Detroit — Lions rookie safety Miles Killebrew is beginning to make his mark when it matters most — on third downs.
After receiving an uptick in playing time last week, Killebrew made the most of his opportunities once again, finishing with four third-down tackles in Thursday’s 16-13 Thanksgiving Day win over the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field.
“Miles has done a great job. He’s come a long way,” safety Glover Quin said. “He’s learning and the role that he’s playing for us is huge. He’s making some big plays for us on third down.”
On the Vikings’ final drive of the first half, Killebrew took down tight end Kyle Rudolph after a 5-yard gain on a third-and-14 to give the Lions a chance to add to their lead going into halftime.
Then on the Vikings’ first possession of the second half, Killebrew stopped running back Jerick McKinnon well short of the first-down marker on a third-and-9 to force another punt.
Killebrew’s most impressive play came on the Vikings’ next drive on a third-and-5 at the Lions’ 15-yard line. Quarterback Sam Bradford connected with running back Matt Asiata over the middle on a short pass and Killebrew flew in to make the open-field tackle, holding Minnesota to a field goal that tied it at 10 with 7:03 left in the third quarter.
“(Lions coach Jim Caldwell) has been using me in that third-down package and I’ve just been trying to do my job. Whatever the job is defined for that game, I just try to get that done,” Killebrew said. “I’m just trying to earn their trust by making plays.
“I feel more comfortable with each week and that’s a testament to (Caldwell) for allowing me to get out there and get comfortable. I’m just excited moving forward to see how I can contribute to help the team.”
Last week against the Jaguars, Killebrew made an impact with five third-down tackles, all of which led to punts.
“I learned very quickly that, you get to see the field more, the better you do,” Killebrew said with a laugh. “I’m just trying to keep grinding, keep my nose down, keep working and as long as I keep doing what the coaches ask of me, I fully expect to be able to help contribute.”
On the Vikings’ opening possession, Quin picked off Bradford’s pass to Laquon Treadwell, only to have it waved off due to a pass interference call on cornerback Darius Slay.
But Slay made up for it when it mattered most, intercepting Bradford in the final minute of the fourth quarter to set up Matt Prater’s winning field goal.
“I’m glad Slay came back and got the pick at the end,” Quin said. “I kept saying that one’s going to come back around some kind of way. They called that one back, I knew it was going to come back around. Somebody was going to get it. Slay came back and made the play.”
Slay nearly fumbled while he was being tackled but was ruled down by contact. According to referee Carl Cheffers, the play was reviewed and confirmed.
“That play naturally goes to review. It’s an automatic review because it’s inside of two minutes, and it’s also a change of possession,” Cheffers said. “The replay official confirmed the ruling on the field (without the need to stop the game) that his right knee was down prior to any loss of possession.”
Linebacker DeAndre Levy’s return was put on hold as he and defensive tackle Khryi Thornton were sidelined with injuries for the Lions. Also inactive were offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, guard Joe Dahl, running back Justin Forsett, quarterback Jake Rudock and safety Don Carey.
The Vikings were without several key players due to injury, including receiver Stefon Diggs — who set a career high with 13 receptions in the first meeting — cornerback Terence Newman, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and return man Marcus Sherels.
… Stafford is tied for the most fourth-quarter/overtime winning drives (seven) in a season by a quarterback since 1950, according to profootballreference.com.
… The Lions have held their opponents to 20 points or fewer in five consecutive games, the first season they’ve accomplished that feat since 1991.
… The Lions improved to 37-38-2 on Thanksgiving and won their fourth straight on the holiday.