Lions grab lead in NFC North with victory over Vikings
It was the type of kick that always seems to go through the uprights against the Detroit Lions.
Nobody has ever made a field goal from 68 yards in an NFL game, but when Minnesota's Blair Walsh lined up at that distance on the final play Sunday, there were some nervous folks at Ford Field.
"Stranger things have happened to us," Detroit offensive lineman Rob Sims said. "But maybe this is our time. Maybe things are changing."
Walsh's kick came up short and wide to the left, and Detroit held on for a 16-14 victory over Minnesota.
Matt Prater's 33-yard field goal with 3:38 remaining gave the Lions their first lead of the game, and Detroit withstood two more tense possessions for the Vikings.
Detroit (10-4) pulled into a first-place tie in the NFC North with Green Bay, which lost to Buffalo earlier Sunday. The Lions are now agonizingly close to a playoff spot.
And agonizing is a pretty good way to describe this latest victory.
Detroit spotted Minnesota a 14-0 lead before slowly rallying with the help of two second-quarter interceptions. The Lions have won three in a row, and if the Dallas-Philadelphia game Sunday night does not end in a tie, Detroit can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Chicago next weekend.
Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater was 31 of 41 for 315 yards with a touchdown, and the Vikings (6-8) held Detroit to 11 first downs, but after Jason Jones blocked Walsh's 26-yard field goal attempt with 7:43 left, the Lions drove 65 yards to set up Prater's third short field goal of the game.
Trailing for the first time all day, the Vikings had a good chance to take the lead again after Cordarrelle Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Minnesota 49. But a holding call pushed the Vikings back, and Bridgewater eventually threw incomplete on fourth down.
The Vikings got the ball again at their 30 with 45 seconds left, but could only make it far enough to set up Walsh's long attempt at a game winner. Coach Mike Zimmer decided to go for the field goal instead of a last-ditch pass.
"Either one is kind of a shot in the dark, but Blair has hit 70-yarders in practice before," Zimmer said. "So I figured that was the best chance to win."
The Lions lost to Baltimore last year on a 61-yard field goal, and to Buffalo this October on a 58-yarder. They were also on the losing end of Tom Dempsey's 63-yarder for New Orleans in 1970.
But Walsh couldn't convert. He also missed from 53 yards earlier in the game.
Matthew Stafford threw for 153 yards and a touchdown for the Lions.
In its last home game of the regular season, Detroit looked flat in the first half, falling behind by two touchdowns and drawing boos from the crowd at Ford Field. The Lions couldn't manage a first down until the second quarter, on their fifth offensive possession.
Matt Asiata opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run. Bridgewater added an 8-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings in the second quarter, and the Vikings were in Detroit territory again when Glover Quin intercepted Bridgewater and returned it 56 yards to the Minnesota 11.
"We did everything we could to hurt ourselves in the first half, in every phase, but GQ made a huge play to get us back into the game," Stafford said.
Stafford threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, and Bridgewater's next pass was behind Jennings and intercepted by Darius Slay, giving the Lions the ball at the Minnesota 32.
Prater's field goal made it 14-10 at halftime.
Prater, who helped stabilize Detroit's terrible kicking game when he joined the Lions in October, connected from 30 yards in the third quarter to cut the deficit to one. Jones' block in the fourth meant Detroit only needed a field goal to take the lead.
"I'm not going to apologize for a win, and I hope that none of my players come in here and apologize," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "This was an important win for us, and I don't care if we only scored a half-point."
NOTES: The Lions went 7-1 at home during the regular season. The previous time that happened was 1995, when the team still played at the Silverdome. ... Bridgewater was sacked 12 times in two games against the Lions this year, including four times Sunday. ... Walsh's career long is 56 yards.