Lions stymie Vikes, return to first
Detroit — In a team meeting Saturday night, Lions coach Jim Caldwell shared a quotation from the Chinese military strategy book, "The Art of War," that, in many ways, summarizes the team's season to this point.
"Opportunities multiply as they are seized," safety Glover Quin said, recalling the line from the meeting.
With the Green Bay Packers (10-4) losing to the Buffalo Bills, 21-13, Sunday, the Lions had an opportunity to draw even in the NFC North, and they knew it because the public address announcer shared the score before the rare 4:25 p.m. game at Ford Field. And as they have most of the 2014 season, the Lions took advantage of the opportunity before them, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-14, despite trailing 14-0 in the first quarter.
Though the Green Bay loss gives the Lions (10-4) a lead atop the division because of their Week 3 win over the Packers, the Week 17 matchup will still likely decide which team wins the NFC North and which team has a first-round bye. But with just two games left in the season, the Lions are starting to sense their playoff dreams could come true.
"We can taste it, man," said defensive end Jason Jones, who blocked a 26-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that could've been the difference in the game. "It's right there in front of us. We've been in control, the driver's seat, the whole year, and right now we've just got to keep putting the pedal to the floor and keep moving."
Caldwell, meanwhile, has every intention of keeping his team focused on the next opportunity, which comes next Sunday in Chicago against the Bears.
"I hope he's talking about tasting practice next week," Caldwell said when told of Jones' remarks.
To win Sunday's game, the Lions needed a few game-changing plays. Quin and Darius Slay each caught an interception, and the Lions sacked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater four times. Minnesota started with a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Lions held the Vikings to just 247 yards in the final three quarters.
"We just had to do what we do," Quin said, explaining that most lapses by the Lions' No. 2 defense this season have been self-inflicted.
The biggest play of the game, though, was on special teams. Leading 14-13, the Vikings (6-8) sent Blair Walsh on for a 26-yard field goal, but Jones blocked the chip shot with 7:47 left after he and the rest of the defensive line created penetration. Jones had penetration on an extra point earlier in the game, and center Dominic Raiola optimistically called the block.
And on the ensuing drive, Joique Bell had four carries for 31 yards, Calvin Johnson had a 23-yard catch, and Matt Prater made a 33-yard field goal to give the Lions a 16-14 lead with 3:38 left in regulation.
The Vikings had a couple drives to take the lead back, but they had a three-and-out after Prater's field goal. They started the final drive with 45 seconds left, and Walsh's 68-yard attempt fell a few yards short.
Matthew Stafford receives credit for his 16th career game-winning drive, though he did struggle and finished 17 of 28 for 153 yards and one touchdown. But the Lions didn't have any turnovers, and the two by the Vikings completed shifted the game.
Lions finished 7-1 at home for the first time since 1995.
"Sometimes, it's not going to be pretty. We've lost pretty ones. It's nice to win an ugly one," Stafford said. "It's part of being a good football team is finding ways to win when you don't play your best in any of the phases, but we rallied together in the second half and made enough plays to win it."
Bell had 103 yards from scrimmage, 62 rushing and 41 receiving, Johnson had four catches for 53 yards and Golden Tate had seven catches for 38 yards, including the Lions' only touchdown.
Bridgewater finished 31 of 41 for 315 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also missed a pass to Jarius Wright that would've set up a shorter field-goal try on the game's final drive, and the Vikings looked lost trying to beat the clock.
The Lions offense was a mess at the start, opening the game with four straight three-and-outs. Luckily for Detroit, the Vikings missed their first scoring opportunity as Walsh's 53-yard field goal try on their first drive sailed wide right.
But the Vikings started the scoring later in the first quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Matt Asiata. An impressive, 26-yard sideline catch by Greg Jennings, which Lions coach Jim Caldwell unsuccessfully challenged, helped set up the score.
Minnesota scored on its next possession, too, on an 8-yard pass from Bridgewater to Jennings that gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead with 10:05 left in the second quarter. Another big pass, a 40-yarder to Charles Johnson, put the Vikings in scoring position.
The Lions finally gained a first down with 9:27 left in the second quarter on a 6-yard, second-down run by Bell, but after punting four plays later, they needed their defense to provide a lift.
And as has happened so often this season, Quin caught an interception and reversed the Lions' fortune. On an overthrown pass to Charles Johnson, Quin, who has six interceptions this season, was in perfect position for the pick and returned it to the Minnesota 11.
Two plays after the turnover, the Lions scored on a 7-yard pass from Stafford to Tate to cut the deficit to 14-7 with 3:42 left in the second quarter.
The Lions defense came up with another game-changing play on the second play of the ensuing drive as Slay intercepted Bridgewater on an off-target pass to Jennings.
With two catches and a run by Tate, the Lions reached the Minnesota 13, but the drive stalled soon after. The Lions settled for a 29-yard field goal by Prater as the first half ended.
The only scoring in the second half was two Prater field goals, the game-winner and a 30-yarder with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
"We've been having plenty of opportunities, and right now down the stretch, opportunities have continued to multiply as long as we continue to seize each and every game," Quin said. "As long as we continue to take care of our end, we'll have plenty of opportunities to continue playing. We've got to just continue to stay locked in and stay focused and make sure we don't take any opportunity we have for granted."