The Minnesota Vikings learned the hard way earlier this month about the Detroit Lions' late-game prowess. The Vikings would prefer to give themselves a little more elbow room in the rematch on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
The Lions stole a win in Minnesota on Nov. 6 after the Vikings took the lead with 23 seconds remaining in regulation. A 58-yard Matt Prater field goal sent the game into overtime, and Detroit completed the comeback with a 28-yard Matthew Stafford-to-Golden Tate pass play.
That 22-16 overtime victory is the reason why the NFC North teams are tied for first place at 6-4. Detroit has staged a fourth-quarter comeback in all of its wins.
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“Every one of their games they've played have been seven points or less,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think they've done a great job at the end of ballgames, including the one we played. The biggest thing is once you start winning, you develop confidence and that's what they've done at the end of ballgames.”
The Lions have also learned how to win in their annual Thankgiving Day game after nearly a decade of futility. They have a three-game winning streak on the holiday following a nine-game losing streak.
“It's a division game at our place on Thanksgiving,” said Stafford, whose team has won five of its last six games. “There's no getting around it. I expect it to be an awesome atmosphere and both teams playing at a high level.”
Neither team expects many surprises, considering they played each other so recently and have a short week to prepare.
“From a game-planning standpoint, at least you're familiar,” Stafford said. “They're fresh in your mind from just a couple of weeks ago. It doesn't diminish the challenge the Minnesota Vikings give us. They're a really good defense, a really good team, really well coached. We'll have our hands full but as far as a preparation standpoint, it doesn't seem too long ago I was looking at film of these guys anyways.”
Norv Turner resigned as Minnesota's offensive coordinator just before the first meeting and was replaced by tight ends coach Pat Shurmur. Though Shurmur has now had time to settle into the role, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford said the offense has simply been tweaked.
“We're still the same team,” Bradford said. “I don't think it's been that drastic. I don't think Detroit's going to look at the film and say, 'That's a completely different group.' Our guys are just a little more familiar with some of the things Pat has put in the past couple weeks.”
The Vikings' offense only generated three second-half points against Arizona on Sunday but Minnesota still snapped a four-game losing streak. The Vikings recorded a defensive touchdown and another on Cordarrelle Patterson's 104-yard kickoff return in the 30-24 victory.
They still rank at the bottom of the league in yards per game.
“There's a lot of room for improvement,” Bradford said of the offense. “We've got to be better in the second half but there were some positives. Just to get a win does a lot for this team and does a lot for this group. Hopefully, it's something we can build on going forward.”
Minnesota's best offensive weapon is wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who has 40 receptions over the last four games. He caught 13 passes for 80 yards against Detroit.
“Any time you have somebody catching that many balls, that's a pretty good outing,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He's a talented guy. I know one thing, if you let him catch too many, at some point in time, he's going to burn you because he's explosive as well.”
The Lions also scored defensive and special teams touchdowns in their 26-19 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. Stafford didn't throw a touchdown pass and the running game generated only 14 yards. The Lions also had two fumbles after losing just one fumble in their previous nine games.
“The good thing about playing on a Thursday is you get to go out there and quickly redeem yourself,” Stafford said.
The last time the teams met on Thanksgiving Day was 1995, when the Lions pulled out a wild 44-38 victory.