose season began a few weeks ago with an illegal hit that earned him a hefty fine.
"I'm not so much worried about whether people see me [as] dirty or if they see me as a great player. As long as we're winning, then I'm satisfied with that," Suh said. "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you. I would love for it to be focused on my play, but I understand people have their agendas and people have things that they want to focus on."
Suh has been a defensive force since the moment he entered the league, but he's also racked up his share of fines and discipline. This year looked like it would be no different. In the opener against Minnesota, Suh hit Vikings center John Sullivan during a teammate's interception return. He was fined $100,000 for the illegal low block, and a Detroit touchdown was called back because of the penalty.
On Sunday, Suh helped the Lions score another TD, and this one stood. His hit on quarterback Jay Cutler in the third quarter caused a fumble, and teammate Nick Fairley returned it to the end zone to give Detroit a 37-16 lead.
"They just kept on coming," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Those guys are resilient and they know that their job is to go and get to the quarterback. The game had become one dimensional. It's tough to rush the passer. It takes a lot of energy in two-minute and stuff like that to rush the passer. The offensive line, a lot of times, just had to take three steps backward. Pass rushes are tough to do and I thought they did a good job of competing throughout the day."
Suh made a remarkable impact as a rookie in 2010, when he had 10 sacks. That number dipped to four the following season, and although Suh had eight sacks in 2012, Detroit stumbled to a 4-12 record.
Now a defensive captain, Suh has a chance to emerge as an undisputed team leader. Detroit certainly would love to see him produce more games like Sunday's.
In the second quarter, he overpowered a blocker to sack Cutler on third down. Suh's second sack caused the fumble that led to Fairley's easy four-yard touchdown return.
"Really, it was a D-line total effort. All four of us actually combined on that play," Fairley said. "Willie [Young] got a good grab on the tackle. Suh got a good sack and I still had to bend my knees to pick it up and score."
Afterward, Suh went up to Fairley and jumped in the air for a celebratory chest bump that knocked Suh onto the ground. It may have been the only time all day Suh looked physically overmatched.
"From a statistical standpoint, obviously my rookie year was my best year. So, from a statistical standpoint, I want to outdo that," Suh said. "But, honestly, I think my rookie year was my worst year of football because I really didn't understand the game and I was really just going out there and playing hard and trying to execute. Now I'm a little bit more seasoned. I can understand and pick up things a little faster."
That should be a scary thought to the rest of the league. Suh's physical strength has never been in doubt. If he's starting to channel his energy more constructively, opposing quarterbacks could be in trouble. The Lions play at Green Bay on Sunday.
"I think we have all the tools in our defense," Suh said. "From a defensive standpoint, I think we have every single guy that we need on that defensive side of the ball to get the job done. It's just a matter of continuing to do it."
NOTES: Schwartz objected to any accusations that DE Israel Idonije helped the Lions with Chicago's defensive scheme — Idonije played for the Bears for nine seasons before joining Detroit in the offseason. "I really think that's ridiculous," Schwartz said. "I think it takes away from the players that are on the field. We rushed for a lot of yards because we blocked them. Reggie Bush broke tackles and things like that. To say that Reggie Bush is eight yards behind the quarterback and he can hear what a line call is, I think that's ridiculous." In Chicago, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said: "What information could Izzy give them? We play the Detroit Lions twice a year for as long as I've known. They have all the information that they need. We're not a complicated defense."