Injuries. A depleted defensive backfield. Penalties. Missed opportunities. It was all part of the Vikings' three previous losses, but in the first half of the Vikings' 31-26 over Detroit, it was part of the Lions' woes.
Still, after being down 31-6 with 10:25 left in the third quarter, the Lions started moving the ball on Minnesota's defense and the Vikings offense failed to finish drives. Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch passed for 345 yards, three touchdowns and a 124.5 rating, Germane Crowell had 125 yard receiving, James Stewart had 111 yards rushing, but it still wasn't quite enough to overcome a strong first half by the Vikings.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper ran more — for 83 yards on seven carries — and Cris Carter (8-111) and Randy Moss (6-78) caught more this time, as the Vikings tried to take advantage of a Detroit secondary that began the game with two of their starting four in the secondary out with injuries and finished with none of their starting four on the field.
In all, the first half was the blowout Vikings fans had been looking for and the second half was the collapse Vikings fans had been complaining about.
Looking to cure a variety of ills, the Vikings didn't do much different in their first three drives against Detroit — but what they did was simply overcome mistakes, execution errors, got good field position with their return game and got the turnover instead of committing it.
Although the Vikings opened with the ball on their own 20 after a holding call on the opening kickoff, a drive that mixed the run and the pass started out producing mid-range gains before Culpepper hit Moss for 18 yards and Michael Bennett followed that up with a 23-yard run to the 7-yard line. It took only one play from there, with Culpepper taking a draw in for a 7-0 lead 6:31 into the game.
Detroit made their first drive look easy, as well, with passes of 20 yards to tight end David Sloan and 24 yards to running back James Stewart highlighting a 75-yard, nine-play drive. But the big plays came inside the 10-yard line. Stewart started the push toward the end zone with a 5-yard run before the play of the drive occurred. Quarterback Charlie Batch flipped a pass to Germane Crowell, who was ruled to have scored down the right sideline. But Dennis Green and the Vikings thought otherwise, challenging the ruling that Crowell scored. On review, it was obvious that Crowell stepped out at the 1-yard line, and the Vikings stopped Stewart for no gain and the Lions had to settle for a 19-yard field goal.
The Vikings responded with another touchdown when Troy Walters gave Minnesota the ball on the 45-yard line after a 39-yard return. It started slowly, but when offside on Detroit gave the Vikings a probable fourth-down situation at fourth-and-1 and KIeinsasser converted it with a 2-yard run it gave the Vikings confidence. In Lions territory, Culpepper ran for 22 yards, then hit Cris Carter for 18 to the 1-yard line. Travis Prentice then became the first Viking to ever score on his first carry, giving the Vikings a 14-3 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Minnesota scored on their third possession, as well, when Batch and Stewart muffed a handoff and Chris Hovan recovered on the 37-yard line. A 14-yard pass to Moss was the only gain of significance, but it was enough to set up Gary Anderson for a 41-yard field goal and give the Vikings a 17-3 lead.
The Lions answered with a drive that got Jason Hanson into scoring range with a 51-yard field goal, but the Vikings weren't done scoring yet either. Getting the ball two possessions later with less than a minute to play didn't seem to phase the offense. Starting on their own 39-yard line, the first two plays weren't inspiring, with an incompletion and Shaun Rogers getting his second sack of the game to put Culpepper in a third-and-16 situation. An 18-yard sideline route to Jake Reed did the job and put the ball at midfield. From there, a 16-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain and a 33-yard run up the middle by Culpepper put the Vikings in the end zone after only a 34-second drive. At the half, Minnesota led 24-6.
The Vikings added to it on their first possession of the second half, moving 80 yards in three plays, despite a sack by Robert Porcher. The long play of the drive came, in part, because of the Lions losing three of their defensive backs during the game. Needing a big gain, Culpepper went for Moss down the middle of the field, but when he banged into two defenders, Jimmy Wyrick was called for pass interference for a 40-yard penalty. While experiencing explosive plays, Culpepper went to Carter deep down the right sideline on the next play and the receiver made the diving play with full extension at the goal line for a 47-yard touchdown.
That catch did more than put the Vikings ahead 31-6, it also put Carter into fourth place on the NFL's scoring list, passing Jim Brown, and fourth on the receiving yardage list, passing Andre Reed.
But the momentum would change. Detroit took the ensuing possession and drove 74 yards in eight plays, capped by a 15-yard pass to James Stewart. With 5:40 left in the third quarter, the Vikings still had a 31-13 lead, but it would close further.
On their next possession, the Lions made it look even easier. Starting on their own 41-yard line, Crowell started the drive with a 12-yard catch and five plays later ended the drive with a 16-yard reception for a touchdown and bring the score to 31-19 (the 2-point pass attempt failed).
The offense crossed midfield, but when Culpepper went deep for Moss, cornerback Todd Lyght, playing with a separated shoulder, pulled it away from the receiver Detroit was set up on their own 7-yard line. Still, the Lions would have to go 93 yards — and it did. It started with Chris Hovan's third sack of the game, but passes of 23 to Sloan, 11 and 15 to Crowell and 18 to Morton to the 20-yard line. From there, a pass to Johnnie Morton, that was originally call out of the end zone but overruled, put Lions within a touchdown of a win at 31-26 with 6:18 left to play.
The Vikings drove across midfield again, but the Lions' sixth sack of the game put the Vikings back in their own territory and out of field goal range. They were forced to punt and Detroit took over with 1:34 play.
Passes of 5 yards to Stewart, 3 to fullback Cory Schlesinger and a 15-yarder to Morton on fourth down put the Lions on the 43-yard line. An 11-yard pass to Sloan put it in Vikings territory and Batch stopped the clock with 15 seconds left on the 46-yard line. But Crowell made the blunder fans have gotten on the Vikings for in the past. He caught a 27-yard pass, but when he cut it back to the middle of the field and was tackled on the 19-yard line, time expired before the Lions had a chance to snap the ball.
The Vikings avoided an ugly loss and pulled to 2-3 on the season, but the Lions putting up 20 unanswered points still leaves room for concern.
Vikings Escape With Win, 31-26
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