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.
And it was his decision to attempt a long field goal in the closing minutes of Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium that arguably cost his team a game it had control of heading into the fourth quarter.
After deploying an aggressive game plan all afternoon, Campbell opted to reverse course at the game’s most critical moment, sending kicker Austin Seibert out for a 54-yard field goal with a little more than a minute remaining and the Lions nursing a three-point lead. The kick ended up being wide right, breathing fresh life into the Vikings’ comeback effort after entering the final quarter trailing by 10.
“As far as me, I frickin’ regret my decision there at the end,” Campbell lamented after the game. “Should have gone for it on fourth down. I told the team that. I should have gone for it.”
Campbell said he was weighing three options in the moment, but he declined to go into specifics as to not reveal the team’s thinking to a future opponent. He did not say that punting was one of the options being considered, but it was never the primary choice.
Alternatively, the Lions would have gone for it on fourth-and-4. The team had already gone for it on fourth down six times in the contest, converting on four occasions.
The Vikings, taking over with 1:10 remaining and no timeouts, 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.
Despite calling a timeout before the touchdown, the Lions secondary had what Campbell and the players involved called a communication breakdown the play, which saw Osborn run open past the coverage of cornerback Mike Hughes, who appeared to be looking for safety help over the top.
“I won’t throw anybody under the bus or anything,” Hughes said. “We just all gotta communicate and make sure everybody is on the same page.”
That 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-5. 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, with 6:44 left in the first quarter.
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-1. 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, a desperation heave while trying to respond to the Vikings’ go-ahead score. Perhaps most impressively, he routinely avoided pressure in the pocket and wasn’t sacked while playing behind a makeshift offensive line that was deploying 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 Hughes led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen, who was open after a busted coverage assignment, which cornerback Amani Oruwariye chalked up to another communication error.
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.
Unlike kicking a field goal at the end of the game, Campbell had no regrets regarding this fourth-down decision.
“When you’re going to be as aggressive as we were, there’s going to be some give and take with it,” Campbell said. “I don’t regret that. I kind of felt like that was in the flow of the game. You’re going to win some and lose some.”
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 Reynolds 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, with 8:36 left 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, at the 2:08 mark.
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 96 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.
“Alex’s run for a touchdown, that’s a man’s run,” Cousins said. “Eventually there’s an unblocked player and hemakes that guy miss, runs through an arm tackle. It’s just a big time run.”
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The Lions killed more than four minutes off the clock driving into Vikings territory, before facing fourth-and-1 at the 30-yard line. Not surprisingly, given the aggressive play-calling 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, 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, or staying aggressive, the Lions went for the long field goal, which ended up 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.