Cardiac Jim Caldwell’s Detroit Lions pulled out another late-game victory with a walk-off, overtime flip into the end zone from receiver Golden Tate for the 22-16 victory over the sputtering Minnesota Vikings. Detroit moved to 5-4, creating chaos in the NFC North. The Vikings dropped their third straight to fall to 5-3. Here is what you need to know:
1. Matthew Stafford is a late-game magician. The Detroit Lions quarterback pulled off a minor miracle to send the game to overtime. Stafford got the ball at the 25-yard line with 23 seconds left. Two plays later, he was sprinting down the field to spike the ball with two seconds left, allowing Matt Prater to bang home the 58-yarder to tie the game. The Lions got the ball to open overtime and marched 87 yards on 11 plays, capped by Golden Tate‘s showboating flip into the end zone on a 28-yard score.
The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every single game this season. They’ve won five of those contests. Since 2011, no quarterback has more fourth-quarter comebacks than Stafford (19). It was a struggle for Stafford much of the game — including his first interception in five games — but with his back against the wall, the quarterback remained calm and made every single play necessary to win.
2. The Vikings will kick themselves over the lost opportunities. Minnesota missed an extra point, had a blocked field goal, came up with zero points on two red-zone drives, and allowed Stafford to get into field-goal range with no timeouts and 23 seconds remaining. The most emblematic drive of the game came after a Chad Greenway interception set up Sam Bradford at the 18-yard line. From there, the Vikings proceeded to lose 22 yards and were forced to punt. It was the first time a team punted on a drive that started in the red zone since the Rams accomplished that feat in Oct. 2011. The Rams quarterback that day: Sam Bradford.
3. The biggest takeaway from Pat Shurmur taking control of the offense following Norv Turner’s departure was the use of up-tempo. The Vikings jumped into no-huddle frequently Sunday. The benefit of upping the pace helped a beleaguered offensive line by wearing out an already mediocre Lions pass rush and calmed Bradford in the pocket. While Minnesota’s offense remains a herky-jerky prospect (five total yards in the second quarter), expect to see more tempo under Shurmur. Given that the new OC was still working off Turner’s game plan and playbook, it’s difficult to discern what other changes Shurmur plans to employ.
4. One change that should stick was the increased use of running back Ronnie Hillman. The speedy back was the Vikings‘ most effective runner, getting to the edge for 30 yards on seven carries (4.3 yards per attempt). By comparison, Matt Asiata carried nine times for 27 yards (3.0 YPA) and Jerick McKinnon took seven totes for a measly eight yards (1.1 YPA). Hillman also got a huge catch-and-run for 32 yards that set up the Vikings go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
5. Despite the late-game heroics, Detroit’s offense was not consistent. Jim Bob Cooter’s unit had seven drives of six plays or fewer prior to the final possession of regulation — including three straight three-and-out punts to open the second half. Detroit used a bevy of quick passes and runs to mitigate Minnesota’s pass rush (Stafford was sacked just once) and got solid play from its offensive line. Stafford engineered a mindboggling 17-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that ate up 9:45 in the second quarter. Yet, Cooter’s squad had just 36 yards of total offense in the second half before Stafford’s game-tying drive. Inconsistent play from the offense has plagued the Lions this season, especially on the road.
Eric Ebron has come on strong the last two games. In Minnesota, the tight end earned seven receptions for a career-high 92 yards. The former first-round pick is becoming a weapon Stafford trusts in crunch time.
6. Much is made of the bad Vikings offensive line, but Bradford doesn’t always help his blockers. Minnesota gave up two sacks and four QB hits to a weak Lions defense. Bradford had plenty of time to get rid of the ball on the second sack. Bradford completed 31-of-40 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown on a bevy of short throws. Rarely did the Vikings attempt to stretch the field. Against one of the worst defenses in the NFL that was missing its top corner, we’d have liked to see more from Bradford.
7. Mike Zimmer should be questioned about his decision to kick off to the end zone with 23 seconds left. Had the Vikings forced a return, it would have carved precious seconds of the clock that Stafford needed to tie the game.
8. Golden Tate‘s dive into the end zone was fun. Football players should have fun, especially on walk-off wins. Bring back the fun!