(MINNEAPOLIS, MN)--Joey Harrington may have 18 second half comeback wins on the NCAA level, but he's 0-2 so far in the NFL.
Harrington's last minute fade pass intended for Az-Zahir Hakim was intercepted by the Vikings' Corey Chavous, sealing the win for Minnesota. It was Daunte Culpepper who was the comeback hero, leading Minnesota to 21 second half points to knock off Detroit and prevent head coach Marty Mornhinweg from getting his first NFL road win.
"You throw that ball versus man to man [coverage]," said Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg but they played a zone, it was 3-on-2. It was a pretty simple read. The ball shouldn't have gone there, but he'll (Harrington) learn from that and next time he'll do the right thing.
Detroit opened fast, as Harrington connected with Mikhael Ricks, who is having his best season as a pro. Ricks made a beatiful one-handed grab and then was left alone in the right flat from 41-yards out to give Detroit a 7-0 lead.
Then Chris Claiborne intercepted a Culpepper pass and ran 20 yard for a defensive touchdown giving the Lions a 14-0 lead. Minnesota would respond with a 42-yard Gary Anderson field goal, thanks to the poor play of the Lions kick coverage teams, which consistently allowed the Vikings to play the first half on a short field.
Minnesota's Culpepper then led the Vikings on a 10-play drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Jim Kleinsasser from a yard out to cut the Lions lead to 14-10.
Detroit struck back before the half when Harrington hit Az-Zahir Hakim from 20 yards out to give the Lions a 21-10 half time lead.
In the third quarter, Culpepper began looking for his star wideout Randy Moss and the two connected for 32 yards setting the Vikings up at the Lions 32. The Vikings run game began clicking as Michael Bennett put together runs of 18 and 7 yards before Culpepper ran it in from 7-yards out to cut the Lions lead to 21-17.
Jason Hanson added a 49-yard field goal to give Detroit a seven point advantage going into the fourth quarter but they couldn't hold it. Culppeper hit Michael Bennett on a screen pass at the Detroit 45 and Bennett rambled past a confused Lamar Campbell --who tried to tackle the wrong player--and the Lions secondary into the endzone to tie the game at 24.
Then after a poor play calling series by Detroit led to a quick three and out, a tired defense folded. Facing a third and five, defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer called a blitz that was easily picked up by the Vikings. With virtually all day to throw, Culpepper found Moss at the Lions 2-uard line. Moe Williams took it in to give Minnesota the margin of victory.
"You've got to give Minnesota some credit," said Mornhinweg. "We had them down and they came racing back. We lost some opportunities to quite possibly put the ball game away at certain stages of the game."
Mornhinweg wouldn't lay the blame completely on Stockar McDougle's holding penalty which nullified a 25-yard run by James Stewart which would have put the ball on the Vikings 13-yard line with Detroit leading by seven.
"There was a few penalites their late that hurt us, that was certainly one of them." Mornhinweg also faulted his pass rush for not getting pressure on the quarterback. "Culpepper's a fine, fine player. We just didn't get enough pass rush on him late in the game. The last two or three drives. He was able to manuever around. Or coverage was pretty good initally, but we got to plaster 'em."
It's losses like this one that will keep Detroit from being a .500 team this year. This was a game Detroit could have and should have won, but it also exposed some of their deficencies. Defensively, Detroit still hasn't figured out how to cover opposing tight ends, a problem that goes back to the Bobby Ross/Gary Moeller eras.
The pass rush is still a disappointment. Why isn't Kalimba Edwards getting more snaps? He energized the rush when ever he gets into the ballgame and with Clint Kriewaldt and Brian Williams hurting, isn't time to let the rookie get his feet wet at linebacker, his college position? Edwards has the speed to handle backs and tight ends.
Chris Cash still looks like the find of the year among rookie defensive backs. Cash had 12 tackles to lead the team.
Offensively, Harrington had a great game, but made a key mistake in a clutch situation. File that one away for reference Joey. Never underthrow in that situation, always overthrow. Either your guy catches or no one does. You will not see Harrington do that again. Still, the rookie needs to complete more of his pass attempts. He was at 61% this week, you'd like to see him closer to 70%.
Detroit still needs a third receiver. Bill Schroeder was injured, again, and seemingly ran wrong routes on a couple of pass plays. Scotty Anderson has trouble getting off the ball against jamming defensive backs.
James Stewart rushed for just 42 yards, but only got 10 carries. Detroit needs to find a way to get Stewart more touches without hurting the offense. Stewart's stats show that the more he carries, the more effective he is.
The Lions offensive line is getting better and better. The Lions "O" line gave up just one sack of Harrington which bodes well for the future.
Detroit let one slip away this week and will need to shore up their special teams play and their running game prior to the arrival of the Chicago Bears next Sunday at Ford Field.