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Lions-Vikings: What we learned

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DETROIT — Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions failed to dazzle anyone in their regular-season home finale on Sunday. They still did enough to move into a first-place tie in the NFC North.

Matt Prater kicked three field goals, including a go-ahead 33-yarder with 3:38 remaining, as the Lions eked out a 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field.

Stafford threw for a season-low 153 yards and the Lions were outgained 360-233 but they still held the Vikings (6-8) scoreless in the second half and pulled even in the division with the Packers, who lost at Buffalo on Sunday. The Lions (10-4) can clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago or Green Bay in their remaining games.

“We’ve lost some pretty ones, so it’s nice to win an ugly one,” Stafford said. “It’s part of being a good football team, finding ways to win when you don’t play your best in any of the phases. We rallied together in the second half and made enough plays to win.”

Wide receiver Golden Tate caught seven passes and scored Detroit’s only touchdown while running back Joique Bell added a combined 103 yards rushing and receiving. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a free agent after the season, had four tackles and a sack in what might have been his last home game with the Lions.

“We’ve had all types of games and all types of adversity,” said Lions free safety Glover Quin, who made a pivotal interception in the first half. “We’ve learned and figured out a way to win in lot of situations. That’s part of the journey. I don’t think any champion has ever not had some kind of adversity throughout the season.”

Detroit couldn’t exhale until Minnesota’s Blair Walsh came up short on a 68-yard field goal try on the final play.

“In my head, I was thinking they’d fake it because we had a block on,” Stafford said. “I’m like, ‘this is scaring me.’ The whole second half was that way. Up and down, up and down, their guys were making plays, our guys were making plays. It was an NFC North battle and I’m glad we came out on top.”

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards and a touchdown but also threw two first-half interceptions that led to 10 Detroit points. Running back Matt Asiata picked up a combined 86 yards, including a rushing touchdown.

“I’m not into moral victories but these guys fought and played and scratched and clawed and gave a great effort,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We did an awful lot of good things. We played well enough to win, we just didn’t win on the scoreboard.”

The Lions didn’t have a first down through the first 20 minutes and spotted the Vikings a two-touchdown lead.

Minnesota drove 84 yards in 10 plays late in the first quarter for the game’s first score, a 2-yard run by Asiata. Wide receiver Greg Jennings made it 14-0 with an 8-yard touchdown grab, his fifth of the season, with 10:05 remaining in the half.

Quin gave the Lions a spark by making an interception for the third consecutive game and returning it 56 yards to the 11. Detroit cashed in two plays later on Stafford’s 7-yard pass to Tate.

Prater’s 29-yard field goal following an interception by cornerback Darius Slay cut the Vikings’ lead to 14-10 by halftime.

Prater added a 30-yard field goal for the only scoring during the third quarter.

Walsh had a 26-yard field-goal attempt blocked by defensive end Jason Jones, keeping the Lions within a point. Detroit then drove 65 yards to set up Prater’s go-ahead field goal.

Minnesota had two more possessions but came up empty. Zimmer decided a Hail Mary pass was a longer shot than a 68-yard field goal attempt.

“Either one is kind of a shot in the dark,” Zimmer said. “Blair has hit 70-yarders in practice before, so I figured that was our best chance to win the game.”

What the Lions said:

“I’m not in the business of making apologies. That was a good team. They’ve played a lot of good teams, a lot of teams tight lately. They beat a good Carolina team, they played Green Bay tough up there. A win’s a win, and we’ll take it.” — Center Dominic Raiola.

What the Vikings said:

“It’s very hard. I don’t like losing. We have that ‘hate losing’ mentality around here, and we knew it was going to be a challenge. Those guys are very stout up front, but we let one slip away. You can’t turn the ball over twice, and you can’t miss field goals.” — Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

What we learned about the Lions:

1. Detroit can win with pedestrian efforts from quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Stafford threw for just 153 yards against a Vikings pass defense that had allowed 21 touchdowns through the air. Johnson had trouble finding space while catching four passes for 53 yards after exploding for 304 yards and three touchdowns in his previous two games. The Lions will need more from them in road games at Chicago and Green Bay with the playoffs in the balance. “I’m excited to go look at this tape because I know we can get a lot better,” Stafford said.

2. The secondary deserves more credit for the Lions’ success. Detroit’s front four usually puts pressure on the quarterback and did so again Sunday with four sacks. However, when the secondary has opportunities, it is creating game-changing turnovers. Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay made first-half interceptions to turn the game around. “Those two plays really made a difference,” coach Jim Caldwell said. The Lions have picked off 19 passes, including a streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one, compared to 10 interceptions by the opponent.

–RB Joique Bell had another sharp outing, powering for a combined 103 yards rushing and receiving. He has displaced gimpy Reggie Bush as the lead back. Bush, who fought an ankle injury much of the season, gained only 7 yards on three carries and made two short receptions. Bell also had a long reception called back by a penalty. “He could have had a really big day,” QB Matthew Stafford said. “We’ve asked him to do quite a bit, and he’s shouldered the load.”

–DT Ndamukong Suh made four tackles, including a sack, in what may have been his last home game as a Lion. Suh will become a free agent after the season, and he could receive a record-setting contract for a defensive player. He has a career-high 18 tackles for loss with two regular-season games remaining, and his ability to draw double teams is a key reason why the Lions lead the NFL in rushing defense.

–DE Jason Jones made a crucial fourth-quarter field-goal block, deflecting a 26-yard Blair Walsh try. That allowed the Lions to take the lead with a field goal on their ensuing drive. Jones also had a sack, his fourth of the season, just prior to the block and forced a fumble that the Vikings recovered. “I just got penetration on them,” he said of the block. “Early in the game, I did the same thing but I didn’t quite get to the ball. This time, I did the exact same thing and I got it.”

–FS Glover Quin made his sixth interception of the season and third in as many games when he brought back a Teddy Bridgewater throw 56 yards, setting up Detroit’s first score. Quin now has 117 return yards on his interceptions. The Lions have picked off at least one pass in 11 consecutive games, their longest streak since they had an interception in 13 straight games in 1981. They have five players with at least two interceptions this season. “He’s been one of those guys that’s been making plays for us all year,” WR Golden Tate said.

–RT LaAdrian Waddle was carted off with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter against Minnesota after sustaining a left knee injury. He was hurt when a defender rolled up on his leg. Waddle, who has battled knee soreness in recent weeks, was replaced by rookie Cornelius Lucas. Waddle, a third-year player out of Texas Tech, has been injury-prone throughout the season. He missed three games with a calf injury and another due to a concussion.

What we learned about the Vikings:

1. Minnesota is not giving up on the season, despite being out of the playoff race. The Vikings moved the ball well enough, particularly through the air, against one of the league’s top defenses. Their defense held Detroit to a season low in passing yards and one touchdown. If not for two momentum-changing interceptions and a blocked field goal, the Vikings would have collected their biggest victory of the season. “We were aggressive in everything we did,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

2. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater won’t back down from a challenge. In the teams’ first meeting, Bridgewater was sacked eight times and picked off three times as the Vikings lost 17-3 at home. He showed some moxie Sunday by completing 31 of 41 passes into the teeth of the Lions’ vaunted pass rush, which dropped him four times. On one of Bridgewater’s two interceptions, intended receiver Charles Johnson was tripped up. “He’s pretty resilient in everything,” Zimmer said of Bridgewater.

–RB Matt Asiata played a solid all-around game, gaining 36 yards on 11 carries against Detroit’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense and catching seven passes for 50 yards. He also scored the game’s first touchdown, a 2-yard plunge, but failed to get out of bounds and preserve some clock on the Vikings’ final possession. Backup Ben Tate managed just 8 yards on five carries. Asiata has a team-high eight touchdowns and will continue to carry the load with Jerick McKinnon out for the season and Adrian Peterson suspended for the season.

–WR Greg Jennings caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season, a 8-yard score, early in the second quarter. Jennings also made a nifty, over-the-shoulder grab near the sideline to set up the Vikings’ first touchdown. Jennings, who finished with three receptions, is no longer the first or second option, but he continues to give the club a steady, veteran presence.

–PK Blair Walsh missed all three of his field-goal attempts, including a desperation 68-yard try on the last play. He pulled a 53-yard try wide right during the first quarter and had a 26-yard attempt blocked during the fourth quarter. Walsh has missed nine of 31 attempts this season. “I have not lost any confidence in him,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “At the end of the game, I thought he hit it pretty good. I thought it had a chance.”

–CB Xavier Rhodes continued to show why he is the team’s shutdown corner. He held perennial All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson to four receptions for 53 yards. In his previous three games, he allowed only four catches for 18 yards. “He battled well,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Obviously, at times we were helping him, but there were times when we weren’t, too.”


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