Justin Rogers and John Niyo break down the Lions' dismal 24-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Minneapolis — The game started with punter Sam Martin slipping and falling on his backside after booting the opening kickoff, but it was Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford who spent an unsettling amount of time on his back.
Stafford was left battered and bruised, sacked a career-high 10 times by the Minnesota Vikings in a 24-9 loss at U.S Bank Stadium on Sunday.
"I am not happy about it," Lions center Graham Glasgow said. "I am embarrassed. It was a bad day for us and our team. We need to learn from this."
The Vikings (5-3-1) scored on their opening possession and never surrendered the lead, efficiently driving 65 yards on nine plays after Martin's stumble. Running back Latavius Murray capped the series with a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings up 7-0.
After punting on the ensuing drive, Detroit (3-5) worked into the red zone each of its next two possessions, but proved incapable of punching it into the end zone on either trip.
"It was a big deal in the outcome of the game," Stafford said. "If we go into the red zone, we score touchdowns there, then the score of the game would have been a lot different."
An 18-yard completion from Stafford to Marvin Jones on third down, and an illegal hands to the face penalty against Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph gave the Lions first-and-goal from the 4 to start the second quarter. But a false start penalty, stuffed run and throwaway set up the Vikings' first sack of the day on third down.
"Negative plays in the red zone are killer," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "Penalties, negative plays, whether they're in the run game or the pass game, are going to be killer and kill your chances of coming out with a touchdown."
A 35-yard Matt Prater field goal made it 7-3 and cornerback Darius Slay intercepted an errant deep pass on the Vikings’ next drive.
Again, the Lions worked inside the 20 after Stafford scrambled to convert a fourth-and-1 before hitting Kenny Golladay at the 12-yard line. But back-to-back sacks by Danielle Hunter ended the threat, leaving Detroit to settle for a second Prater field goal, again from 35 yards out.
The Vikings wasted little time reasserting control of the contest thanks to a 70-yard run by running back Dalvin Cook, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen.
Cook, playing in his first game in a month due to a hamstring injury, entered the day having rushed for 98 yards on 36 carries.
"It felt great," Cook said. "You get kind of nervous in those situations, but it is how you find out you're good to go. I was good to go then.
Cook's run was the fifth of 40 or more yards allowed by the Lions this season, matching the Oakland Raiders for the most in the league.
Minnesota added a 39-yard Dan Bailey field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter to take a 17-6 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, the Vikings defense turned up the heat, sacking Stafford four times in a scoreless third quarter, before salting the victory away in the fourth and final frame.
After recovering a fumbled pitch to Cook, the Lions successfully converted a fake punt with safety Tavon Wilson taking a direct snap and running for the first down. But two plays later, pressure forced Stafford to bail from the pocket, and as he scrambled, the quarterback made an ill-advised decision to pitch the ball to running back Kerryon Johnson.
Not expecting the pitch, Johnson couldn’t handle the ball. Hunter recovered the fumble, returning it 32 yards for a touchdown.
"I was surprised," Hunter said. "I was like, 'Why would you pitch the ball?' But it worked out in our favor, so I'm happy about that.
The Lions tacked on a meaningless field goal with 1:11 remaining, giving the game its final score.
Stafford finished 25 of 36 passing for 199 yards; he was not intercepted. Johnson had 12 carries for 37 yards.
Jones led the Lions' receivers with 66 yards on six receptions and Theo Riddick caught seven passes for 36 yards.
Kirk Cousins, the former Michigan State star, completed 18 of 22 for 164 yards, with one TD and one interception.
Hunter led the Vikings' 10-sack effort with 3.5 and Tom Johnson had 2.5.
The Lions will head back out on the road next week for another NFC North contest against the Chicago Bears. The Bears maintained their lead in the division on Sunday with a 41-9 thumping of the Buffalo Bills.
"We got a lot of work in front of us," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We have to regroup and keep pushing forward. No one really cares what happens today as we go forward.
"As far as the Bears are concerned, we need to get ready for them," Patricia said. "We've got to get everything corrected and we've got to play better when we get out on the field. We need to learn and get better as soon as we can."