Detroit — Darius Slay has a lot to be thankful for this year. He got engaged, has a second child on the way and inked a lucrative contract extension with the Lions this season. On Thursday, he decided to give a little something back.
With less than a minute remaining in a 13-13 game, Slay stepped in front of a Sam Bradford pass intended for receiver Adam Theilen, intercepting the ball and setting up Matt Prater’s winning field goal as the Lions edged the Minnesota Vikings, 16-13 in a critical NFC North matchup.
It was Prater’s fourth winning field goal this season, allowing the Lions (7-4) to sweep the season series from the Vikings (6-5), essentially extending their NFC North lead to two games by virtue of the tie-breaker.
“I don’t even worry about that stuff,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “It means we haven’t done anything, so we’ve got to keep working and keep getting better. We don’t talk about those things. We don’t look at them.”
Slay’s interception bailed out the Lions offense that crashed like it had gorged on Thanksgiving dinner.
Feeding off the raucous Ford Field crowd, Detroit came out swinging. Led by quarterback Matthew Stafford completing all six of his passes, the offense carved up Minnesota, driving 75 yards on 12 plays.
In the red zone and facing third down, Stafford zipped a pass to Anquan Boldin though the tiniest of windows for the conversion. On the next snap, the quarterback ducked under a pass-rusher and found Boldin in the back of the end zone for the 2-yard score.
“He’s been really good,” Stafford said. “(He’s) made some big-time catches for us and he and I are on the same page the majority of the time, which is good.”
The Vikings responded with a 12-play scoring drive of their own, ducking two near turnovers en route. At the Lions 20, defensive end Ziggy Ansah hit Bradford from behind, jarring the ball loose. Haloti Ngata scooped up the fumble, but the review showed Bradford’s arm was coming forward, reversing the call on the field to an incomplete pass.
Lions kicker talks about the defense helping set the stage for his winning 40-yard field goal Thursday at Ford Field.
On the next play, a third-and-8, Bradford’s pass to Laquan Treadwell was deflected by Slay and intercepted by Glover Quin. This time, the turnover was negated by a pass interference flag against Slay who had grabbed Treadwell’s jersey before the ball arrived.
“I thought I was in great position to make that play,” Slay said. “I don’t know what he called there, but I still made up for it.”
Three plays later, Vikings running back Matt Asiata punched it into the end zone from 5 yards out to knot the score at 7.
The teams traded punts before the Lions managed to retake the lead. Stafford found Golden Tate for a 41-yard completion early in the drive, leading to a 29-yard Prater field goal with 6:45 remaining in the first half. The Lions almost got back into the end zone, but Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes made a diving breakup on a pass intended for Marvin Jones, preventing the score.
The Vikings tied the score in the third quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Kai Forbath. They worked their way down the field when running back Jerrick McKinnon took advantage of a busted coverage to gain 41 yards on a check-down from Bradford. But Lions safety Miles Killebrew made a key third-down stop in the red zone to limit the damage.
On the day, the Vikings went 2-for-10 on third down.
“Those were huge,” Caldwell said. “Any time you can hold a team to those kinds of numbers, that’s a pretty good effort.”
Still, Minnesota managed to take control in the fourth quarter, driving 76 yards on 13 plays, doing most of the damage on the ground. But another third-down stop in the red zone, this one by linebacker Tahir Whitehead, forced Minnesota to settle for another field goal, putting them up 13-10 with 12:38 remaining.
The score kept alive the Lions’ streak of trailing in the fourth quarter of every game.
Detroit drew even when Stafford took the team from the shadow of its own goalpost 68 yards in 10 plays. The drive stalled at the Vikings 30, but Prater remained perfect in his career in fourth quarter and overtime situations to tie the score or take the lead, knocking home a 48-yarder with 1:45 on the clock.
“I was disappointed we didn’t go 98 (yards) and score (a touchdown),” Stafford said. “I wanted that so bad, but No. 1 thing there is get it out from your own end line. We did that in two plays and then the air is back in the balloon.”
The Vikings had one last shot to put the game away, but on third-and-7, Slay snagged the pick, setting up Prater’s 40-yard winner.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Slay said. “I knew he was going to throw. They didn’t want to go to overtime. They knew what happened the last time went to overtime.”
The Lions beat the Vikings in overtime earlier this month, 22-16.