Minneapolis — After going winless on the road last season, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell will have to keep waiting to taste victory away from home. The team’s aggressive play-calling allowed them to twice jump out to double-digit leads on Sunday, but came back to bite them at the end of both halves as the Minnesota Vikings rallied with a touchdown in the final minute to snatch the victory from the Lions’ jaws on Sunday, 28-24.
Taking over with 1:10 remaining and no timeouts after Lions kicker Austin Seibert missed a 54-yard field goal, the Vikings needed just 25 seconds to take the lead. Quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with receiver K.J. Osborn of Ypsilanti on back-to-back throws, both for 28 yards, with the second going into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The dagger came after the Lions (1-2) had controlled the game most of the afternoon. In the first half, the Lions lived and died by the sword, reaping the rewards of aggressive fourth-down decisions, but also paying the price when failing to execute on one of those play calls late in the second quarter.
After the two sides each missed a long field goal with their opening possession, the Lions jumped out to a 14-point advantage. Taking over near midfield following Vikings kicker Greg Joseph sending his 56-yard effort wide right, the Lions needed just six plays to open the scoring.
Running back Jamaal Williams got the series started on a high note, making a tackler miss for a 17-yard reception out of the backfield, but the Lions quickly found themselves facing fourth-and-five. Not eager to attempt a 49-yard field goal, a decision was made to go for it and quarterback Jared Goff connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown, running a shallow crossing pattern, for a 30-yard gain down to the 2-yard line. From there, Williams was able to punch it across the goal line running behind the left side of the offensive line, putting the Lions up, 7-0.
Following a Vikings punt, the Lions extended the lead with a 12-play touchdown drive. Williams opened the possession with a pair of carries for 17 yards before converting a fourth-and-one. With a fresh set of downs, Goff hit Josh Reynolds out of play-action for 17 yards into the red zone and found tight end T.J. Hockenson wide open two plays later for a 5-yard score.
Goff finished the day with an efficient stat line, completing 25-of-41 passes for 277 yards, the touchdown and an interception that ended the Lions’ final drive. Perhaps most impressively, he routinely avoided pressure in the pocket and wasn’t sacked while playing behind a makeshift offensive line, playing with its third different starting five in three weeks.
The Vikings (2-1) got on the board the ensuing possession, doing much of the damage on the 11-play drive on the ground. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 39 yards on five carries, setting up Minnesota’s play-action offense. A defensive pass interference call at the goal line against nickel cornerback Mike Hughes led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen, who was open after a busted coverage assignment.
After three successful conversions, the Lions would go for it on fourth down again 5:04 remaining in the half, but Goff’s throw to Hockenson was broken up by linebacker Eric Kendricks. Even if the catch had been made, it would have been short of the line to gain.
With the short field, the Vikings converted their own fourth down after Thielen found a hole in the zone coverage for a 6-yard gain. That was his first of three first-down receptions on the series, which was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Cook. The star back was able to go untouched around the left edge, tying the game at 14 at the half.
Detroit’s defense rebounded coming out of the break, forcing a three-and-out for the first time in the contest, and the Lions’ offense responded in kind, converting yet another fourth-down attempt when Goff escaped pressure and found Chark for a 16-yard gain to the Vikings 30-yard line. The drive quickly stalled from there, but Seibert’s 40-yard field goal put the Lions back ahead, 17-14, early in the third quarter.
The Vikings tried to keep pace with Cook rushing four straight plays for 29 yards, but stalled at the Lions’ 38. That led to another 56-yard attempt by Joseph, which he again missed wide right.
Following the miss, Detroit moved quickly, crossing midfield with a third-down conversion by St. Brown. From there, Goff fired a bullet to Reynolds for a 26-yard gain across the middle and Williams got free around the right side for a 13-yard touchdown run, pushing Detroit’s lead back to two scores, 24-14.
Shouldering a bigger load with D’Andre Swift banged up coming into the contest, Williams led Detroit’s efforts on the ground, finishing with 87 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
The Vikings looked poised to respond, but after crossing midfield, Cook fumbled after running into a teammate. The loose ball was recovered by Lions safety DeShon Elliott, ending the threat and preserving the Lions’ 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
To make matters worse for the Vikings, Cook was ruled out for the remainder of the game having suffered a shoulder injury on the play. He finished with 98 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
After trading punts through the early stages of the final quarter, the Vikings cut the Lions’ lead to three with 7:50 remaining. Taking over at their own 43-yard line after a subpar punt from Jack Fox, the Vikings needed just six plays, and three defensive penalties, to get into the end zone.
Little-used tight end Johnny Mundt caught two first down passes and Mattison, filling in for Cook, finished the drive with an authoritative 6-yard touchdown run, plowing through a tackle attempt by safety JuJu Hughes before crossing the goal line.
The Lions killed more than four minutes off the clock driving into Vikings territory, before facing fourth-and-one at the 30-yard line. Not surprisingly, given the play-calling aggression throughout the afternoon, the offense stayed on the field. But a handoff to Williams was stopped short, giving the ball back to Minnesota with 3:30 remaining.
But the defense proved up to the challenge. After struggling throughout the afternoon, cornerback Amani Oruwariye didn’t allow a completion on throws his direction on either third or fourth down, resulting in the ball being turned back over the to the Lions.
Detroit had a chance to put it away, but couldn’t run out the remaining clock. Instead of punting the ball deep, the Lions stayed aggressive, but Seibert missed a 54-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining, giving the Vikings a short field, albeit with no timeouts.
That didn’t matter as Cousins hooked up with Osborn twice to put the Vikings up, 28-24, with 45 seconds remaining.
The Lions return home to face the Seahawks next Sunday at Ford Field.
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