After an ugly first half on Sunday, it looked like the Detroit Lions' losing streak in games against the Vikings in Minnesota was going to continue. The Lions just were not playing well, and Minnesota was up by a score of 20-0 as a result. It was so bad some people started jumping off the bandwagon that had been filling up during the first few weeks of the season. Many thought the "same ol' Lions" came to play and wrote off the game as Detroit's first loss of the season.
Those who did jump off the bandwagon after the first half are probably regretting it right about now. The Lions got things turned around in the second half, and they battled back to not just tie the game at 20, but to take a 23-20 lead. The Vikings did manage to tie the game back up with a field goal of their own, but the Lions won the toss in overtime and never looked back. Jason Hanson nailed another field goal, and the Lions were able to celebrate a victory in Minnesota for the first time since 1997 and a 3-0 start for the first time since 1980.
The ugliness of the first half for the Lions began with the first drives of the game for each team. The Vikings went down the field with ease on each of their first two drives, although both of them did stall once they got inside the red zone. The Lions defense played bend but don't break, and on the first two drives it didn't break by holding Minnesota to field goals.
The Lions offense couldn't get anything going. They went three-and-out on their first two drives, and even after moving the ball with some success on later drives, every single one of them in the first half ended with a punt.
The lack of success on offense didn't mean much when the Lions were only down 6-0, but the situation got a little direr after Adrian Peterson scored from six yards out midway through the second quarter. The situation really got dire after a 53-yard punt return by the Vikings set up an eight-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Visanthe Shiancoe with nine seconds left in the half. Suddenly the Vikings were up 20-0, and the Lions took a knee to get into the locker room and regroup.
The Lions saw their first drive of the second half end with yet another punt, but after forcing a three-and-out, the offense finally experienced some success. Matthew Stafford completed back-to-back passes to Brandon Pettigrew for 20 yards, and on the next play, Stafford threw a jump ball to Calvin Johnson in the end zone. Johnson went up and got it over the Vikings defender for a 32-yard touchdown to put the Lions on the board.
The defense came out with some swagger for the Lions, and Cliff Avril forced a fumble on the second play of the ensuing drive. The Vikings recovered, but they couldn't move forward and gave the ball back to the Lions at the 50-yard line after a punt.
Passes from Stafford to Pettigrew early on in the drive went for gains of five, 10 and 27 yards and put the Lions at the two-yard line. It looked like they were going to score another touchdown, but the Vikings sacked Stafford and held them to a 28-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. The halftime lead was cut in half after the field goal, though.
On the following drive, the Vikings faced third-and-one, and for some reason they ran a pass play out of the shotgun instead of just giving the ball to Peterson. I will never understand the thinking behind this, but it worked out well for the Lions since McNabb's pass was incomplete.
The Lions took over at their 11-yard line but quickly went down the field thanks to a 17-yard pass to Titus Young on third down and a 60-yard screen pass to Jahvid Best. On the very next play, the Lions cut the deficit to three thanks to a five-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Johnson.
The Vikings appeared to take back the momentum in this game by returning the ensuing kickoff 68 yards. At the very least, Minnesota looked like it could pad its lead with a field goal, but the Vikings ended up scoring zero points after being stuffed on fourth-and-one. Once again, the smart move seemed to be to give the ball to Peterson, but the Vikings gave it to Toby Gerhart, who was stopped for no gain.
The Lions took over at their 17-yard line and worked their way down the field with a bunch of intermediate passes. The Lions were poised to score the go-ahead touchdown, but a tipped pass on third-and-short forced Detroit to kick a field goal. Hanson was Mr. Automatic and calmly booted a 50-yarder right down the middle of the uprights. This game was now tied at 20.
Following a three-and-out by the Vikings, the Lions got the ball back at the Minnesota 47. A personal foul for a horse collar tackle moved them deep into Vikings territory. The offense failed to move the chains after the penalty, but Hanson converted a 40-yard field goal to give the Lions their first lead of the day.
The Vikings offense finally figured things out and moved the ball with success for the first time since the first half. They drove down to the Detroit 31-yard line before being stopped, and Ryan Longwell nailed a 49-yard kick to tie things back up.
With more than a minute to go in regulation, the Lions were hoping to go down the field and make it unnecessary to go to overtime. The offense had a lot of success moving the ball in the second half, and with Johnson on the field one play could turn into a touchdown. Jeff Backus had other thoughts, though. He had back-to-back false starts called against him before the drive even got started, and he allowed Jared Allen to sack Stafford for a loss of seven yards once the Lions finally ran a play. Detroit went into conservative mode and ran the ball two times before punting, and the Vikings' desperation attempt to score on the final play of the game didn't really go anywhere. Minnesota did complete a pass, but an illegal forward pass when they tried to lateral the ball would have kept any miraculous score off the board.
With the game heading into overtime, the Lions won the all-important coin toss by calling heads. They opted to receive (obviously) and took over at the 27-yard line after a squib kick was picked up by Maurice Morris and returned for 15 yards. Best ran for two yards on the first play of the drive, and on the next play Young made an outstanding catch for a gain of 17. Following an incompletion, Stafford heaved the ball to Johnson down the left side of the field. Johnson located the ball over his shoulder and somehow hauled the pass in as he went to the ground. The 40-yard completion put the Lions on the Minnesota 14, and Jim Schwartz immediately sent out the field goal unit. Hanson booted the kick inside the left upright from 32 yards out, giving the Lions the 26-23 overtime victory and allowing us all the opportunity to witness another awesome fist pump by Schwartz.
Obviously, the fact that the Lions had to climb out of a 20-0 hole is not good. The offense was terrible in the first half, and the pass protection was an issue all day long. Defensively, the Lions did a pretty good job once they settled in, especially in the second half when the comeback was on. The special teams coverage unit unfortunately did not ever settle in, as it struggled in kick and punt coverage throughout the game, allowing a couple of big returns.
All of that said, the good news is the Lions played poorly and still managed to win a divisional road game in a tough environment. The fact of the matter is we still haven't seen the Lions play a great game for all four quarters this season. Despite this, the Lions are 3-0, which says a lot about how good this team can be. If they come together with all three units for four quarters, there may not be a team in the NFL that can beat them.
The Lions will return home and enjoy this win before turning their focus to next week's game against the Dallas Cowboys. Depending on what happens on Monday night between the Cowboys and Redskins, the Lions could go into a road game as favorites for the second week in a row. At the very least, they will be picked by many to beat the Cowboys, and if they do in fact win in Dallas, the Lions will have a 4-0 record. As much as the Lions were hyped going into the season, not many people anticipated them going perfect in the first quarter of the season, but they can pull off that feat with a win in Dallas next Sunday.