November 12, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Josh Katzenstein: NFL Monday Countdown

Support players can't deliver for Lions when they need it most

Erik Coleman is taken out of the play as Adrian Peterson is off on a 61-yard TD run in the fourth quarter Sunday. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Nobody stepped up.

In the NFL, games are often decided by the unsung heroes.

Stars like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson can only take a team so far, and the Lions can afford to take some tips from the Vikings — who beat them 34-24 Sunday — on how to win games against quality foes.

How many NFL fans had heard of Jarius Wright before Sunday? The Vikings drafted the Arkansas wide receiver in the fourth round in 2012 and he hadn't played in a game until Sunday.

With star receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) out, the Vikings activated Wright for the first time, and sure enough, he stepped up. On Minnesota's first drive, Wright raced past Lions safety Erik Coleman on a simple go route and caught a 54-yard pass to put the Vikings at the 1. Two plays later, Wright caught a 3-yard touchdown.

Coleman is on the list of guys whose inspired play helped lead the Lions to their last two victories, but in a divisional game against a Vikings team also gunning for a wild-card spot, Coleman and the rest of the unsung heroes were nowhere to be found.

Rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff helped the Lions rush for 149 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-14 thrashing of the Jaguars last week, but he couldn't spring any big runs against Minnesota.

According to the official play-by-play, the Lions had five rushes for 1, -1, 2, 0 and 3 yards when Reiff reported eligible. The play-by-play likely left out some run plays that included Reiff because the NFL's Game Statistics and Information System listed him playing 21 snaps, but those five runs provide an appropriate window into a sub-par game for the Lions' run blocking.

And what about Mikel Leshoure, who had 16 carries for 70 yards and three touchdowns last week? He finished with just 43 yards on 13 carries Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Ryan Broyles had an illegal block that helped stall the Lions' opening drive and finished with one 6-yard reception. Titus Young, who caught nine passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 8 win over the Seahawks, had just four catches for 35 yards Sunday, though one was a touchdown. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew only caught three of the nine passes thrown to him.

Defensive linemen Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson played more snaps against Minnesota after Cliff Avril suffered a concussion in the second quarter, but the reserves finished with a combined three tackles, all by Jackson.

Safety Ricardo Silva dove and missed tight end Kyle Rudolph on his 20-yard touchdown catch. Cornerback Jacob Lacey didn't aggressively pursue Rudolph and was easily blocked at the 7 after the catch.

Then, after the Vikings' lesser-known players spent three-plus quarters beating their Detroit counterparts, their star sealed the game. Running back Adrian Peterson broke a 61-yard run to give the Vikings an insurmountable 31-17 lead with 8:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Lions blitzed, and Silva, the only player with a real chance at stopping Peterson, took a bad angle.

Johnson finished with 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown, and Stafford had 329 passing yards and three touchdowns. But it wasn't enough.

The non-stars helped the Lions win three of their previous four games, but didn't step up Sunday.

Around the NFC North

Two-thirds of the division action happened in Minneapolis.

The Lions fell to 4-5, and the Vikings improved to 6-4 and are now just 1.5 games behind Chicago (7-2).

That's because the Bears' six-game winning streak cam to an end Sunday night when they fell to the Texans, 13-6, at Soldier Field.

Pundits will discuss the loss of quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) as the reason the Bears lost Sunday, but that's outrageous.

In a half of play, Cutler was 7-of-14 for 40 yards and two interceptions, and the Bears trailed 10-3. The Texans were simply the better team.

The Packers (6-3) had a bye week, but moved within a game of the division lead. They visit Ford Field Sunday.

The Vikings are off this week, and the Bears travel to San Francisco.

Falcons' perfect run ends

It had to be the Saints, right?

The 8-0 Falcons were halfway to a perfect season, but they hadn't played their biggest rival yet in 2012.

And when the Saints finally had a chance to stop perfection, they took advantage, winning 31-27 in a wild finish.

The Falcons jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but the Saints stormed back to a 28-17 lead in the third quarter.

Down by the final four-point deficit, the Falcons drove to the Saints' 1 within the final three minutes, but failed to score on three plays inside the 2.

After the game, New Orleans linebacker Scott Shanle told Yahoo Sports the Saints "own" their "little brothers," and he's right. Since 2006, the Saints are 11-2 against Atlanta.

Watch out for the Bucs

Let's keep it in the NFC South, where Tampa Bay (5-4) is just a half-game out of the wild card.

The Bucs let the crashing-and-burning Chargers jump out to a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, but they woke up eventually and went on to a 34-24 victory.

Rookie running back Doug Martin had 119 yards from scrimmage, ho-hum for him compared to the past couple games. Quarterback Josh Freeman also continued his tear, posting a 137.5 passer rating, his fifth game in a row higher than 100.

The Bucs are still behind Green Bay and Seattle (6-4) in the wild-card race. They're also a half game behind the Vikings, but hold the tiebreaker (a 36-17 Week 8 win) if it comes to that.

Fortunately for Tampa, only three of its remaining seven games are against teams above .500, including two against the mortal Falcons.

jkatzenstein@detnews.com

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