It's one of the oldest adages in the NFL – turnovers kill. In a game that started with a turnover on the first offensive play by one quarterback and ended with a turnover on the last offensive play of the game by a replacement quarterback, it was the Vikings' unintended generosity that led to a frustrating turning point of the game.
The Vikings came into Detroit without Adrian Peterson and a dinged-up Christian Ponder and things couldn't have started any worse. Getting the ball two minutes into the game on their own 10-yard line, Ponder's first pass attempt was thwarted when defensive end Cliff Avril blew by right tackle Phil Loadholt and stripped the ball away from Ponder in the end zone. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch fell on the loose ball and, just six seconds after the Vikings took possession, the Lions took a 7-0 lead.
The next time Ponder dropped back to pass, he was intercepted by Alphonso Smith, giving the Lions the ball at midfield. After a sack by Jared Allen set up a third-and-14 situation, the Lions cashed in on the turnover when Matthew Stafford launched a 57-yard touchdown pass to rookie Titus Young, giving the Lions a 14-0 lead a little more than five minutes into the game.
After the Lions built a 21-0 lead, the Vikings came back with a score of their own to cut their deficit to 21-7 and, after making a defensive stop, the Vikings had the ball back on their own 20, but the turnover bug would strike again – in a painfully familiar fashion.
Smith had his second pick of the day on the Vikings' first pass play of the second quarter, returning the interception 30 yards for a touchdown and the blowout appeared to be on at 28-7 with 12:33 to play in the first half.
After a Vikings score cut the deficit to 28-14, the team was hoping to get into scoring position late in the first half, getting the ball on their own 16-yard line with 2:29 to play in the half and all of their timeouts remaining. Instead, Lorenzo Booker mishandled a handoff that was recovered by the Lions on the 16-yard line and, while they weren't able to cash in for a touchdown, they were in chip-shot field goal range and Jason Hanson delivered, giving the Lions a 31-14 halftime lead – with 24 of those points the direct result of Vikings turnovers.
After throwing a third interception, Ponder was benched in favor of Joe Webb, who led the Vikings on a furious comeback attempt. The Vikings came back from the dead to give themselves a chance to win – with the ball on the 1-yard line with nine seconds to play. But, as Webb moved in the pocket, he was stripped of the ball (on a play in which he was clearly the victim of a facemask penalty) and the Lions recovered as the clock hit 0:00 to end the game and let Detroit escape with a 34-28 win.
When all was said and done, the Vikings threw three interceptions, had a handful of other passes that could have been intercepted, five fumbles and three fumbles lost – shooting themselves in the foot early and late and handing the Lions a win with a fumbling, bumbling, never-ending turning point.
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: Turnovers start and end game
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