Jackson leads the Vikings back, 20-16

Minnesota overcame numerous mistakes, miscues and injuries – including the loss of its starting quarterback – with a solid come-from-behind second-half performance from former starter Tarvaris Jackson that gave the Vikings a 20-16 win over the still-winless Lions.

Throughout last week, the Vikings mustered all the right quotes about not being able to take the Lions lightly. They cited the Lions playing them close in the first meeting, a 12-10 Vikings win aided by a questionable pass interference call on the final game-winning field-goal drive. They cited the need to get a division win to increase their playoff chances.

But when they needed to play a solid game, they started giving it all away in the first half. Adrian Peterson rushed for 102 yards in the game, but he fumbled the ball three times and had another one initially ruled a fumble overturned. Gus Frerotte threw two first-half interceptions and was knocked out of the game after his injuring his back while making the tackle on the second interception.

So instead of Frerotte or Peterson being the offensive heroes, it was the player no one expected to even play that may have delivered the best performance in a 20-16 victory. Former starter Tarvaris Jackson, benched after only two games this season, entered the Sunday's showdown late in the first half but really started his rhythm in the second half, taking the team on their two touchdown drives, capping the game-winner with a touchdown pass, and putting in an extremely efficient performance, going 8-for-10 for 105 yards on no interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota defense let Calvin Johnson slip past for a 70-yard touchdown but otherwise held Lions QB Daunte Culpepper in check with 14 of 24 passing and limited RB Kevin Smith to 63 yards on 22 carries. DE Jared Allen survived a hit on his knee and got two of the Vikings' four sacks, but the most important defensive play may have been another fourth-and-1 stop by Kevin Williams and the defensive line, this time dropping Culpepper for no gain on a sneak in the final minute of the first half to keep the Vikings only three points behind despite all the first-half miscues.

That set the stage for Jackson, Peterson and Chester Taylor to give the Viking their first lead of the game on their first drive of the second half. While Johnson's long touchdown recovered the lead for the Lions shortly thereafter, Jackson responded one series later with another touchdown drive that gave them the lead for good and may have reinvigorated his fading career.

At the least, it re-energized the Vikings (8-5) and kept them in sole possession of first place in the NFC North with three games to play. But to get to that point, they would have to survive a self-induced rocky first half.

The Vikings picked up three first downs on their game-opening drive with passes to Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe and a 9-yard run by Peterson, but rookie Cliff Avril ended the opening series when he beat Jim Kleinsasser for a third-down sack of Frerotte.

The Lions responded with an impressive opening drive that was aided by several mistakes by the Minnesota defense. On the third play of the drive, the Vikings lost contain and allowed Culpepper to scramble and buy time, allowing WR Keary Colbert to come uncovered and elude a tackle near the sideline after catching the ball. On third-and-9, Colbert's 28-yard gain started the Motown momentum. Kevin Smith followed with runs of 9 and 14 yards, and a combination of offside penalties, a few short runs and a 10-yard pass to TE John Owens helped advance the ball to the 4-yard line before the defense shut the drive down, forcing Jason Hanson on for a 25-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Frerotte turned the ball back over to the Lions in short order when he didn't see LB Ryan Nece drop into coverage and threw it right to him on the second play of his second drive.

Once again, it was the combination of defensive penalties and a long pass play that helped the Lions move into field goal position. On second-and-7, Culpepper found TE Michael Gaines for a 27-yard gain. The good fortunes for the Lions continued when Culpepper fumbled the ball before a handoff and Smith recovered. On the next play, they got the benefit of a questionable call when Fred Evans appeared to drop Smith for a 3-yard loss by hauling him down by his shoulder pads, a tackle that was flagged for a facemask. Eventually, Detroit settled for a 23-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead with 11:39 to play in the second quarter.

The Vikings finally put together a points-scoring drive, picking up the initial first down of the drive on an 8-yard pass to Shiancoe. After another first down, Peterson picked up 12 yards but was originally ruled to have committed his second fumble of the game, a call that was overturned on a challenge. On the next play, Shiancoe got free for 25 yards to set up Ryan Longwell for a 35-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3 with 4:55 to play in the half.

After a defensive stand, the Vikings dangerously gave Detroit another shot when Frerotte's first pass of the drive was batted at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by defensive lineman Corey Smith. He returned it to the 26-yard line and the Lions offense advanced to the 5-yard line. But facing fourth-and-1 there, Culpepper tried to run a sneak that was stuff for no gain to keep the Lions up by only three points in a half that had a lot go their way, from penalties to interceptions to key injuries for the Vikings, who lost WR Darius Reynaud and Jared Allen for some time and Frerotte (lower back) for the game.

The Vikings looked to turn the momentum early in the second half when Allen got a third-down sack and fumble that the Lions were fortunate to recover at the 2-yard line. Despite Detroit being able to punt the ball away, Jackson was able to engineer the Vikings' first touchdown drive of the game.

Shiancoe caught a 9-yard pass and a Detroit penalty gave them a first down across midfield. From there, it was all the ground game. Peterson ran for 9 and 22 yards, and Taylor finished the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run to give Minnesota its first lead of the game, 10-6, at 10:57 of the third quarter.

However, the Vikings gave it back not long afterwards with another penalty that gave a Lions drive new life. The Vikings looked to have Culpepper stopped when LB Chad Greenway sacked him on third down, but Sapp was called for a hold in the secondary. On the next play, Culpepper took a shot from Allen but delivered a perfect strike downfield to Calvin Johnson. The second-year receiver got behind Cedric Griffin and outraced the cornerback and safety Darren Sharper for a 70-yard touchdown to regain the lead for Detroit, 13-10 midway through the third quarter.

The teams traded punts into the fourth quarter before Jackson found a rhythm again. Peterson got the go-ahead drive started with runs of 5 and 8 yards. Jackson then found Bernard Berrian for 16 yards and Taylor for 12 yards to midfield. After a 7-yard run by Peterson, Jackson hit Rice for 15 yards down the right side. Two more Peterson touches picked up a combined 17 yards to the 11-yard line. And, on second-and-8, Jackson rolled out right and threw a strike to Shiancoe for an 11-yard touchdown and a 17-13 Vikings lead with 11:30 to play.

But the Lions wouldn't give up their chance for their first win easily. Smith took the first three touches and gained a combined 32 yards – including a 22-yard reception. On third-and-5, Calvin Johnson made a 6-yard reception before the Lions returned to Smith, who picked up 11 yards on three carries. Facing third-and-11 at the 21-yard line, Culpepper hit Johnson for a sliding 13-yard reception, but the catch was overruled on a Childress challenge and Detroit opted to settle for a 39-yard field goal and a one-point deficit, 17-16, with 5:48 to play.

The Vikings needed a game-sealing drive and did just enough. Peterson started with a 25-yard run, and Bobby Wade made a nice 13-yard third-down reception to keep the chains and the clock moving. Taylor picked up another first down with a 14-yard reception before the Vikings returned to the ground game to ensure the seconds kept ticking away before deciding to call on Longwell for a 50-yard field goal and a 20-16 lead with 22 seconds left.

When the Vikings covered the kickoff adequately, sacks by Ray Edwards and Ellis Wyms essentially ended the game.

Minnesota survived numerous defensive penalties, two Frerotte interceptions, three Peterson fumbles and a 70-yard Calvin Johnson touchdown and still had enough to keep the Lions winless and maintain a one-game lead over the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. They made it hard on themselves, but they improved to 8-5 on the season and still control their playoff fate with three games against winning teams left to decide that fate.


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