KINGS OF THE NORTH!
The Lions put up 30 against a solid Vikings defense, and Detroit’s defense tallied four interceptions on the day, including the game-sealing pick from Ifeatu Melifonwu.
Here’s how it happened.
The Lions won the toss and for the second game in a row elected to receive. Detroit got off to a nice start with a 16-yard gain to Josh Reynolds on the first play of the game. David Montgomery moved to Detroit into Vikings territory two plays later with a 10-yard run. Then on third-and-5, Jared Goff sidestepped pressure and found Amon-Ra St. Brown for a key conversion into field goal range. Jameson Williams then got them into a goal-to-go situation with another slippery catch and run. Three plays later, Montgomery plowed in from 1 yard for a 7-0 Lions lead.
The Vikings looked to quickly strike back with a 33-yard pass to Josh Oliver to open their first drive. The on third-and-2, Nick Mullens found K.J. Osborn for 14 yards to put the Vikings in scoring position. On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Brian Branch was called for defensive holding, giving the Vikings a new set of downs. Two plays alter, Ty Chandler rushed it in for a 2-yard touchdown and a 7-7 tie.
Williams got the Lions’ next offensive drive going with an early 12-yard pickup. But Jahmyr Gibbs fumbled on the next play, giving the ball quickly back to Minnesota.
Taking over at the Lions’ 48-yard line, the Vikings nearly turned the ball over right back (and then they did). Ifeatu Melifonwu sacked Mullens, but the ball was jarred loose after Mullens hit the ground.
That eventually set the Vikings into a fourth-and-2 at the Lions’ 40-yard line. Minnesota went for it, but Mullens tried to force the ball to Jordan Addison and Branch was there for the easy pick.
The Lions would offer the first punt of the game after Goff couldn’t find anyone on third-and-4 with the Vikings dropping eight into coverage.
Facing a quick third-and-7, Branch came in on a blitz and forced the ball loose. Vikings center Garrett Bradberry fell on the ball, but it forced a three-and-out.
The Lions offense sprung back to life with a 15-yard gain to St. Brown and a pair of plays to Montgomery that moved them to midfield. An 11-yard sack followed by a delay of game looked like it killed the drive, but a questionable roughing the passer penalty put the Lions’ drive back on track.
A 10-yard rush by Montgomery pushed Detroit to the edge of field goal range, and a WR screen to St. Brown for 6 yards got them near the red zone. On third-and-4, Goff was hit and it looked like he may have fumbled and had the ball returned for a touchdown. However, the play was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass.
Detroit kicked a field goal for a 10-7 Lions lead.
Detroit would quickly get the ball back after Kerby Joseph jumped in front of a Mullens pass for the Lions’ second interception of the day.
The Lions would quickly cash in on Mullens’ mistake, as Jahmyr Gibbs bounced a run outside for a 14-yard touchdown and a 17-7 Lions lead with 1:48 left in the half.
With two timeouts left, the Vikings attempted to cut into Detroit’s lead before halftime. Mullens found Justin Jefferson for a big 22-yard gain into Lions territory. A few players later, Melifonwu came on a delayed blitz and blew up Mullens for a 9-yard loss, setting up a third-and-19. But Mullens then went right back to Jefferson for 29 yards. And then... right back to Jefferson again for a 26-yard touchdown. 17-14 Lions.
With 29 seconds left, the Lions attempted to add to their lead. But with only one timeout left, they never really came close.
The Vikings got the ball first to start the second half, but they’d have to go the rest of the way without receiver Jordan Addison, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half and was declared out. Mullens went right back to work with a 24-yard strike to T.J. Hockenson. A few plays later, Mullens found Osborn for a 47 yards all the way down to Detroit’s 6-yard line.
Mullens went right back to Osborn for a 6-yard touchdown and a 21-17 Vikings lead.
On that drive, both Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson and Lions defensive end Josh Paschal went to the locker room with injuries. Hockenson would be quickly declared out of the rest of the game. Paschal was officially listed as questionable to return with a hand injury.
The Lions drove to midfield, but they took a terrible delay of game penalty on third-and-2. On the subsequent third-and-7 from Minnesota’s 41-yard line, Goff hit LaPorta for 6 yards. That led to a fourth-and-1, and Gibbs nearly scored with an 18-yard scamper down to Minnesota’s 16-yard line.
Absurd juke from Jahmyr Gibbs. pic.twitter.com/E4ASlf2tBe— Nolan Bianchi (@nolanbianchi) December 24, 2023
Again, they faced a fourth-and-1, and this time Goff converted with a QB sneak, setting up first-and-goal. Two plays later, Goff found St. Brown for a 2-yard touchdown and a 23-21 Lions lead with 4:38 left in the third quarter. (The extra point was blocked.)
The Lions defense held strong on the next drive, with Malcolm Rodriguez securing a three-and-out with an impressive open-field tackle on C.J. Ham.
With an opportunity to push it to a two-score lead, the Lions started driving downfield. A third-and-5 conversion to St. Brown earned a big 25 yards for Detroit. Goff went right back to him for a 15-yard gain down to the Vikings’ 37-yard line. As the game moved over into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the final quarter, LaPorta picked up a nice 7-yard gain to give Detroit a new set of downs. On the subsequent third-and-8, Goff found Donovan Peoples-Jones for a quick slant, moving Detroit inside the 15-yard line. Gibbs just barely picked up a third-and-4 on a checkdown pass. He would close out the drive, too, with a 3-yard touchdown run, giving Detroit a 30-21 Lions lead with just over 11 minutes left.
The Vikings found themselves in a third-and-long thanks to a personal foul penalty, and Mullens took another deep shot. This time, the Lions were ready, and Kerby Joseph tallied his second interception of the game.
The Lions offense couldn’t extend the lead, though. A quick three-and-out only managed to bleed two minutes of game clock, and the Vikings would take back over at their own 15-yard line with 7:31 left.
The Vikings quickly moved into Lions territory with a 28-yard throw to Jefferson with an additional 15-yards tacked on due to an illegal hit from Joseph. A reverse flea flicker to Jonathan Mundt got Minnesota inside the 10-yard line. But Detroit’s defense would hold in the red zone, and the Vikings settled for a field goal to make it 30-24 Lions with 5:19 remaining.
Detroit would try to grind out the game on the ground and close it out. It looked like the Lions were ready to punt, but an illegal contact on the Vikings converted a third down for Detroit. Still, the Lions could not run out the rest of the clock, giving Minnesota a chance at a game-winning touchdown.
The Vikings would have to go 88 yards with 2:23 to win the game. The drive got started with a 21-yard pass to Brandon Powell. The Lions got a huge sack and forced a fumble, but John Cominsky didn’t fall on the ball, giving the Vikings life. On the next play Justin Jefferson pulled down a ridiculous pass to move the chains.
But Ifeatu Melfionwu called game with the Lions’ fourth interception of the day.
NFC NORTH CHAMPS Y’ALL.