The first half of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings was quite the roller coaster ride for the Detroit Lions. Mistake after mistake and unlucky break after unlucky break provided a feeling like it was 2012 all over again. The Lions just couldn't seem to get out of their own way, and they found themselves trailing as a result. They managed to keep things close, though, and they slowly but surely started getting it together. By day's end, with a 34-24 victory in their back pocket, the Lions proved that they were the better team. They weren't always the smarter team, but they were clearly the better team.
One of the wildest halves in Lions history opened with a typical drive by the offense. Matthew Stafford quickly moved the Lions down the field by completing passes to Joseph Fauria, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Calvin Johnson, but everything came to a screeching halt when they got inside the red zone. The drive stalled despite the Lions having a second-and-1, and the Lions proceeded to botch the field goal thanks to Sam Martin dropping the snap.
Things went from bad to worse on the very next play. Adrian Peterson got the handoff and went 78 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, it was 7-0 Vikings, and the Lions looked stunned given what just transpired.
It would only get wilder from here, amazingly. On the next drive, the Lions appeared to score a touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Johnson. He made a leaping catch and dove into the end zone, but the ball came loose when he hit the ground. The play was ruled incomplete after a review thanks to the awful rule about completing the process of a catch. I personally thought Johnson made a football move by diving into the end zone, but according to the rule, it wasn't a TD. The Lions had to settle for another field goal after all this, and David Akers connected from 33 yards out.
Following a three-and-out by Minnesota, the Lions took over with good field position and again got into the red zone. This time, the drive was killed by a holding penalty on Brandon Pettigrew on fourth-and-1. The Lions decided to go for it, and Bell moved the chains, but the penalty forced the Lions to settle for a 42-yard field goal. Akers made it, cutting the lead to 7-6.
The Lions were on the verge of taking the lead in this game two plays into the next drive. Christian Ponder had his pass tipped by Darius Slay, and DeAndre Levy picked it off and ran into the end zone for what looked like an easy pick six. A stupid, unnecessary block by Ndamukong Suh on the return negated it, though, and Stafford was picked off on the very next play after he had a pass tipped. The Vikings then took over and went 21 yards on a pass to Kyle Rudolph and 44 yards on a pass to Jerome Simpson. Peterson scored from 4 yards out on the fourth play of the drive. It should have been 13-7 Lions, but instead it was 14-6 Vikings.
After three straight punts between the two teams, the Lions ended up with a drive that started in Minnesota territory. A completion to Pettigrew on third down looked like it would move the chains, but he had the ball stripped. The fumble was recovered by the Vikings, but the Lions got it back with a Stephen Tulloch interception three plays later. Suh and Willie Young caused the pick by putting pressure on Ponder, who didn't get his pass off cleanly.
With only a couple minutes left in the half, the Lions put together an excellent two-minute drill. Stafford led them down the field with a 27-yard pass to Nate Burleson and passes of 11 and 12 yards to Bell. An 11-yard pass to Kris Durham set up a Bell touchdown run from 2 yards out. Bell leaped up and had the ball knocked out of his hands, but the play was reviewed and ruled a touchdown since he broke the plane. Somehow, despite a half filled with mistakes, the Lions were only down 14-13 after two quarters.
The Lions opened the second half with their "A" game. They forced a three-and-out on the opening drive, and they took over the ball at midfield as a result. A 21-yard pass to Burleson on the opening play of the ensuing possession got the Lions deep into Minnesota territory, and a 10-yard run by Bush got them into the red zone. Burleson came up with another big catch to move the chains on third down, and Bush scored on the very next play. The score was taken off the board after a review, though, leading to Bell breaking out a nice spin move to score from a yard out one play later. Bell had an awesome celebration afterward, and the Lions were now on top by a score of 20-14.
The Vikings answered with a scoring drive of their own. A 20-yard pass to Greg Jennings got it moving, and an 11-yard run by Ponder pushed the Vikings into Detroit territory. They couldn't get much farther, though, as the Lions came up with a big stop on third-and-1. Minnesota had to settle for a 52-yard field goal, cutting the lead in half.
The Lions immediately came up with a quick response of their own. On third-and-7 on the next drive, Stafford found Bush on a screen. Bush showed off his speed by jetting through the defense and going 77 yards for a touchdown. He almost got caught from behind, but he dove into the end zone to cap off the exciting play. The Lions now led 27-17 and were in complete control of this game.
On the Vikings' next drive, Ziggy Ansah sacked Ponder with a big hit and forced a fumble that he eventually recovered. Unfortunately, the fumble was negated because Ansah was offside. The Lions didn't get the ball, and Minnesota made them pay with a 47-yard pass to a diving Simpson, who somehow hauled it in. The Lions challenged the ruling, but it was upheld. Three plays later, Ponder found Peterson for a 4-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Lions' lead down to a field goal.
After the Lions couldn't get past their own 49 and had to punt, the defense faced a key drive, and they caught a huge break. Ponder tripped as he tried to hand the ball off to Peterson, and the exchange was fumbled. Nick Fairley came away from the scrum with the ball, giving the Lions possession at the Minnesota 39.
The Lions caught another couple breaks on the next drive in the form of well-timed Vikings penalties (for Detroit, anyway). On third-and-long, a roughing the passer penalty gave the Lions a first down. Stafford took a hit to the helmet, which drew the flag and moved the chains. On the next sequence of plays, the Lions had a third down turn into a first down thanks to a pass interference call. Bush moved the chains himself on the next third down, and he initially looked to have scored another touchdown. A review overturned the call, but that simply led to a 1-yard touchdown pass to Fauria on the next play.
A quick three-and-out by the Vikings that featured three Ponder incompletions gave the ball back to the Lions. They were stopped at the Minnesota 36, but a nice Martin punt pinned the Vikings at their own 1-yard line. Minnesota managed to pick up one fourth-down conversion after this, but Glover Quin got an interception on the next fourth down. This allowed the Lions to simply take a knee twice to run out the clock and seal their 34-24 victory.
This definitely wasn't the prettiest game by any means for the Lions, but the nice thing is that they won by 10 points and easily could have won by three or four touchdowns. They were dominant throughout the game, and had some boneheaded mistakes or bad breaks not happened, this one would have been over by halftime. That's a really nice thing after those kinds of mistakes kept the Lions from winning games in 2012.
Next week, the Lions are off to Arizona to take on the Cardinals and go for a 2-0 start.