Nothing the Lions do this season is pretty. Success is not easy for this team and every game comes down to plays made or left on the field in the fourth quarter. An impactful divisional road game against the Vikings wasn’t going to be any different. At this point in the season, the Lions identity is clear. They drag opponents into a mistake-filled slugfest with the winner to be determined by plays made in the final minutes every week.
This time, the Lions survived on the leg of Matt Prater before winning on the execution of Matthew Stafford’s arm and Golden Tate’s balance. Ironically, it was Blair Walsh’s shaky performance kicking for the Vikings that helped position the Lions to steal the game.
Stafford and the Lions struggled to move the ball consistently with the exception of a 17-yard touchdown drive to end the first half. Drops, once again were an issue, with at least four that killed offensive flow. Stafford struggled early but was incredible in the clutch when the Lions needed him most. He only completed 22 of his 36 passes for a pedestrian 219 yards and an interception, but his 2 touchdown passes were just enough to lead the Lions to an incredible overtime victory.
Few of Sam Bradford’s passes hit the ground as he finished 31-40 for 273 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers. The Vikings picked apart the Lions defense with a mix of short passes and pounding runs. Stefon Diggs was the easily Bradford’s featured target but despite hauling in 13 catches, he could only turn them into 80 yards. Minnesota continuously hurt themselves with numerous mistakes that took points off the board and ruined promising drives.
Blair Walsh missed an extra point off the right post and had a field goal blocked that likely would have missed regardless.
Those miscues helped the Lions to a 13-9 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings would have one more shot to stage a comeback and come back they did.
Bradford and the Vikings executed the four-minute drill to perfection, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 23 seconds left in the game and zero timeouts remaining for the Lions. 16-13, game over. Unless….
The Game Turned When
The Vikings left too much time on the clock! Touchback, Lions ball at the 25. Eight-yard completion to Tate who gets out of bounds. Stafford buys time, boom, 27-yard laser to Andre Roberts down the middle. Quick set, snap, spike, and the clock is stopped with two seconds remaining. Prater casually smashes a 58-yard field goal and we’re headed to overtime.
It was Matt Prater’s third field goal of the game and his second from over fifty yards. His 3-3 outing featured makes of 47, 53, and 58 on the same field that made Blair Walsh look lost. That clutch 58-yard rocket made Prater a perfect 23-23 on game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime during his career.
Because Captain Comeback
The Lions got the ball first in overtime and never looked back. Despite starting at their own 13-yard line after yet another questionable Andre Roberts return, Detroit seamlessly marched down the field with poise. Stafford and the offense faced four third downs and converted them all on three Stafford completions and one pass interference. The first, a 23-yard strike to Eric Ebron who paced the Lions with 7 catches for 92 yards, really ignited the offense in overtime. The last was this incredible play to Tate, who’s fancy footwork and perfect balance enabled him to stay in bounds while evading two defenders and take it to the house for the Lions game-winning touchdown.
All in a day’s work.
A Look Ahead
Everything changed over the course of a few miraculous minutes. Stafford went from scapegoat to hero. The Lions went from playoff doom to in the thick of a division and wildcard race. Matt Prater is winning the hearts of Lions fans everywhere.
Of course, that is just the narrative. Minnesota is a floundering team that has been lost on offense for weeks and is banged up on defense. Detroit earned an important quality road win, but many improvements are necessary if they are going to be real playoff contenders.
It starts with getting healthy. Darius Slay is expected to return after the bye week and there is hope that DeAndre Levy really will play this year. Maybe. Rilley Reiff will be back to anchor the right side of the offensive line. Defensive improvement is a must going forward and coaching across the board has to get better. This win breathes hope into a team thought dead after an awful 1-3 start and has them playing meaningful games late in the season.
Next week brings a much-needed bye before the Lions return home for a now vital game against Jacksonville that could determine whether the Lions really can make the playoffs.