The Vikings found a number of ways of give up points to the Detroit Lions, but the Vikings' more traditional way of scoring touchdowns on offense eventually won out as Minnesota downed Detroit 22-19 to stay atop the NFC North Division.
The Vikings gave up a touchdown on the game's opening kick, allowed another touchdown on the Lions' first offensive possession after a 14-play drive, and gave up a safety and a 48-yard field goal. But after all of the Lions' scoring — all but the safety (17 points) in the first half — somehow Minnesota was still able to leave the Metrodome with a three-point win.
How? The Minnesota offense found more of a rhythm in the second half, and the defense played far better. And the Vikings finally got big plays just when they needed them.
The defensive turnaround was drastic. In the first half, the Lions amassed 128 yards rushing; in the second half they had only 18. In the first half, the Lions were 4-for-7 on third downs; in the second half they were 0-for-4. For the game, they had only 67 net yards passing, and they were penalized nine times for 116 yards.
The Vikings were unable to run the ball with any consistency, but quarterback Daunte Culpepper did enough, completing 22 of 32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in another game without star receiver Randy Moss.
Still, the game couldn't have started much worse for the Vikings. They gave up a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game's opening play, and the defense allowed a 14-play, 60-yard drive that was culminated with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Stephan Alexander on the Lions' first offensive possession.
Sandwiched in between those touchdowns for the Lions was the Vikings' lone score of the first half.
On the Vikings' first offensive play, Culpepper found Kelly Campbell for a 61-yard bomb, and the Lions were penalized 11 yards (halfway to the goal line) for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Culpepper. One play later, Culpepper zipped a 7-yard bullet to tight end Jermaine Wiggins to tie the game 7-7 with only 1:42 played.
After Alexander's touchdown gave the Lions a 14-7 lead, the Vikings were poised to answer when they started their third drive of the game with a 36-yard pass interference penalty on Dré Bly covering Marcus Robinson. However, 10 plays later, the Vikings elected to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line. When Kelly Campbell cut in and Culpepper threw the fade pass, the Vikings turned over the ball on downs.
The Lions responded with a 12-play drive into Minnesota territory, but after a third-down sack by Lance Johnstone, Detroit was forced to settle for a 48-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead they would take to halftime.
While the offense generally sputtered in the first half and the defense looked porous, it all turned around for the Vikings in the second half. Johnstone forced another punt with a third-down sack of Joey Harrington on Detroit's first possession of the half, but when that punt was downed on the 1-yard line the Vikings were primed to give up a safety. It happened when Cory Redding blew past backup Adam Goldberg and stuffed Onterrio Smith in the end zone, but those would be the only points the Vikings surrendered in the second half.
The Vikings' next drive was much more methodical. Culpepper converted the initial third down with an 11-yard scramble on third-and-5. They moved into a no-huddle offense for a short time to generate a rhythm, and it worked. Wiggins converted a third down with an 8-yard reception, followed by a 4-yarder. Moe Williams converted the next third down with an 11-yard run on third-and-2 and another one with a 3-yard run on third-and-1. Nate Burleson put the offense on the 4-yard line with a 7-yard reception on third down. Then, after a false start brought up third-and-goal from the 6, Burleson capitalized with a touchdown grab at the pylon and made it a 19-15 deficit with the two-point conversion reception with 14:17 to play.
The defense forced Detroit's third straight punt of the second half, and Minnesota's offense responded with the game-winning drive. Burleson started it with a 16-yard reception, and Bennett followed with a 13-yard catch. Culpepper converted third-and-1 with a sneak, and Onterrio Smith moved the chains to the 24-yard line with a 12-yard run. Wiggins, Smith and Burleson combined to move the ball to the 5-yard line, but on third-and-2 from the 5, Culpepper's pass fell incomplete. However, Robinson was flagged for offensive pass interference, and Detroit coach Steve Mariucci elected to accept the 10-yard penalty and give the Vikings another opportunity on third down. Culpepper responded by rolling right and hitting Williams for a 14-yard pass to the 1-yard line on third-and-12. One play later, Williams dove in for the winning touchdown, making it 22-19 with 5:27 to play.
Once again, it was Johnstone shutting down Detroit on third down with a 7-yard sack. When the Lions punted and the Vikings ran three straight times to milk the clock to the two-minute warning, it was all up to the defense.
On Detroit's first play of the drive, Antoine Winfield jumped a route and intercepted Joey Harrington to effectively end the game.
The Vikings didn't come close to playing a compete game, but they did escape the Metrodome with an NFC North win and stayed on top of the division. They are giving thanks this week for opportune plays, and they are hoping to find a more complete game next week when they host Jacksonville.
Right Plays, Right Time
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