Grading The Game: Lions

Sunday's game was essentially a tale of two halves, a poor first half — especially on defense and special teams — and an all-around good second half. It added up to mixed grades.

PASSING OFFENSE: B — After the Lions recorded a safety to take a 19-7 lead in the third quarter, QB Daunte Culpepper huddled the offensive players together on the sideline and challenged them to start acting like the best offense in the league. Then Culpepper went out and basically willed the Vikings to victory. On the 17-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that made it 19-15, Culpepper was 7-for-10 passing, including a 7-yard pass to Nate Burleson on third-and-3 and a 6-yard touchdown to Burleson on third-and-goal. On the game-winning drive one possession later, Culpepper completed a 14-yard pass to RB Moe Williams on third-and-12 at the Lions 15. Culpepper did throw an interception in the first half, but it basically was as good as a punt.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C — The Vikings' NFL record of games with a rushing average of at least 4.0 yards per play was snapped at 19. They averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, with Culpepper leading the way with 35 yards on 11 carries. Michael Bennett had only 30 yards on 11 carries, a 2.7-yard average. Onterrio Smith had just 27 yards on eight carries (3.4) and was tackled for a safety on a simple off-tackle play from the 1. Backup RT Adam Goldberg, who replaced the injured Nat Dorsey (sprained right shoulder), missed the block that led to the safety. It came on his second play of the game. The Vikings, however, had some tough runs in crucial situations. During the second-half comeback, Culpepper ran for 11 yards on third-and-5 and one yard on third-and-1. Williams ran for 11 yards on third-and-2 and punched in a touchdown run from the 1.

PASS DEFENSE: A — Lions QB Joey Harrington passed for only 91 yards and sealed Detroit's loss when his pass was intercepted by CB Antoine Winfield with 1:49 left in the game. DE Lance Johnstone had three sacks, all on third down. The first held the Lions to a 48-yard field goal, the second kept the Lions out of field goal range and the third came with less than five minutes left in the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — We'll mix the F grade of the first half with the A from the second half and split the difference. In the first half, the Vikings gave up 128 yards rushing to a team that hadn't rushed for more than 81 in a game all season. But in the second half, the Vikings held the Lions to 18 yards rushing on six carries. Kevin Jones ran for 95 yards on 15 carries in the first half but only five yards on four carries in the second.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D — All of the screaming and yelling by special teams coach Rusty Tillman after last week's poor performance in Green Bay went for naught when Lions return man Eddie Drummond retuned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings needed 3 1/2 quarters to climb out of the hole that TD created. The special teams improved later in the game. P Darren Bennett boomed a 62-yard punt following a safety. Drummond was stopped for only a 12-yard return, giving the Lions the ball at their 30. Drummond returned kickoffs only 19 and 33 yards following the Vikings' two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The 33-yarder to the Detroit 39 was moved back to the Lions 24 because of a stupid late hit penalty on Detroit's Kelvin Pritchett, who bulled over K Jose Cortez after the whistle.

COACHING: C — Coach Mike Tice came dangerously close to losing a game that could have wrecked his season and ultimately cost him his job at season's end. Kickoff coverage remains an embarrassing problem that Tillman can't seem to correct. The run defense was terrible in the first half but excellent in the second half after defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell tweaked some gap assignments and put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan caught the Lions napping with a 61-yard pass to Kelly Campbell on the Vikings' first offensive play of the game. Linehan weathered what essentially were five games without WR Randy Moss, who is expected to return this week from a strained right hamstring. The Vikings were 2-3 in those games.


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