Vikings defenders talked last week about wanting to created more turnovers. They got those Sunday against the Lions, creating one more touchdown than the Minnesota offense and helping spur the Vikings to a 26-17 come-from-behind win over the Detroit Lions at the Metrodome.
Nothing came easy to the offense in the first half, which left for halftime to a chorus of boos after failing to score a touchdown despite 66 yards rushing from Chester Taylor. Part of the problem was turnovers, as a Brad Johnson interception and a Mewelde Moore fumble on a punt return limited their opportunities, but the bigger issue was offensive inefficiency after picking up only three first downs in the first half after their game-opening field goal drive.
That led to Detroit taking a 17-3 lead following a third-quarter fumble by wide receiver Travis Taylor and a quick-strike scoring drive by Jon Kitna and the Lions.
From there, however, the momentum swung wildly in favor of the Vikings and remained there for the whole of the fourth quarter, with Travis Taylor scoring 46 seconds into the final period, then linebacker Ben Leber recovering a Kitna fumble in the end zone, Longwell converting a 20-yard field goal, and an E.J. Henderson 45-yard interception return for a touchdown.
After 45 minutes of lackluster and admittedly frustrating play, especially on offense, the Vikings won the game with a 14-minute, 14-second fourth-quarter onslaught.
It made all the game-ending statistics look better. The Vikings finished with 336 yards of offense – 135 of those on the ground – and no sacks. The defensive side of the ball looked even better, suffocating the Detroit rushing game with 16 yards (eight of those on a Kitna QB sneak) on 11 attempts, five sacks.
The sacks started early and finished with a flurry. The Lions opened the game by picking up one first down and two injured players, but a third-down sack of Kitna by Kevin Williams ended the drive before it crossed midfield.
The Vikings offense continued a couple of early-season trends – their opening-drive successes moving the ball and their inability to get into the end zone. Jermaine Wiggins picked up the initial first down on a 9-yard reception and Marcus Robinson followed three plays later with a 12-yard catch to move the ball across midfield, but the big play came on the ground. Facing second-and-3 from the 39-yard line, Chester Taylor broke off his longest run of the year, a 28-yard run to the 11-yard line. A holding on Bryant McKinnie sent it backwards, and the Vikings were only able to get to the 3-yard line on a rush by Artose Pinner and a 9-yard pass to Mewelde Moore before Ryan Longwell came on for a 26-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
But the offense sputtered and spit from there, struggling to move the ball while the Lions took advantage of mistakes to put up 10 points the rest of the half.
Napoleon Harris came away with his first career interception on Detroit's next possession, but the offense only generated one first down on a 13-yard pass to Travis Taylor. The defense stifled the Detroit offense two more times before an interception by Jamar Fletcher set up the Lions' first scoring drive. Fletcher came down with his pick when defensive end James Hall hit Johnson on the release of the ball, sending a floater across the middle that Fletcher returned 29 yards to the Minnesota 28-yard line.
A 17-yard pass to WR Mike Furrey put the ball inside the red zone. From there, it took only an 8-yard pass to Az-Zahir Hakim and an 8-yard quarterback sneak through a wide-open middle of the Vikings defense to give the Lions a 7-3 lead.
The Lions took advantage of another Vikings mistake to tack on three more points before the end of the half. The offense stalled after three plays, but with less than two minutes left in the first half, they punted away with more than 20 seconds remaining on the play clock with the game clock still running.
That left Detroit with the ball at its own 44-yard line with 1:18 to play, and they moved swiftly into field goal position on passes of 7 yards to Hakim and 21 yards to Kevin Jones without having to worry about the clock. Ray Edwards' 7-yard sack on first down put some mystery into the eventual field goal kick, but Jason Hanson easily had enough on the ball to make a 53-yard attempt with 33 seconds left on the clock, a lead the Lions took to the halftime locker room.
The teams started the second half by exchanging punts, but on Minnesota's second drive of the half, Travis Taylor was hit after a first-down pickup and stripped of the ball by Kalimba Edwards. When Dre' Bly recovered, the Lions were set up on their own 44-yard line. Kitna went immediately to Hakim for 23 yards and right back to him for another 21 yards that resembled the old Mike Martz wide receiver screens in St. Louis. From the 12-yard line, tight end Dan Campbell took a short pass and turned it into a touchdown and a 17-3 Lions lead.
But, while the Vikings went on a scoring streak, the Lions were shut down from there.
A roughing-the-passer call on Shaun Rogers moved the Vikings to midfield on their next drive, and Chester Taylor and Tony Richardson touched the ball on the next five plays, with Richardson hauling in a 20-yard pass. This time, the offense was successful inside the red zone. Wiggins picked up a first down at the 3-yard line, but they needed three more plays before Travis Taylor found a seam in the defense for a 3-yard touchdown to draw the Vikings within seven points, 17-10 with only 46 seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter.
Once they saw the offense put the ball in the end zone, the defense got into the act. On the second play of Detroit's ensuing drive, Pat Williams blew through the line for a 14-yard sack, stripped the ball and covered up Kitna while Leber recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. However, the Vikings insisted on making it hard by having the point-after attempt blocked to keep the Lions with a one-point lead, 17-16, with 13:12 to play.
The Vikings weren't able to get the lead on their next drive, but their defense continued to stifle the Lions. After two defensive stands, the offense was on the move again. Travis Taylor moved the chains with a 21-yard reception before Chester Taylor moved past his season-high rushing mark with two more carries for 12 yards, putting him at 118 yards on the day. After moving it to the 1-yard line on an 18-yard pass to Moore and three Taylor rushes, the Vikings took the lead back, 19-17, on a 20-yard Longwell field goal with three minutes to play.
That's when the defense sealed the win. Kevin Jones picked up a first down on a 14-yard pass play, but four plays later, Kitna was avoiding one would-be sack after another before he finally heaved off a desperation pass under pressure that E.J. Henderson intercepted and returned 45 yards for the first touchdown of his career, capping the scoring and a 26-17 Vikings win.
Turns out, the defense did more than just keep them in the game, they created turnovers and touchdowns that won the game that will allow them to enter the bye at 3-2 with an Oct. 22 game at Seattle looming.
Fourth and Won
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