PONTIAC, Mich. — It used to bother Barry Sanders that nobody believed in the Detroit Lions. Now it's Sanders and the Lions who are causing all the bother.
The Lions had too much Sanders and too much defense for the New York Jets as they nailed down their first 10-win season in 21 years and moved a step closer to their first playoff berth in eight years with a 34-20 victory Sunday.
Sanders rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in 20 carries and the Lions' defense forced five Jets' turnovers.
"That was very, very important to us," Sanders said. "Most people thought it was an unrealistic goal. But its just an indication of how much better we are."
It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Lions (10-4). The Jets (7-7) have lost their last 22 games against teams with winning records.
"I don't think anyone felt we would have 10 wins at this time," Lion Coach Wayne Fontes said. "I never put a number on how many wins we'd get. But I knew we'd be a better team. We've had a commitment to that since July."
The last time the Lions won 10 games was 1970 when they won their last five games of the regular season to finish 10-4. Then they lost, 5-0, to the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
Detroit has won 10 or more games only four times in club history. The Lions were 10-3 in 1934, 10-2 in 1953, 11-3 in 1962 and 10-4 in 1970.
The victory gave the Lions an 8-0 record in the Silverdome, their first undefeated home season since the 1962 squad posted a 7-0 record at Tiger Stadium.
"We've got two games left to go," Fontes said. "Those are the two most important games on our schedule. We have to keep getting better and play better as we go."
But it was a costly victory. Nose guard Jerry Ball went down with a knee injury in the second quarter and may be lost for the remainder of the season.
The Lions haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1983 when they finished 9-7, then were defeated, 24-23, by San Francisco.
The Lions defense, with five takeaways against the Jets, has forced 17 turnovers in Detroit's last three games.
Sanders scored on runs of 14 and 51 yards to give Detroit a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Erik Kramer hooked up with Willie Green for a 73-yard touchdown pass play, Tracy Hayworth returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown, and Eddie Murray kicked field goals of 43 and 27 yards to round out the scoring for the Lions.