'We're this close': Lions see bid for first win spoiled again by last-second field goal
Minneapolis — For the second time in three weeks, the Detroit Lions had a victory snatched away with a last-second field goal.
After pulling off a stunning 10-point rally in the closing minutes of the contest, and taking the lead on a daring two-point conversion attempt, Detroit's defense allowed the Vikings to drive 46 yards in 37 seconds to set up a 54-yard game winning kick by Greg Joseph on Sunday as the Vikings escaped with a 19-17 win.
And it just so happened to be the identical score to a Week 3 loss to the Ravens, when Justin Tucker booted an NFL-record 66-yard field goal to win the game. The Lions are first team in NFL history to lose on two last-second field goals of 50 yards or longer in a season.
Lions coach Dan Campbell openly wore the emotional toll of the loss into his postgame press conference, with tears welling in his eyes; he choked up multiple times and paused to gather himself on multiple occasions.
"When you put everything out there on the line like they did and like they do, you want it for them and you want it for everybody," Campbell said. "Everybody gives of themselves, a lot of time, lot of effort. Hey, that’s what we do. And you just, you want it. You want it for everybody, man.
"And you want to earn one and we’re this close," Campbell said. "We haven’t done it, so we’re still, we’re not quite there. We haven’t quite got over the hump, but I do think in the long run this is going to pay dividends for us. As ugly as it is right now and hard to swallow, I do think we’re building something special here that’s going to serve us well in the long term."
The Lions (0-5) had fallen behind by 10 points, going scoreless in the second half prior to kicker Austin Seibert's 40-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining.
Despite the dwindling clock, and just one timeout remaining, the Lions still opted to kick off deep, instead of going with an onside attempt. After two short runs, and Detroit using its final timeout, the game reached the 2-minute warning with the Vikings (2-3) facing third-and-7.
Rather than go for the kill with a pass play, the Vikings handed it off to running back Alexander Mattison — filling in for injury starter Dalvin Cook. When Mattison was met short of the first down marker by Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the linebacker managed to rip the ball from the running back's grasp, giving the Lions possession at the 20-yard line.
"Yeah, that was big-time, obviously," linebacker Trey Flowers said. "... Any time that we're out there, we're thinking turnover, get the ball back to our offense. We needed it, at that point, and he made a big play. Just big awareness, once he's (stood) up, just rip at the ball. That was good awareness and great execution."
Three plays later, the Lions were in the end zone, on a 7-yard D'Andre Swift run. But instead of settling for a tie and overtime, Campbell called for a two-point conversion attempt.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff said Campbell informed him that was the plan before the drive began. On the snap, Goff then found receiver KhaDarel Hodge in the back of the end zone, seemingly giving the team its first win of the season and Campbell's tenure.
Instead, the Vikings quickly worked the ball into Joseph's range for the winner.
Turnovers hurt the Lions in the loss. Goff fumbled and was intercepted, both in Vikings territory, squashing a pair of scoring opportunities and proving to be a key factor in defeat.
"It's obviously stuff you don't want to happen, but I'm going to keep letting it fly," Goff said. "I think the fumble was just a lack of ball security by me and I thought they made a great play on the interception. He made a one-handed catch. Not ideal down there in the plus-territory but things like that are gonna happen."
The Lions actually grabbed an early lead, taking the opening kickoff to the edge of the red zone before stalling out. Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson broke up a third-down throw from Goff to Hodge, leading to a 39-yard field goal for Seibert, returning to the lineup after spending the past two games on the COVID-19 list.
The Vikings wasted little time tying the game on the ensuing possession, thanks in large part to a pair of third-down conversions for second-year receiver Justin Jefferson. He hauled in the first, a 37-yard deep ball down the left sideline, before taking advantage of a communication error to convert a third-and-12.
Facing another third down, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins stepped up away from Detroit's pass rush, but short-armed a throw to Dede Westbrook in the end zone, leading to a 38-yard field goal for Joseph.
Detroit appeared poised to respond, working the ball back across midfield before rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell was beaten on back-to-back plays by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. The first led to a sack and a 7-yard loss, the second a hit which caused Goff to lose the ball, which the Vikings recovered.
That turnover turned into three more points for the Vikings. After cornerback Amani Oruwariye dropped an interception opportunity off the hands of Jefferson, the star receiver came up with a 17-yard grab into Lions territory that set up a second 38-yard field goal for Joseph, putting the Vikings up, 6-3.
After an ineffective series for the Lions, the Vikings extended their advantage to 10 late in the second quarter. Jefferson had two quick catches for 36 yards, while Mattison had three carries for 20 yards to kickstart the drive.
A roughing-the-passer penalty against Lions linebacker Charles Harris, for contacting Cousins' helmet, thrust the Vikings into the red zone where Mattison took a short pass, shrugged off a tackle attempt from nickel corner AJ Parker and dragged safety Will Harris and linebacker Alex Anzalone across the goal line for the 15-yard score.
"I didn't really know where I was after I spun around, I just knew I felt a guy on my hip and I knew I could probably outrun him, but there was a guy that was to my left, so I let the guy on my right spin me around a little bit so I could break that tackle," Mattison said. "From there I saw the end zone to my left and I saw the defender so I knew I just had to get in."
The Lions would manage to cut the deficit to a touchdown before the half, 13-6, converting a pair of third-and-longs to set up a 52-yard Seibert field goal.
The two sides would trade turnovers, but no points, in the third quarter.
After forcing the Vikings to go three-and-out with the opening possession of the second half, the Lions moved quickly across midfield with a 14-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson and a 13-yard run by Jamaal Williams.
But on a second-and-10 snap, Goff thought he had a window, despite linebacker Eric Kendricks dropping into the passing lane. While trying to work the ball to Hodge across the middle, the quarterback put a throw into Kendrick's range and he came up with an impressive one-hand interception.
"I thought I could fit it by him," Goff said.
Again, the Lions forced a punt, but the Vikings would return the favor on Detroit's next possession. Punter Jack Fox managed to pin the opposition at their own 5-yard line, but the good field position was wasted when Mattison broke free up the middle for a 48-yard gain after running through a tackle attempt in the hole by rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes.
But the Lions were able to get a stop when safety Tracy Walker deflected a Cousins pass high into the air and Anzalone was able to corral the interception before the ball hit the ground.
"I just think it was probably too aggressive," Cousins said. "I'm hot, said no to a couple other guys who were covered, and just wanted to rip it into K.J. hot. Didn't have his eyes (looking for the ball) yet. And I just think that when you don't have his eyes, you can't do it. You gotta just dirt it and live for the next play."
After three-and-outs for both sides, the Lions appeared to be cooking early with a drive starting at their own 21-yard line, picking up 14 yards on a pass interference and a 17-yard pass to Hodge. But that was all the Lions could muster before being forced to punt again.
Finally, the Vikings snapped a scoreless second half with a 55-yard Joseph field goal with 4:28 remaining. It also continued Detroit's season-long trend of trailing by double-digits in the second half of every game.
Scrambling to rally, the Lions shot themselves in the foot when Lions guard Jonah Jackson was assessed a holding penalty on third down. That led to Goff being sacked by Danielle Hunter on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs.
Even with the excellent field position, the Vikings couldn't widen their lead. Joseph unexpectedly came up short on a 49-yard field goal, giving the Lions the ball back at their own 39-yard line with 3:17 remaining. Joseph explained he hit too much ground on that kick.
Running the hurry-up offense, Goff found rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown for 17 yards and Swift for 21 more down to Minnesota's 22-yard line. But three consecutive incompletions left the Lions to settle for a 40-yard Seibert field goal and set up the wild finish.
"It hurts," Flowers said. "But like I said, nobody feels sorry that it hurts. We just gotta break through. We're there. We at the door, just gotta break through, gotta keep swinging."