The Vikings have had more than their share of problems during the 2010 season, but, with an offense that has struggled to put up points all season, the burden of keeping other teams off the board has become the load needed to by carried by the Vikings defense. As the season wore on, the defense wore down, especially on third downs. The defense's inability to get off the field in two critical drives before and after halftime showed off that weakness and was the cause of a season-ending turning point of the game.
The Vikings looked like a tired team after having to play Tuesday night, having Wednesday's practice scrapped due to arriving back in the Twin Cities at 3 a.m. Thursday morning and having to travel on Saturday to get to Detroit. The team looked a bit lethargic, but, with 5:02 to play in the first half, they trailed just 3-0 and it was anyone's game … until the Lions took over and strung together long drives to give themselves a lead that wouldn't be overtaken.
The Lions had an 11-play drive in the first quarter that was negated by a fumble near the goal line, but this time, they were bent on controlling the clock at the end of the half. Quarterback Shaun Hill took over on his own 6-yard line and could have been off the field quickly, but on a third-and-1 from the 15, Hill rolled out and hit another former Viking, Nate Burleson, for nine yards and moved the chains.
Two plays later, Hill faced another third-down situation, this time a third-and-7. He read a Vikings blitz and zipped a screen to running back Maurice Morris, who picked up 11 yards for another first down and brought the clock down to the two-minute warning. With the Vikings stiffening and forcing another third-and-3 situation, Hill picked up the blitz, found his hot read (running back Jahvid Best) and Best made safety Husain Abdullah miss for first down at midfield.
Two plays later, the Lions converted a fourth straight third down when Hill completed a 16-yard pass to tight end Tony Scheffler. Without his go-to receiver Calvin Johnson, Hill converted four third downs to four different receivers to keep the long drive alive and the Lions would cash in, scoring a touchdown on an 8-yard pass to Burleson for a touchdown that gave the Lions a 10-0 lead with 23 seconds to play in the half.
Detroit got the ball to start the second half and didn't need to convert on third downs to get into scoring position. Hill scrambled to pick up one first down, but passes of eight yards to Scheffler and 18 yards to Bryant Johnson got the Lions into the red zone and, while the Vikings would force the Lions to settle for a field goal, it gave Detroit a 13-0 lead that would never be relinquished. Thanks to a big play from Jared Allen, the Vikings were able to shave the lead to 13-10, but the Lions had another scoring drive, featuring a pair of third-and-long conversions, to give them a 20-10 lead that would stand up.
The Vikings loss left them in last place in the NFC North, but it was a bookended pair of drives by the Lions that started with 5:02 to play in the first half and ended with 5:02 gone in the third quarter that put the game firmly in the hands of Detroit. In that span of 10:04, Detroit ran 26 plays while the Vikings ran one and turned that landslide of possession time into 10 points that, in a tightly-contested game, was enough to earn the win.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Drives surrounding the half
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