The Minnesota Vikings struggled on their offensive line and struggled in their thin defensive secondary, but the one play they didn't control bounced their way in their 28-27 win in Detroit.
Minnesota took a 14-13 lead into halftime against Detroit, saw both teams go scoreless in a turnover-filled third quarter, scored 14 points in the fourth and then watched as the Lions' attempt for their 15th point of the second half — which would have tied the game with eight seconds left — ended on a bad snap.
Detroit drove 80 yards in 1:31 at the end of the fourth quarter and scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass, and it needed only the extra point to tie the game 28-28 and presumably send it into overtime. A low snap from rookie Don Muhlbach never allowed that point-after-touchdown to get off the ground, and the Vikings escaped Detroit's Ford Field with one of the most unlikely endings to an NFL game.
Minnesota took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter on Daunte Culpepper's touchdown passes of 36 yards to Nate Burleson and 82 yards to Randy Moss.
Detroit made it 14-13 by the end of the first half, and a mistake-filled third quarter saw drives end on three straight turnovers, followed by three straight punts, setting up the scoring fest in the final period.
Burleson's second touchdown of the game, a 37-yarder, gave the Vikings a 21-13 lead with 8:44 left in the game. The Lions answered with a 9-yard TD pass to Roy Williams, and Moe Williams' 11-yard TD run with 1:37 left in the game put the Vikings on top 28-21, setting up the wild finish — first with the 1-yard touchdown to Roy Williams with 8 seconds, then the bad snap.
Burleson finished with 134 yards on five receptions (two touchdowns), and Culpepper threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns despite being pressured all game and succumbing to five Detroit sacks.
Defensively, the Vikings held Lions running back Kevin Jones to 79 yards rushing, but they gave up 104 yards to Williams and 108 to Az-Zahir Hakim. Ten of the Lions' first downs came in that final quarter.
The Lions opened the game with the ball, and turned the first possession into the first points. QB Joey Harrington drove Detroit 58 yards in 13 plays, picking up the initial first down on a holding penalty on linebacker Mike Nattiel, then gaining three more with little trouble via scrambling and passing. Once inside the red zone, the Lions stalled 2 yards short of the first down and settled for a 32-yard field goal from Jason Hanson with 8:34 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings responded with a controlled attack, at least to start the drive. Needing 8 yards on their initial third down, Jermaine Wiggins struggled for the final 2 yards, keeping a drive going that would eventually go 12 plays. Wiggins moved the chains again on a 9-yard catch on second down, and Randy Moss followed with a 9-yarder on the next second down. One play later, Michael Bennett was catching a 10-yard pass in front of the linebackers to keep the chains moving. After runs of 2 and 5 yards, Culpepper found Burleson behind Andre Goodman in coverage for a 36-yard touchdown and 7-3 Vikings lead with 1:58 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Vikings defense bore down, stopping Detroit in three plays on its second drive, and that quick stop and a 17-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore set up the Vikings on their own 47-yard line. Besides a 30-yard screen to Bennett on third-and-17, no other play went more than 1 yard, forcing the Vikings to punt from the 37-yard line while facing another fourth-and-17.
A third-down sack by Kenechi Udeze allowed the Vikings to set up shop on the 32-yard line, but the offense looked anemic early. Smith lost 3 yards on first down and a 12-yard sack by Cory Redding put Culpepper in third-and-24 from the 18-yard line. But he got his big-play man back and hit Moss in stride for an 82-yard touchdown to complete a drive that only went 68 yards, an offensive anomaly. That quickly, the Vikings had a 14-3 lead with 9:53 left in the half.
While it took the Vikings only three plays to hit paydirt, Detroit answered with an 11-play drive for a touchdown. Harrington hit Tai Streets for 14 yards, Roy Williams for 20 yards and Hakim for 12 yards during the drive, but Jones was the workhorse. He took runs for 5, 1, 11, 4, and 5 yards before a 16-yard run pulled the Lions within four points at 14-10 with 3:21 left to play in the second quarter.
With the Vikings offense sputtering, they went to the no-huddle, but that move backfired with only a five-play drive that left 1:58 in the half for the Lions to work with. When the Minnesota defense gave up a 36-yard pass to Hakim to start the drive, the Lions were in scoring position on the 35-yard line. Their chances improved with a 10-yard run by Shawn Bryson and a 9-yard outlet pass to Jones. Bryson put them on the 5-yard line with an 8-yard run on first down, but Detroit had to settle for a 23-yard Hanson field goal after two incompletions. With 30 seconds remaining, the Lions were within one point after scoring 10 unanswered points.
The Vikings got off passes of 27 and 26 yards to Burleson on their half-ending desperation drive, but time ran out and the Vikings had to settle for their 14-13 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was all about field position and turnovers. The Vikings started with the ball and moved to the Detroit 40, but on a 27-yard pass play to Wiggins to the 13-yard line a chop block moved the ball back across midfield and ended the drive.
After the Lions received the punt, Harrington responded by throwing an interception to Corey Chavous on the fifth play of the drive at the Vikings' own 3-yard line, but Culpepper answered by underthrowing Moss on the second play of the Vikings' drive, resulting in an interception by Brock Marion. One play later, Jones fumbled the ball and Chris Claiborne recovered.
The string of three turnovers was followed by three straight punts. But at the end of a 10-play drive, Harrington threw into double coverage and Brian Williams came down with the interception and returned it 14 yards to Minnesota's 32-yard line.
The Vikings finally broke the offensive drought with a much-needed fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Marcus Robinson converted the initial first down with a 9-yard catch, and Bennett carried the ball to the 37-yard line with two carries for 9 yards. Facing third-and-5, Culpepper found Burleson on a crossing pattern that he caught, accelerating then tip-toeing down the left sideline before kicking over the pylon for a 37-yard touchdown and a 21-13 Vikings lead with 8:44 to play.
But after a dry third quarter, there was much more scoring to come. The Lions used a huge play to answer on their next drive. Facing third-and-4, Harrington found Hakim open deep in the middle of the field and, after picking up 37 yards on his own, Hakim lateraled to Bryson for another 25 yards. That put the ball on the 14-yard line. After a 5-yard Jones run, Roy Williams scored with a 9-yard touchdown and Tai Streets' two-point catch tied the game at 21 with 6:11 to play.
The offenses continued to be unstoppable. During Moore's big kickoff return to Detroit's 36-yard line, Brian Williams was flagged for holding, forcing the Vikings to start at the 17-yard line. It didn't discourage them, however, as they went on a 10-play drive.
Bennett started with an 11-yard reception, and Wiggins and Culpepper combined for another first down. Moe Williams, used sparingly in this game previously, took a short pass and turned it into a 28-yard catch-and-run to the Lions 34-yard line. After a 14-yard Culpepper scramble put the Vikings solidly in scoring position at the 19-yard line at the 2-minute warning, they continued their aggression. On first down, Culpepper zipped a stop-route pass to Moss for 6 yards, and Bennett worked the clocked with a 2-yard run. Williams re-entered the game on third-and-2 and took a patient handoff, found the opening and ran over Marion at the 4-yard line. Burleson helped Williams' momentum, assisting him the final 3 yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 28-21 lead with 1:37 to play.
But even without any timeouts, the Lions were able to drive into scoring position. Jose Cortez started it out right for the Vikings with a touchback, but the yardage started piling up for Detroit after that. Stephan Alexander began with an 11-yard reception, followed by Harrington passes of 9 and 7 yards before spiking the ball with 47 second left at the Detroit 47-yard line. Streets found an opening for 15 yards to the 38-yard line, and Hakim got open again for a 23-yard pass to the 15-yard line. Another spike stopped the clock with 17 seconds remaining, and oft-burned cornerback Derek Ross took another one on the chin when he was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. With the ball on the 1-yard line, the Lions went back to Roy Williams for a touchdown against Brian Williams with 8 seconds remaining.
That's when the Vikings got the gift they needed. The point-after-touchdown snap by Muhlbach was short, and holder Nick Harris could only gather it off the bounce and try to stand and pass. Before he could turn around, cornerback Terrance Shaw made the tackle and the game-tying point never did happen.
The Vikings deflated Ford Field with a lucky play that may have saved their season, getting away with a 28-27 win and setting themselves up for a role in the playoffs with an 8-6 record and two games remaining.
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