For as badly as the Vikings had played in the first half of Sunday's regular-season opener against the Detroit Lions, with a little more than two minutes to play in the first half, the Vikings had the ball in Detroit territory with a 14-6 lead and a chance to stick an early dagger into them and take a commanding lead. What followed was an implosion on both sides of the ball.
With 2:25 to play in the half, the Vikings were on the Lions 38-yard line with a chance to at least get into field goal range before halftime with the knowledge that they would be receiving the second-half kickoff. The game was in their control, but things would spiral out of control quickly from that point.
QB Christian Ponder was flushed from the pocket on the first-down play and instead of taking a sack, he tried to throw the ball out of bounds. As he wound up to throw the ball, he had his arm hit by Ndamukong Suh and the ball floated hopelessly in the air. Stephen Tulloch pulled in the dying quail and gave the Lions the ball with two minutes to play in the half.
"I was trying to get out of the pocket and just throw the ball away. He hit my arm; it was unfortunate," Ponder said. "Now, just next time, learn (to) just take the sack and keep the ball in our hands."
Matthew Stafford came out throwing and shredded the Vikings defense – completing six straight passes to get the ball down to the 2-yard line. With just six seconds to play in the half, Joique Bell dove over the top and broke the plane of the end zone, turning what could have been an 11-point Vikings halftime lead into a one-point edge. That lead wouldn't last long.
The Vikings went three-and-out on their first offensive drive of the second half and the Lions took almost immediate advantage. Getting the ball at midfield, Stafford converted first downs with passes of 21 and 15 yards to Nate Burleson to get the ball to the 1-yard line, where Bell again finished off the drive with a short touchdown run to give the Lions a 20-14 lead.
After the Vikings regained a measure of momentum by driving close enough for Blair Walsh to kick a 52-yard field goal, the Lions stuck the dagger in the heart of the Vikings on the next drive. Facing a third-and-7 from own 23-yard line, the Lions called a middle screen to Reggie Bush, who made Chad Greenway miss and was off the races – running 77 yards for a touchdown and, with 5:45 to play in the third quarter, the Lions had a 10-point lead at 27-17 and would never be seriously challenged after that.
""It definitely makes a difference having a guy they can throw underneath. It wasn't like they threw balls over the top of our defense," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We didn't do a good job on the screens and the underneath stuff that they did. We're going to see that. We didn't expect that they were going to let us rush the quarterback. We felt like they would try to take that approach and we didn't handle it very well. We've got to look at some things that we're doing because we'regoing to get that. Most teams aren't going to let their quarterbacks drop back and throw the ball down the field so we've got to figure out a way to play some of these underneath routes better."
It always tough to win on the road in the NFL, but the Vikings had the chance to deliver a knockout punch to the Lions late in the first half. Instead, the Vikings sputtered on offense and the defense was unable to stop the Lions on three straight drives.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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