Lions' losing streak hits 3 as Vikings carve up Detroit defense
Detroit — A failed fourth-down attempt, and a subsequently surrendered touchdown following the turnover proved to be the turning point in the Minnesota Vikings' 42-30 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field.
The loss, the Lions' third straight, wasted a four-touchdown effort by wide receiver Marvin Jones.
Down four points, Detroit's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from Minnesota's 41-yard line with just under nine minutes remaining was necessitated by the game's frantic scoring pace. But quarterback Matthew Stafford was unable to thread a tight-window pass to running back J.D. McKissic, resulting in a change of possession.
"Yeah, we tried a little play-action pass to the left, they played it really well," Stafford said. "Kind of covered No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 (pass option). I tried to sneak one in there to J.D. and it didn’t work."
With the short field, the Vikings did what they did much of the afternoon, putting together a touchdown drive behind a balanced offensive attack. Three straight runs by running back Dalvin Cook for a total of 32 yards set up a 15-yard touchdown toss from Kirk Cousins to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
"Obviously they just did a great job of running the ball. They knocked us off the line of scrimmage," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "He’s a great running back. He’s a strong runner, we know that. We know he can do a lot of things on the field. We know how dangerous they are in the run game. When you don’t get that settled down, then the play-action game and the balls downfield — those are really hard to defend. We have to do a better job of it all the way across the board — starting with me — then we’ll go from there."
The Lions managed to respond with a 10-play touchdown drive that took just 2:35 off the clock. Jones finished the series with his fourth touchdown grab of the day. Kenny Golladay was unable to hang on to a 2-point conversion, leaving the Lions down five with 3:05 remaining.
But instead of attempting to run out the clock, the Vikings went for a death blow. Out of play-action, Cousins found Stefan Diggs on a bomb for 66 yards down to Detroit's 4. Two plays later, Cook plunged in for his second touchdown of the day, putting the Vikings up by the final margin with 1:55 remaining.
"We wanted to stay aggressive," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "They were moving the ball really well, and we felt like we had to. It was a play that we had up off of a play-action, and we had a chance to get Diggs in space. There wasn’t much conversation — it was like — we didn’t come here to cower down, we came here to try and hit it."
Cousins, the Michigan State product, finished 24 of 34 for 337 yards and four touchdowns, with Diggs collected 142 yards on seven catches. Cook rumbled for 142 yards and two touchdowns, as the Vikings rolled up 503 yards of total offense.
The second half's theatrics were merely a continuation of the first half, with the two teams matching touchdown for touchdown, combining for 42 points.
Both the Lions and Vikings actually punted on their opening possessions, with Detroit losing an opportunity for early points after long snapper Don Muhlbach was flagged for a false start prior to a field goal try, pushing the team just outside of kicker Matt Prater's range.
After getting the ball back, the Lions went to the vertical passing game that's worked so well this season. Stafford's deep throw to Marvin Jones didn't result in a completion, but a defensive pass interference against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes netted the same result.
A third-down completion from Stafford to Danny Amendola into the red zone set up Jones' first touchdown of the day. The receiver caught a short pass near the right sideline, dodged a tackle attempt by Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes (Michigan State) and picked up a block from rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson, gliding across the goal line for a 16-yard score.
"By no means when I cut it loose was I going, ‘Oh yeah, touchdown,’" Stafford said. "He made a great play."
The Vikings wasted little time responding, thanks to a pair of successful crossing patterns out of play-action. The first, to rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr., gained 28, before quarterback Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
Thielen, a Pro Bowler the past two seasons, suffered a hamstring injury on the play and didn't return. The Lions also dealt with injury issues in the first half. Cornerback Darius Slay (hamstring) and running back Kerryon Johnson (knee) both exited early and didn't return.
Patricia didn't have an immediate update on either player after the game.
With the slugfest officially underway, the Lions countered with a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Stafford found Amendola running uncovered for a 36-yard gain early in the possession, a completion that pushed the quarterback over 40,000 passing yards for his career.
Stafford finished 30 of 45 for 364 yards, four touchdowns and a late-game interception.
A defensive holding penalty against Vikings defense end Danielle Hunter gave Detroit first-and-goal at the 7. Two plays later, Stafford connected with Jones for a second time in the opening quarter, from 3 yards out, to put the Lions back in front, 14-7.
The lead was short-lived as Cousins hooked up with Stefan Diggs on a stop-and-go for 27 yards down the sideline before running back Dalvin Cook churned out 24 more on back-to-back carries. The Lions appeared to end the threat when cornerback Justin Coleman deflected a pass intended for Olabisi Johnson, which was intercepted by safety Tracy Walker.
But Coleman was flagged for pass interference, setting up first-and-goal from the 1. On the next snap, Johnson capped the drive with a touchdown catch.
A holding call against tight end Jesse James quickly derailed Detroit's ensuing possession, but a booming 62-yard punt by Sam Martin pinned the Vikings at their own 3. Even that wasn't enough to slow the team's red-hot offense.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph had a pair of drive-extending grabs on third downs, setting up Cook for a slicing 8-yard touchdown run, giving the Vikings their first lead of the game, 21-14.
Taking over with 3:26 remaining in the half, Stafford managed to led a game-tying touchdown drive, thanks in part to some undisciplined penalties by the Vikings. The first roughing the passer gave the Lions a first down in the red zone and a second, where linebacker Anthony Barr lowered his helmet to pop Stafford, negated a potential third-down stop. With the extra opportunity, Stafford and Jones connected for a third touchdown, this time from 10 yards out.
Coming out of the locker room, the Vikings picked up right where they left off with an efficient 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Cousins completed six of his seven throws for 61 yards, culminating with a 5-yard scoring strike to fullback C.J. Ham.
Punts by both teams provided a brief break from the frenzied scoring pace before the Lions put more points on the board and a dent in the Vikings' advantage with a 46-yard Matt Prater field goal.
The Vikings had a chance to push their edge back up to seven, but kicker Dan Bailey sent a 45-yard field goal attempt wide left with 12:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Lions fall to 2-3-1 with the loss, while the Vikings move to 5-2.