PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Playing looser under their new coach, the Detroit Lions defense dispatched struggling New England with game-breakers. Now comes a much bigger challenge: Minnesota game-breaker Randy Moss.
In a Thanksgiving Day rout, the Lions got a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bryant Westbrook, another pick that set up a score, and the line hounded Drew Bledsoe throughout.
Now riding a three-game winning streak, the playoffs-chasing Lions (8-4) will need more key defensive plays during a three-game road swing. That trip begins next Thursday against NFC Central-leading Minnesota (10-2) and, gulp, Moss -- a matchup Lions coach Gary Moeller said Friday "is the ultimate challenge."
"That's a fine football team we're playing," said Moeller, a day after the Lions' 34-9 drubbing of the Patriots lifted him to 3-0 since taking over as coach following Bobby Ross' resignation. "We've got a tough stretch, but we're also going to find out who the tough guys are."
Moss had seven receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard bomb in triple coverage, at Dallas. He produced bigtime against the Lions with seven receptions for 168 yards and TD catches of 61, 50 and 17 yards in the Vikings' 31-24 win at the Silverdome. His last two scores were caught high in the air over double coverage.
In two games last season against Detroit, Moss had 280 yards and two TDs.
In helping topple the Lions this season, Minnesota's Robert Smith ran for 134 yards on 16 carries, including a 65-yard TD.
Slowing Minnesota's quick-strike offense could rest with a defensive front led by Robert Porcher, who harassed Bledsoe and has played inspired ball under Moeller. The defensive end had just two sacks in the Lions' first nine games, but has five and a fumble recovery in the three victories since, moving him within reach of double-figure sacks for the fifth straight season.
Said Lions cornerback Bryant Westbrook: "We're controlling our own destiny, that's the most important thing." Westbrook's 101-yard interception runback Thursday capped a 28-0 second-half run against New England (3-9).
Now hoping to close on the Vikings' two-game lead in the division, Westbrook said "we've just got to keep fighting, because ultimately, that (game at Minnesota) might be the deciding factor of who wins the NFC Central."
Before Thursday, Detroit's defense ranked second worst in the NFL at stopping opponents inside the 20, giving up 16 touchdowns on 24 possessions. But the Lions stifled two Patriots drives inside the 10 -- including Westbrook's pickoff -- while holding New England to just Adam Vinatieri's field goals of 24, 47 and 43 yards.
"We're sky high right now. It's going to take a pretty good team to come in and knock us down right now," safety Ron Rice said. "We've just got to keep fighting and keep performing well on the road like we've been doing."
The Lions lead the league with 34 takeaways and are tied with Miami with 21 interceptions, a career-best six by Westbrook. Detroit held Bledsoe to just 148 yards on 17-of-32 passing. And that was without league interception leader Kurt Schulz, who sat out with a sprained ankle.
Of course, the Lions defense knows it'll be tested by Moss and Minnesota, also on a three-game winning streak after its 27-15 victory later Thursday at Dallas.
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