In a game in which the Vikings offense had to rally for a pair of second-half touchdowns to defeat the winless Detroit Lions, it was a pair of defensive stops when the Lions had a chance to build a lead that could have crippled the Vikings in the first half that created the turning point of the game in a 20-16 win.
The Vikings offense struggled badly in the first half, as Adrian Peterson was held in check and Gus Frerotte threw a pair of interceptions. Detroit was able to build a 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of defensive stops inside the Vikings 5-yard line. Had either of those drives been turned into a touchdown, the Vikings would have faced a double-digit deficit early. Instead, the Lions had less than a one-score lead and played like a team desperately searching for its first win of the season.
Following a Vikings drive that resulted in a field goal to cut the Detroit lead to 6-3 with five minutes to play in the first half, a 38-yard kickoff return by Aveion Cason set up Daunte Culpepper on his own 42-yard line. Detroit quickly got into scoring position and, with four minutes to play in the half, faced a third-and-1 from the 30-yard line. Hoping to move the chains, running back Kevin Smith took a handoff up the middle where he was met head-on by Pat Williams, who stuffed the play for no gain. With a chance to get a field goal from Jason Hanson – who had missed just one kick all year and was 13-of-13 from 40 yards and beyond – the Lions opted to go for the first down. Culpepper dropped to pass, but was drilled by a blitzing Chad Greenway. The hit altered Culpepper's pass, which fluttered incomplete and gave the Vikings the ball with no further damage being done.
It didn't take long for the Vikings to return the favor. On the next play, Frerotte had a pass thrown over the middle tipped and intercepted, allowing the Lions to start a drive with two minutes to play at the Vikings 26-yard line. Culpepper completed a pair of passes to get Detroit to the Vikings 6-yard line. Again, the Lions had a chance to add a chip-shot field goal that would give them a 9-3 lead. But, once again, the team decided to test the Vikings' fourth-down defense and, for the second time, failed.
Detroit called a play that historically was one that worked almost 100 percent of the time when Culpepper was with the Vikings – a quarterback sneak right up the middle. However, he never had to run such a play against the Williams Wall. Culpepper took the snap and attempted to squeeze out the yard, but Pat Williams collapsed the pile in front of him and Kevin Williams made the final hit – dropping Culpepper for no gain and turning the ball back over the Vikings with 54 seconds to play in the half.
While Tarvaris Jackson helped rally the offense for a pair of touchdowns in the second half to turn the 6-3 deficit into an eventual 20-16 Vikings win, it was the points that were left off the board by the Lions offense that the Vikings defense negated with a pair of fourth-down stops that never allowed Detroit to get more than a one-score lead and, in the process, turned out to be the turning point of the game.
Turning point: Short-yardage defense
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