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Final score: Detroit’s defense forces more turnovers, comes up big in 14-7 victory

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Their first NFC North matchup for the 2017 season, the Lions made their way into U.S. Bank Stadium to take on the Minnesota Vikings. Each and every divisional game is important, and this one felt no different. Detroit was saddled with some tough news on the injury front before the game with Jarrad Davis and Kenny Golladay both being ruled inactive, but the black and blue division waits for no man.

First half

After the Vikings won the opening coin toss and elected to kick and defer to the second half, the Lions offense took the field, hoping to make an early impact after coming out rather flat a week ago against the Falcons.

It didn’t start any better on Sunday. On the very first play from scrimmage, Rick Wagner got beat by Danielle Hunter off the edge and Matthew Stafford was already feeling the heat from the Vikings defense. Stafford would shake off the sack and link up with Darren Fells for a first down on third-and-6, but Detroit’s first drive would stall out on the next set of downs.

Detroit’s defense knew they would have their hands full with Dalvin Cook, but without Davis manning the middle, it seemed an even taller task to slow down the hot rookie. On the very first play from scrimmage, Paul Worrilow went down with a knee injury and would be questionable to return. The Lions would force the Vikings to punt after just one first down.

The teams would trade punts as both teams struggled to feel out one another’s defense, but it would be the Lions who would strike first. Stafford found a streaking Marvin Jones Jr. down the sideline for a 38-yard gain on third-and-17 to put the Lions on the Vikings side of the field. The drive would come to a halt in the red zone, and Detroit would have to settle for three by way of Matt Prater’s 29-yard field goal.

Points were at a premium on Sunday, and with a 3-0 Lions’ lead, the Vikings offense would respond after the two teams punted the ball back and forth. Cook would cap off an 11-play, 81-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown—he had an open lane courtesy of Riley Reiff because, of course.

Detroit’s offense had just over a minute and one timeout to work with before the half to cut into the Vikings 7-3 lead, but Prater proved to be human as the final seconds of the half ticked away, missing his first field goal from 50+ yards out in 12 tries.

Second half

The Vikings started the second half with the football and decided to run the wildcat with Jerick McKinnon lining up behind the center. A read-option play, Cook crossed the face of the faux-quarterback, and as McKinnon pulled the ball from Cook’s grasp, the ball hit the deck and Anthony Zettel fell on top of it near midfield.

However, the Lions offense would fail to find the end zone, settling for another Prater field goal that just snuck inside the upright from 37 yards out. Detroit cut the Vikings’ lead to just one point, but Minnesota would struggle to hold onto the ball once again on their very next drive. That would be the least of the Vikings’ concerns.

Cook would be ruled out for the game with a knee injury, but the Lions would make the most of the turnover forced by Tavon Wilson.

Ameer Abdullah showed out in a big way on Sunday, rushing for 94 yards on 20 carries, and having what was his most complete game as a Detroit Lion. On the Lions’ next drive, Abdullah would get the ball from three yards out, and would originally be ruled just short of the goal line. But Jim Caldwell would whip out the red challenge flag, not allowing himself to be shown up by Andrew Romine’s pitching performance last night at Target Field. The call on the field was reversed, a touchdown for Abdullah, and the Lions added a two-point conversion on a pick play to TJ Jones. Detroit took a 14-7 lead over Minnesota with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.

On the Lions’ next drive with the football, Stafford made a costly error, winding up to throw the ball on third down, but then coming down with it and losing control of it. Originally ruled an incomplete pass, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would challenge the ruling on the field and win the decision in his team’s favor as the crew decided Stafford had indeed fumbled the football. Lucky for the Lions, Zach Zenner made a heads up play, retreating to Detroit’s 11-yard line to recover the football.

Minnesota would receive good field position near midfield after the punt by Jeff Locke out of his own end zone, and the Vikings would work their way into field goal range. Kai Forbath had hit 23 consecutive field goals heading into today’s contest, and just as FOX flashed the graphic, the jinx was in: Forbath’s 39-yard field goal hit the right upright square, and bounced back, keeping the Lions’ lead at seven, 14-7.

Detroit’s offense wouldn’t muster up much on their next drive, and Locke came up with a beauty of a punt, placing the ball on the Vikings’ 5-yard line. The Lions’ defense would hold up their end of the bargain, too: A crucial three-and-out gave the Lions the ball back, and another chance to score and put this one out of reach for a lifeless Vikings’ offense.

But Detroit’s offense was hard-pressed to find yards as well, and they once again punted the ball back to Minnesota after a fruitless three-and-out. Detroit looked to have the Vikings dead to rights on a third-and-9, but a pass interference call on Darius Slay kept the drive alive for Case Keenum and the Vikings offense.

Minnesota kept their driving moving and made it all the way into the red zone, but a huge sack from Anthony Zettel on third-and-goal put the Vikings back to Detroit’s 14-yard line. Zimmer would make a gutsy call by going for it on fourth-and-14-to-go with a little more than two minutes remaining, and it proved costly for Minnesota as a pass from Keenum sailed out of the back of the end zone.

Detroit would run the ball three straight times to the two-minute warning, and punt the ball back to Minnesota, but the Vikings would turn the ball over for the third time on the day when Glover Quin popped the ball from the grasp of Adam Thielen, and Tahir Whitehead recovered it to seal the game for a 3-1 record, and first place in the NFC North.

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