Lions' bruising defense stymies Vikings
Minneapolis — The "Black and Blue Division" nickname has largely faded from relevancy, but the Detroit Lions’ 14-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings hearkened back to those days where the knock-down, drag-out nature of the battles between the geographical rivals left the participants a little sorer than normal the next day.
The Lions came to Minnesota and won the old-fashioned way, with an efficient ground game and physical defense. That’s not exactly what you’re used to seeing from this team.
The defense, which held the Vikings in check much of the day, rubber stamped the victory with a pair of game-sealing plays by two of this season’s top performers.
Clinging to the seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter, and the Minnesota Vikings on the march, defensive end Anthony Zettel came out of his stance like he was shot from a cannon and dropped Vikings quarterback Case Keenum for an 11-yard loss, all but ending that threat.
“Everybody threw us under the bus at the beginning of the year because you don’t live the life we live,” Zettel said. “I think you guys are slowly starting to realize we’ve got a tough group and we play hard.”
After the Lions went three-and-out, the Vikings (2-2) got a final shot with just under two minutes remaining, but on the first play, safety Glover Quin punched the ball free from receiver Adam Thielen after a reception and linebacker Tahir Whitehead recovered.
“We played good zone coverage and I that’s why I was able to make that play happen,” Quin said. “He made a safe pass and I was able to come from the backside, and when he caught it, he turned to run away while putting the ball in the opposite hand. and that’s when I knew I had the chance to make a big play like that.”
For the afternoon, the Lions held the Vikings under 300 yards of offense, under 100 on the ground and scored three turnovers, all fumble recoveries.
On the other side, things didn’t go much better for the Lions’ offense. The unit struggled to sustain drives and keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright. He was sacked six times in the victory, but thanks to a competent ground game, led by Ameer Abdullah’s career-high 94 yards rushing, it was enough to get the job done.
“We just moved the line of scrimmage,” Abdullah said. “It’s something we always preach when we go into our run-game meetings, is establishing a new line of scrimmage from where it started. Those guys did it consistently, all night.”
The defensive struggle was well under way before the Lions broke the scoreless tie with a 29-yard Matt Prater field goal midway through the second quarter. After the teams had traded four punts, the Lions drove 82 yards on 15 plays to set up the score.
Stafford found Marvin Jones for 38 yards down the left sideline on 3rd-and-17 to extend the series, but a sack in the red zone stalled the threat.
The Vikings went on top before the half, 7-3, when rookie running back Dalvin Cook waltzed into the end zone from five yards out. The Lions (3-1) struggled to bottle up Cook in the first half, allowing him to churn out 52 yards on 11 carries.
But the momentum started to swing in the Lions’ favor early in the second half when Zettel recovered a botched handoff out of the wildcat formation, setting up a second Prater field goal.
The Vikings coughed it up again on their next possession, when Cook suffered a non-contact injury coming through the hole and dropped the ball, which was scooped up by Whitehead.
Cook did not return and it has been reported he suffered an ACL tear.
Taking advantage of the short field following the turnover, the Lions moved 29 yards into the end zone in five plays, capped by a two-yard run by Abdullah.
The back appeared to be bottled up in the backfield, but found a lane and dove, extending for the goal line. He was initially ruled a foot short, but the Lions challenge and it was determined he did break the plane before his knee touched.
“A great run,” Stafford said. “That’s one of those I’m talking about where initially it looked like there wasn’t much there and our guys up front kept pushing.”
The Vikings had an opportunity to cut the deficit late in the third quarter, but kicker Kai Forbath clanged a 39-yard field goal off the right upright.
The Lions return home next week to face the Carolina Panthers (3-1), who went on the road and upended the defending Super Bowl champions Patriots on Sunday, 33-30.