Going into a must-win game against the Minnesota Vikings, one would think the Detroit Lions would come out fired up and ready to go on Thursday afternoon. Instead, they looked flat and incredibly average in a 30-23 loss at Ford Field.
While the score looks close, the game wasn’t.
The Lions took the odd approach of choosing to receive the opening kickoff. It started with great field position and they were primed to make a statement early. Instead, they went three-and-out and took the crowd out of the game immediately.
While the Lions stumbled, the Vikings took advantage of the opportunity. Minnesota’s quarterback Case Keenum marched right down the field and found tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 1-yard touchdown. The first of Keenum’s three touchdowns on the day.
Coming out after the stalled opening drive, this was the Lions’ chance to show they weren’t going to be pushed around. Time to prove to themselves and their fans that they are true contenders.
The Vikings took over on Detroit’s 40-yard line and three plays later they were in the end zone. Just like that, Detroit was down 14-0.
Detroit has struggled with slow starts all season, being outscored 74-30 in the first quarter, but for the final three quarters, it’s usually the better team.
After a 32-yard field goal by Matt Prater and a blocked Minnesota field goal to start the second quarter, it looked like Detroit was gaining some momentum, but that got shut down by Keenum and Minnesota’s offense.
On Minnesota’s last possession of the half, Keenum found Rudolph again for six. This time it was a 22-yard strike.
Down 20-3 with 37 seconds left in the first half, Detroit needed to make something happen. Quarterback Matthew Stafford worked his magic, along with some help from the refs to do just that. After a 41-yard pass to receiver Kenny Golladay, a defensive pass interference call and a facemask, Detroit found themselves on the Viking 6-yard line.
Stafford threw a dart to wide out Marvin Jones Jr. who appeared to get stopped short of the goal line, but after a quick review it was ruled a touchdown.
Had Detroit done the smart thing, granted hindsight is 20/20, and elected to get the ball to start the second half, this game could have gone a different way. Instead, it was Minnesota that took advantage.
In four plays, the Vikings went 75-yards and once again found pay dirt. This time it was running back Latavius Murray up the gut for a 2-yard TD.
Detroit was able to tack on two field goals, a 32-yarder and a 50-yarder, but weren’t able to close the gap.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lions found themselves down 11 and in need of a big spark. One minute in, it looked like Detroit got that spark. Stafford tossed up a deep ball to Jones Jr. who, somehow, was able to come down with it between two defenders and miraculously find the end zone.
Just like that, Detroit was back into the game. Down four points, with essentially a full quarter left and Mr. Comeback at the helm, it was almost expected that the Lions would comeback and win.
That didn’t happen though.
Detroit had two more possessions before the end of the game: a three-and-out and an interception on fourth down.
This loss essentially solidifies the Vikings as the NFC North champions, leaving Detroit to fight for a wild card spot. Playoffs aren’t impossible at this point, but Detroit needs to stop starting slow. Playing from behind is not a winning formula, it doesn’t always work.
Detroit looks to get back on track next week with a favorable matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Kickoff from M&T Bank Stadium is set for 1:00 p.m.