Dan Campbell threw his arms in the air, fists clenched in jubilation.
Jared Goff sprinted to his coach on the sideline, and the two embraced in a big bear hug.
After 11 games of shock, frustration and sometimes pitiful play, the Detroit Lions finally got a late-game break to go their way.
Goff rebounded from two fourth-quarter turnovers and the Lions overcame a questionable late-game coaching decision by Campbell that backfired to win their first game of the season, 29-27, on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown as time expired.
The Lions, 1-10-1, had been the only winless team in the NFL, and had lost three times on field goals as time expired, including to the Vikings earlier this season in Minnesota, 19-17.
They had not won a game in 364 days, since beating the Chicago Bears in Darrell Bevell’s first game as interim coach, Dec. 6, 2020.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Campbell said. “I’m happy for them, of course I’m happy. We’re all happy. I’m happy for the coaches, I’m happy for everybody. But it’s like, you want this so bad for the players because they’re the ones who put in all the hard work and the sweat and the tears. And yeah, we all do — and so do the coaches. But it’s also, that’s what makes this great. When you lose, it hurts. It’s hard. But it’s also why winning is so great in this league. Because it’s not easy to do and when you get them, man, it’s special.”
The Lions played their best offensive football of the season in Sunday’s first half, then nearly wilted under pressure in the final nine minutes before closing an emotional week with a flurry.
Campbell dedicated a game ball to Oxford five days after a shooting at Oxford High rattled the community, killing four and injuring seven others. The Lions wore a decal of a gold “O” on their helmet during the game, and wore “Oxford Wildcats” T-shirts in early pregame warmups.
“Sometimes special things happen in special circumstances and I think you saw yesterday what Michigan did against Iowa and then us today getting our first win,” Goff said, choking back emotion. “You hope to be a light for those people and a positive thing that they can have fun watching today.”
Leading 23-21 with just under 9 minutes to play, Goff threw his seventh interception of the season when he tried to squeeze a pass to T.J. Hockenson through two defenders as St. Brown ran wide open across the other side of the field.
The Lions forced their first punt of the second half on the ensuring possession, with the help of two Vikings penalties, and started their next drive at their own 19-yard line with a chance to run the final 5:32 off the clock.
Jamaal Williams was stopped for no gain on third-and-1, leaving the Lions inches short of a first down at their own 28-yard line with 4:08 on the clock.
Rather than punt, Campbell called a play-action pass, but Blake Lynch came unblocked off the edge and ripped a fumble out of Goff’s hands as Goff cocked his arm to throw.
The Vikings (5-7) took over at the Lions’ 19-yard line, and Kirk Cousins threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson with 1:50 left that seemed to seal the Lions’ fate of another loss.
Instead, Goff answered with a touchdown drive, moving the Lions methodically downfield. He completed 9 of 14 passes — two incompletions were spikes to stop the clock — to get the Lions in a fourth-and-2 from the 11-yard line with 4 seconds left.
The Lions ran an end-of-game play Goff said they have worked weekly since training camp, splitting three receivers to the left of scrimmage with Josh Reynolds isolated to the right.
St. Brown, split widest to the left, found a soft spot in Minnesota’s zone between cornerback Cameron Dantzler and safety Xavier Woods, for an easy touchdown catch that sent the Lions sideline into a frenzy.
He said he was surprised the Vikings played so loose in coverage.
“It was actually crazy,” St. Brown said. “I think he was like 3 or 4 yards deep in the end zone, and shoot, I only needed to get a yard or a centimeter in to score. To see him so far off, I knew it was going to be a good play, I just didn’t know what was inside of me and as I broke in, I knew it was a big, big chance of it being a touchdown. Jared saw it and the rest is history.”
St. Brown finished with career-highs 10 catches and 86 yards as the Lions topped 20 points in a game for the first time since Week 1. Goff, who had his best passing day since Week 4, completed 25 of 41 passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns and said his sideline celebration with Campbell was a “pretty cathartic feeling.”
“We’ve been close to some of these and to get it in a situation like that, on the last play of the game, it’s special, man, and I know the work that he’s put in and I know how much blood, sweat and tears goes in it for him, and how important it is,” Goff said. “The scratching and clawing we’ve been doing every week since the first week and the things we’ve done wrong and the things we’ve fixed and just being able to make sure he knew that we love him and are behind him.”
Kirk Cousins finished 30 of 40 passing for 340 yards, and Jefferson had 11 catches for 182 yards for the Vikings.