Lions' victory over Vikings provides unusual script

BY foxsports • December 14, 2014

DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions, uncharacteristically, continue to find ways to win in this surprising season that has left them tied for first place with two weeks remaining.

Sunday's 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings provided an unusual script, but one that coach Jim Caldwell will embrace any day.

"I'm not apologizing for wins," Caldwell said. "This team has been battling, has been fighting. I don't care if it was a half-a-point win."

Find a way -- any way.

That's what the Lions had to do after trailing 14-0 late in the first half, and that's what they did.

Interceptions by safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the half led to 10 points and stopped the Vikings' momentum.

A blocked field-goal attempt by defensive lineman Jason Jones kept the deficit to one point in the fourth quarter and led to Matt Prater's 33-yard winning field goal with 3:38 remaining.

The Vikings' final prayer of a 68-yard field-goal attempt on the final play wasn't answered, and the Lions survived another nail-biter.

They're now 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including a one-point win over Atlanta and a two-point win over New Orleans.

They won seven of their eight games at Ford Field, their best home record since going 8-0 in 1991, and they reached 10 wins in a season for only the 10th time in the franchise's 85-year history.

"It wasn't pretty but I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and character down the stretch," Caldwell said. "You've got to be able to win different ways."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford called the day an "emotional rollercoaster."

Stafford was coming off back-to-back strong performances in which he completed 77.3 percent of his passes and the Lions scored 34 points against both Chicago and Tampa Bay.

This time, however, they won in spite of the offense, which was held to 233 yards, including 153 passing, while converting only 2-of-11 third-down situations.

It looked bad early. They went three-and-out on their first four possessions. When they finally got a first down with 9 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half, the fans reacted with a loud, somewhat sarcastic ovation.

The best part of the day for Stafford was that he didn't throw an interception for the third straight game.

"We've lost pretty ones," Stafford said, referring to the team's well-documented frustrations over the years. "It's nice to win an ugly one. It's part of being a good football team, finding ways to win when you don't play your best. We made enough plays to win."

To Quin, who has six interceptions for the season, this is all part of the journey that any successful team must take.

The Lions often used to crack when they faced adversity in the past. That certainly was the case during their memorable 1-6 collapse in the final seven games last season to blow a division title and playoff bid.

But back-to-back improbable comebacks several weeks ago against New Orleans and Atlanta helped change the personality of this team in tough times.

"We've figured out a way to win in a lot of situations," Quin said. "You have to learn how to win close games. You've got to learn how to stay focused when you're blowing teams out. You've got to learn how to come back. You've got to learn how close it out in the fourth quarter.

"You've got to learn how to kick game-winning field goals, get game-winning stops on defense, get game-winning drives on offense. You've got to go through all those things in a season. As the season goes on, you pull back those experiences and find a way to win."

They pulled and pulled and pulled Sunday, much to the delight of a raucous crowd at Ford Field in the final home game of the regular season.

Maybe not the final home game of the season, though.

With Green Bay's loss at Buffalo, the Lions are now tied for first in the NFC North with the Packers.

It appears more and more likely that the division title will come down to the final game between those teams on December 28 in Green Bay, where the Lions haven't won since 1991.

Detroit takes its three-game winning streak to Chicago (5-8) next Sunday, while Green Bay travels to Tampa Bay (2-12).

It's believed that the Lions will clinch at least a playoff bid by beating the Bears for their 11th win.

If they win both of their final two games to finish 12-4, it's believed that they will clinch one of the top two seeds in the NFC and, thus, receive an opening-round bye before playing a home game on the weekend of January 10-11 in the NFC Divisional Round.

"I'm not worried about that," Caldwell said when asked about being on the verge of a playoff bid in his first year in Detroit.

So far, Caldwell has been able to keep his players just as focused as he is on the present, but they know they're getting close, real close.

"We can taste it, man," Jones said. "It's right there in front of us. We've just got to put the pedal to the floor and keep moving."

Told about Jones' comment, Caldwell wasn't amused.

"I hope he's talking about tasting practice," the coach said.

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