Lions can't handle Vikings' Dalvin Cook, slide to last in NFC North
Minneapolis — As Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford disappeared from view and headed up the tunnel to be tested for a concussion, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook burst through the Lions defense, galloping the length of the field for a 70-yard score.
Worse yet, the Lions only had 10 defenders on the field, one week after making the egregious mistake twice in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
That moment summarized the Lions' day, and in many ways the season, as the team returned to the familiar confines of the NFC North basement after getting stomped by the Vikings, 34-20, Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
From the start, the Lions (3-5) had little answer for the Vikings offense, led by Cook, who finished with a career-high 206 yards on the ground and 252 yards from scrimmage.
"Obviously, they played a great game today," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We did not. We know that we've got to go out and do a better job in a lot of areas, certainly have got to stop the run. Their run game is some of the best in the league and, obviously, Cook is one of the best guys after contact in the league. He proved that again today."
Minnesota (3-5) scored on nearly identical touchdown drives to open the game, jumping out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. Foreshadowing his big day, Cook carried the ball three times on each series, gaining 48 total yards. That included a 5-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins also got off to a hot start, completing all four of his passes for 83 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to tight end Irv Smith Jr.
Sandwiched between Minnesota's scoring drives, Lions kicker Matt Prater missed a 46-yard field goal wide left. It was his third miss on his past four attempts and his sixth miss of the season.
The Lions managed to get on the board early in the second quarter, but instead of a touchdown they were forced to settle for a short Prater field goal after running back Adrian Peterson was stuffed for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-goal carry from the 1-yard line.
"We got to finish those drives and we got to get points," Patricia said.
Detroit managed to cut the deficit to three late in the first half when Stafford connected with Marvin Jones for a 15-yard score. Jones caught the short pass at the 9-yard line and spun free from the grasp of cornerback Kris Boyd before crossing the goal line.
Unfortunately, the defense couldn't keep things close before the break, allowing Minnesota to drive 87 yards in 64 seconds. Cook again provided much of the damage, gaining 47 yards on a carry and two catches. But it was former Lions running back Ameer Abdullah who put the finishing touches on the drive, scooting into the end zone on a 22-yard screen pass to make it 20-10 at the half.
It was Abdullah's first touchdown of the season and first since Nov. 3, 2019.
"I kind of like was hoping so bad that they just let my guy get his touchdown," Cook said. "You know, Ameer has been through so much as a player. But as a person, if you meet him, he’s so smart. The way he carries himself, the way he goes about his business, nothing rattles him. He’s a sound human being. That’s a guy right there to be around. To have his experience and him around us is so great for the group. To see him get that touchdown is so great."
After the two teams traded punts coming out of the locker room, the Vikings extended their advantage to three scores midway through the third quarter.
Cousins connected with rookie receiver Justin Jefferson over the coverage of cornerback Amani Oruwariye for a 35-yard gain on third down to extend the drive. Four plays later, Oruwariye was flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty against Jefferson, setting the Vikings up first-and-goal from the 3.
It took Minnesota three cracks to get it in, but did so when Cousins found Smith out of play action for the tight end's second score of the day.
The Lions attempted to respond by driving into the red zone, but Stafford threw a ball directly to Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson, ending the threat.
"You know, probably should have gotten the ball out a little bit earlier to a guy on the front side of that rather than getting all the way back through to (T.J. Hockenson)," Stafford said. "(Wilson) did a nice job of just sitting in the window. Obviously, I didn't see him there, otherwise I would not have thrown it. But you can't just trust he's not there."
Detroit's defense managed to come up with a rare, quick stop, and Austin Bryant blocked the punt, putting the offense right back in business. But with third-and-goal from the 5, Stafford was picked again. This time it was linebacker Eric Kendricks undercutting a throw intended for tight end Hockenson in the end zone.
"(Kendricks) is a good cover player and he did a nice job turning his head at the last second," Stafford said. "When I cut it loose, he wasn't looking at me and I thought I could sneak it by him. Obviously, he turned around and made a good play."
Stafford, who was cleared of a concussion following the game, was hurt on the ensuing possession when he caught a knee to the head while being sacked. Still the Lions managed a 45-yard field goal on the possession, making it 27-13 with 11 minutes remaining.
But the Vikings needed just one play to put the game away. Bursting through a hole up the middle, Cook plowed through a tackle attempt and through the Lions' secondary for 70 yards for his second touchdown of the day.
With the way Cook was running, having an 11th defender on the field might not have mattered.
"Those are things we got to get fixed," Patricia said. "We got to make sure we handle those better and communicate on the sideline better when those things happen; if we have an injury or if we have a situation where something comes up to make sure everybody's tapped in with that. We got to get it right from a coaching standpoint."
Detroit managed to trim the deficit back to 14 after a second blocked punt — this one by Romeo Okwara — gave the offense the ball at the 2-yard line. Chase Daniel, who took over for Stafford, connected with Hockenson on the first play after the block for the score, cutting the Vikings lead to 34-20 with 6:58 remaining.
Before he left the game, Stafford was 23 of 32 for 211 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Cousins, the former Michigan State standout from Holland, was 13 of 20 for 220 yards and three touchdowns. He threw no interceptions.