Had the Vikings lost Sunday's game, the turning point clearly would have been the inability to put the Lions away in the second half when the team had a handful of chance to do so. That said, it took Mike Tice and his coaching staff until the final eight minutes to go back to the Vikings bread and butter to create the turning point in this Lions game.
It's no secret that the Vikings have the top rushing offense in the NFL this year. But, for much of the game, the Vikings were bent on going after the young cornerbacks from the Lions — even with a big lead they didn't return to the ground game. That is, until their lead was truly threatened in the final minutes.
With 7:49 to play, the Vikings led 35-30 and Detroit needed to get its defense on and off the field as quickly as possible. The Vikings continued their insistence on passing, and it worked with a 24-yard pass to Kelly Campbell to get the ball to midfield. Then, knowing that even if the team failed to score valuable time could be milked from the clock, Tice asked his offense to prove it was the best rushing unit in the NFL.
The offense did just that. A pair of Michael Bennett runs and a 1-yard plunge by Moe Williams (poorly spotted) left the Vikings with fourth-and-inches. Tice went for the first down and Daunte Culpepper burrowed for the needed yardage. From there, the Vikings got Detroit to burn its remaining time outs, as Williams broke a 25-yard run and then worked the clock with three more carries inside the 10-yard line. With no time outs left, the Vikings worked the clock down to 1:09 and kicked a field goal to take a 38-30 lead.
While Detroit did march down to score with 13 seconds to play, the Vikings' ability to eat almost seven minutes off the clock by running the ball and assuring that they couldn't lose the game on the final drive was a sign that the team has the ability to put games away when needed (solid defense or not). The running game in 2002 could have been the Vikings' biggest area of improvement over the previous season, and it could prove to be just as necessary when the Vikings look to milk more leads next year.
Turning Point: Rushing Attack
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